How postbiotic feed additives could help improve poultry health and production?

Postbiotics might be a relatively new term in the field of animal feed and microbiology, but they could play a significant role in improving the gut health, immune systems and overall well-being of commercial poultry flocks.

Eric Gingerich, DVM, poultry technical services specialist at Diamond V®, a Cargill brand, explains what postbiotics are and why they are becoming an important feature in poultry diets.

What are postbiotics?

Gingerich: Probiotics are living microorganisms — typically beneficial bacteria or yeast — that colonize the gut and help maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria, which support digestion and help improve gut-barrier function.

Prebiotics are non-living, non-digestible fibers generally found in plant-based foods — such as garlic, oats and legumes — that act as feed for beneficial gut bacteria, helping them to thrive. They also serve as food for probiotics.

Postbiotics, meanwhile, are metabolic by-products produced by probiotics during their life cycle. Typically found in fermented foods, they support the gut microbiome and promote overall well-being in a similar way to probiotics, but they don’t need to be living to be effective.

What are postbiotics made of?

Gingerich: Postbiotics consist of a range of substances, including organic acids like butyric acid, lactic acid, acetic acid and propionic acid, which lower gut pH and create an environment less conducive for certain types of less favorable bacteria. They also include peptides, which can have antimicrobial properties, and exopolysaccharides — complex carbohydrates that can help strengthen the gut barrier and modulate immune responses.

Since they’re not living organisms, postbiotics tend to be more stable than probiotics, and they tend to be less susceptible to environmental factors like heat, humidity and pH changes.

What other advantages do postbiotics have over probiotics?

Gingerich: As well as being more stable, one big advantage is that the metabolites are produced in very controlled, lab-like conditionsThere are many variables that affect the performance of probiotics that rely on the intestinal conditions for producing their metabolites.

Providing birds with postbiotics like Diamond V’s also means birds receive a consistent amount, every day; in pelleted diets, our postbiotics are stable, whereas many probiotics can lose their potency on pelleted diets.

How do postbiotics work?

Gingerich: Postbiotics help to maintain a balanced and diverse community of gut bacteria, which is crucial for gut health and overall well-being. They stimulate the production of molecules that can help regulate immune responses in the gut and promote the production of organic acids that are essential for gut health.

Postbiotics also have been shown to play a role in reducing markers of inflammation and promoting a healthy gut barrier. A strong gut barrier can help prevent harmful substances and pathogens from entering the bloodstream.

Postbiotics can also have antioxidant properties, reducing oxidative stress in the gut. This can protect gut cells from damage and support their function.

How can postbiotics help in poultry production?

Gingerich: By helping to maintain a healthy gut microbiome, postbiotics can help birds digest nutrients, absorb essential elements more effectively and promote gastrointestinal health. Postbiotics can also help modulate birds’ stress responses, reducing the impact of stress on gut cells and supporting overall health and productivity.

By supporting bird immune systems, which can make them more resilient to infections, postbiotics can also help reduce viral disease risk in flocks, particularly when used alongside vaccination programs. Challenge studies indicate postbiotic additives prime birds’ immune systems, shortening the time it takes for vaccinations against viral respiratory diseases to establish an immune response.

Postbiotics can also enhance the digestibility and utilization of feed, potentially leading to improved feed efficiency and growth rates.

Could postbiotics help with the safety of poultry products, too?

Gingerich: Preharvest food safety is another area of poultry production that postbiotics could potentially help with, thanks to their ability to support the reduced prevalence of certain microorganisms that can have adverse food-safety implications.

Research has shown adding a postbiotic feed additive like Diamond Original XPC® can help to reduce the Salmonella load shed in faeces, which may be reflective of reduced intestinal bacteria, and potentially help with less product contamination.1

In a study on a commercial broiler farm, it was observed that flocks fed Original XPC had significantly reduced cecal prevalence and reduced levels of Salmonella when compared to flocks on the same farm that were fed a standard diet.

Ultimately, when used along with other management practices such as good litter management and biosecurity, postbiotics can certainly play a significant role in supporting preharvest food safety.

While the name “postbiotics” is fairly new to the industry, there is a wealth of research demonstrating their benefits to birds including supporting gut health, bird immune systems and the overall well-being of the flocks.