Be smart with gut health: Part 2

Picture: Steve Buissinne,

by Given Hamanungu, Technical Advisor at Tiger Feeds

Gut health relies on the maintenance of the delicate balance between the host, the intestinal microbiota, the intestinal environment and dietary compounds. This balance can be significantly affected by factors such as bird management, feed quality and the birds’ environment.

When gut health is optimal, there is complete digestion of the feed and absorption of the nutrient components for good body development. If there is a disruption to the normal processes in the gut, incomplete digestion and absorption of nutrients can occur, leading to malabsorption and gut imbalance.

If there is any imbalance in the gut environment, gut health is then at risk of being compromised, which can impact the health and performance of the birds. When digestion and absorption are not optimal, there is malabsorption of nutrients resulting in more nutrients being available to the small intestinal bacteria that can lead to an overgrowth of the bacterial population. A further consequence of malabsorption is the passing of proteins, sugars and fat into the ceca, causing an overgrowth in the microbial population and a shift away from the beneficial fermentative bacteria.

Healthy villi under a microscope.

The colour of the gut surface, tone of the gut wall and the consistency of the contents are basic indicators of ongoing gut health and can help with the identification of the cause of the issue. If the gut is properly developed and the immune system is not compromised, the result can be good bird growth and an excellent FCR (feed conversion ratio). After the birds hatch and get access to feed and water, the gut is triggered into its final stages of maturation.

During the first week of life, the gut undergoes rapid maturation with rapid growth of the intestinal villi. After this growth phase the length of the villi is critical as it dictates the length of the villi in the adult bird. If villi growth is compromised during brooding, the result is shorter villi in the adult bird which will impact on performance. Optimal villi growth relies on correct brooding management along with good feed and water quality. In the field it has been observed that the chicks receiving good brooding, tend to develop a gut that performs well and has a greater capacity to cope with challenges in the chicken shed.

The left image shows a healthy gut with the duodenum at the top, then
the jejunum and then the ileum. The right image shows poor gut health.
Here, the surface of the gut is seen to be inflamed, the gut tone is poor and
the contents consist of mucus and excessive fluid. These are all indicators
of poor gut health and impaired digestion. Biosecurity, shed hygiene and
brooding management are all key for chick health and the establishment of
a healthy gut.


Maintaining the balance of good gut health is a key aspect of getting the best growth and FCR out of any foodproducing animal. It is important for the farmer to understand gut flora, gut function and gut immunity, and it remains a very complex area. Regional variations in poultry production, management styles, climate, disease and raw feed materials add further complexity to maintaining good gut health, but what is clear is that developing and maintaining gut health through good bird management practices is key to maintaining bird health, welfare and performance. A wise broiler farmer will: Observe, investigate, identify, act!

Contact Given at +260 97-540-3834 or +260 96-793-3658 or for more information.

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