The Importance of Gut Health

Newsletter No. 67 Item 4

This item discussed an article under the subject title : Gut Health: Is Anything More Important in Turkey Production?   This article was published during the month of publication of this newsletter, October 2008. When reading this article you can substitute Turkey for Ostrich as it is totally accurate to the issues that we have advised need to be addressed with ostrich for the past 10 years and longer. It is also important to adjust some of the timescales, like incubation, as these are obviously different between the species. The principles discussed are exactly the same and still as relevent in 2013..

The opening discussions focus on the various bacterial infections that are prevalent in intensive agriculture. With ostrich production as new as it is, relatively little work has been done to date with ostrich on vaccinations and other control treatments. However, the best controls are ensuring the right balance of ingredients in the feed to maintain the gut at the correct Ph levels, operating to high standards of biosecurity, management and minimising stress.

We have mentioned the importance of optimising feed conversion as one way to control feed costs, which is even more important with the feed costs at their current high levels. The following quotation confirms this advice; remember, turkey production today is well advanced compared to Ostrich producers’ current ability to optimise feed conversion.

Quote: And with feed costs increasing, even one point lost in feed conversion is an economic challenge.  Gut health issues can result in loss of feed conversion, uniformity, weight, rate of gain and higher condemnation rates. Therefore, prevention of gut enteric challenges can result in significant savings. End Quote

These are the areas the article discusses:

Management of Breeders and Eggs
This section highlights the importance of Breeder nutrition and management to ensure adequate nutrients in the egg to pass onto the chicks at hatch. For any unfamiliar with the terminology, in this context a poult is a Turkey Chick.

Quote: Poult quality and health status is greatly influenced by the nutrients and antibodies the poult receives from the egg yolk. The benefit the poult receives from the egg will be dependent on the hen´s nutritional and immune status. Therefore, the first crucial step in minimizing enteric challenges is proper management of the breeder bird. If not treated properly, bacterial infections in breeder birds can be the start of enteric issues in poults. Poults need to be free of Salmonella, Pseudomonas and Clostridium at hatch. A sound breeder program will focus on breeder nutrition, breeder management, breeder vaccination programs (including serological monitoring to check titres) and preventing disease challenges. End Quote

Discussion also highlights the importance of egg handling procedures and chick transport care, including temperature control, when chicks are moved from the hatchery to the rearing unit.

Barn Clean Out Programs
Successful intensive livestock operations operate batch in/batch out systems. For readers not familiar with this terminology, it means stock received into the rearing unit come as a single batch in sufficient numbers to be commercially viable. They are maintained in the rearing unit until they go for slaughter. Poultry are reared in barns and/or barns with access to outdoor runs. The latter system gain “free range” certification. The comments regarding sanitation and biosecurity between batches apply to both systems and are important procedures for ostrich producers to follow.

Over the years I have been involved in Ostrich I have visited many farms with systems that do not operate on batch in batch out. I have witnessed various systems in operation, with all involving continuous throughput of chicks in one way or another. With ostrich these systems started as a direct result of sales of a few breeders or chicks to new farmers, with volumes never achieving commercial slaughter numbers. All too often business models have been built on selling chicks to new farmers.

Another reason for these continuous flow systems being developed for ostrich is the enormous growth from baby chick to slaughter weight and the assumption that slaughter is 14 months (430 days). Our industry has already proven that birds can achieve the same slaughter weight in 50% of that time. Imagine what can be achieved when operating with batch in batch out systems – the birds never being moved and with strict biosecurity in operation.

Be Ready for Poult (Chick) Arrival
All the advice is assuming large batches of same age chicks – this could be as few as 50 but more often will be numbers in hundreds or thousands. The principles are the same, no matter what the numbers.

The quicker poults find feed and water, the faster their digestive tract will begin to function normally.
End Quote

Many times I have had farmers of large numbers of ostrich when measured by ostrich industry standards, not poultry industry standards, tell me that it is easy to apply tight management systems to small numbers but not possible when dealing in volume. My experience is that the reverse is true. The larger the operation the easier it is to establish tight biosecurity and management systems.

Putting out more than they will eat in a few hours may cause the underlying feed to mould, leading to crop mycosis.
End Quote

Visiting farms and witnessing baby chick feed bowls full is a common problem I have experienced. The farmers assume that because there is feed available the chicks will eat. Ostrich chicks are sensitive to the aroma of the feed – if it has been out too long, has lost its colour or aroma, they will hold back on eating. Holding back on eating leads to many problems.

Water Sanitation and Management
This section discusses water sanitation and the importance of observing controls if adding vitamins and/or medicaments to the water supply. As water consumption will vary between individual animals, we would recommend that any additional vitamins are better administered through the feed. To qualify that statement, ensuring adequate intake of water is essential to ensure adequate intake of feed.

Quote: Use water meters to monitor water consumption to ensure birds are always increasing their daily water intake. If water consumption drops or flat-lines, birds are not well and a producer can respond before the issues become a disaster. End Quote

Water sanitation and management as it applies to ostrich can only be developed once we have volume production on a commercial scale.

Service Technician Role
In this context the title Service Technician is the Manager of the production unit. The following quote highlights well just how important management is, including ensuring the feed is manufactured and fed as the nutritionist specified.

Quote: In enteric disease situations, service technicians are often asked, “Is something missing from the feed?” Yet, most often feeds are exactly as formulated by the nutritionist and the real questions is “What caused these birds to eat litter and not feed?” Inadequate daily bird care or poor management are frequently involved in such situation and should be ruled out before looking for less obvious causes. Poor management issues could include improper ventilation (too much or too little), inadequate temperature control, excessive litter moisture, high levels of ammonia, distasteful water (due to too much sanitizer or microbial growth), poor feed presentation or any number of other issues. End Quote:

Nutritionists Role
The opening statement on this section states:

Quote: While the nutritionist plays an important role in establishing proper gut health, there are two kinds of poultry nutritionists: those who formulate forgiving diets and those who formulate bare essential diets that are unforgiving. End Quote

This section goes onto to discuss the challenges related to formulating on a least cost basis as it relates to Turkeys – we would agree. The way to achieve best performance and commercial viability is to establish the best diet that the nutritionist has determined provides best performance by ensuring good gut health, and then providing that diet at the best price possible.

Quote: Not only is a proper nutritional program critical, but a strong quality control program is a must to assure that quality ingredients are received and high-quality feed produced. This is as important for macro-ingredients such as corn, soybean and fat sources as it is for micro-ingredients such as vitamins, amino acids and trace minerals. It is also crucial to ensure that the feed mill delivers durable pellets and crumbles with a minimum amount of fines to encourage feed consumption. Properly formulated feeds are worthless if birds do not eat the feed as a complete meal. End Quote

To that statement for ostrich we would add forage ingredients to the list of macro ingredients – but in every other respect support that statement totally.

This section concludes:

Quote: Finally, the use of antibiotics for bacterial challenges is becoming limited so it is important to explore alternative options such as competitive exclusion or enzymes to aid the digestion of feed components. We must use any advantage to offset disease challenges. End Quote

Consumer demand and political controls are increasingly enforcing management systems to move away from antibiotics as control mechanisms for gut infections. This can be achieved when management work in collaboration with nutritionist, feed manufacture and tight feed and farm management controls.

Veterinarian Role
The role of our veterinarians to support the industry is essential from many aspects. However, until ostrich crosses the divide from a minority, exotic, rare breed and non commercial specie to full commercial production the veterinary profession have limited data to enable them to provide the support services required. It is my experience that few vets to date have experienced our definition of a “healthy” ostrich.

These words from the article are also very applicable to Ostrich.

Quote: As the turkey continues to improve in growth rate and feed efficiency, it will be critical for everyone involved in bird management to stay in tune with how to rear this evolving bird. Even subtle changes in bird health - especially gut health - influence their livelihood. Production cost is still paramount with the company and producer but when improving costs leads us astray of sound production practices, the results may be more costly. When enteric issues get the lead, they always win the race and you, the company and producer are the losers. End Quote:

To date ostrich is failing to develop volume production; a major reason for this is failure to address these issues in the right manner.

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