Beneficial dietary fiber in laying hens

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The digestive tract of poultry cannot be compared to that of ruminants, so what would the point of feeding dietary fiber be? The answer is that poultry also depend on a balanced microbiota in the hindgut.

A healthy and diverse intestinal flora is an important factor in the condition and performance of laying hens.  Photo: Loana Rut

A healthy and diverse intestinal flora is an important factor in the condition and performance of laying hens. Photo: Loana Rut

To maintain eubiosis in the large intestine, it is necessary to provide fermentable dietary fiber as a nutritional base and source of energy for intestinal bacteria.

Until a few years ago, the issue of dietary fiber generated little or no interest in poultry nutrition. Besides, he had a bad reputation. Why? Because the physiological benefits have been ignored and there has always been – and still today – the issue of energy dilution. It is true that most sources of fiber take up too much “space” in high energy poultry diets. Beyond that, the variation in fiber content and possible contamination by mycotoxins are other limiting factors.

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Quality and quantity of dietary fiber

Farm animal diets generally focus on energy level and digestibility, but neglect the quality and quantity of dietary fiber. During phases of insufficient fiber supply, many species of gut bacteria use the glycoproteins in the mucus layer for energy instead of fiber. This insufficient supply leads to an imbalance of the intestinal flora, a breakdown of the mucus layer and leads to problems such as wet litter, dirty eggs, feather pecking and cannibalism. These issues all affect health and performance.

Substrate for the microbiota

Dietary fiber is made up of complex carbohydrates that are not digested by endogenous enzymes in the animal but broken down by specialized enzymes produced by intestinal bacteria. Dietary fiber is an important factor in the formation of the intestinal microbiota because it is the substrate for these microorganisms.

Dietary fibers are broken down by bacterial enzymes, the metabolites are used by microorganisms but they are also very important for the host animal. The presence of dietary fiber specifically promotes bacteria in the intestinal flora which can break down fiber. Thus promoting microbial diversity in the intestine. A lack of dietary fiber decreases microbial diversity and reduces the thickness of the mucus layer.

Most sources of fiber take up too much “space” in high energy poultry diets.  Eubiotic lignocellulose is much more concentrated and therefore more effective.  Photo: Herbert Wiggerman

Most fiber sources take up too much “space” in high energy diets for poultry. Eubiotic lignocellulose is much more concentrated and therefore more effective. Photo: Herbert Wiggerman

The main fermentation products in the degradation of dietary fiber are short chain fatty acids (SCFAs; acetate, propionate, butyrate) and lactate. Acetate acts as a source of energy for the host animal. From propionate, the host animal can synthesize glycogen in the liver.

A healthy and diverse intestinal flora is an important factor in the condition and performance of the animal.

Butyrate is the most important source of energy for the epithelial cells in the intestine and contributes to the proliferation and health of the intestinal lining. Lactate and lactate-producing bacteria are beneficial for gut health, regulating the growth of potentially pathogenic unwanted bacteria. Overall, a healthy and diverse intestinal flora is an important factor in the condition and performance of the animal and has a prophylactic effect in the prevention of digestive disorders, wet litter and dirty eggs. The different metabolites (lactate and SCFA) are also in a state of equilibrium with each other. Faecalibacterium and Roseburia bacteria, for example, use acetate to produce butyrate.

Lignocellulose, a highly concentrated fiber

Lignocellulose is a concentrate of natural fibers made from fresh wood. Within the group of lignocellulosic products there are also variations which should be taken into account, for example for fermentability. The original lignocellulose consists of completely insoluble and non-fermentable fibers. Although scientifically enhanced lignocellulose (OptiCell) is also insoluble, it contains fermentable fiber. Because it was developed to support the health and diversity of the intestinal flora, it is also called eubiotic lignocellulose.

Compared to other sources of fiber, lignocellulose has a remarkable advantage: it is very concentrated. Eubiotic lignocellulose reaches its full potential at low inclusion rates of 0.5-1.0% and can therefore be easily included in high energy diets. The fiber content only varies within a very small range, it is free from mycotoxins and pathogenic bacteria, making it safe and easy to handle as a source of fiber. A scientific study has shown that the energy dilution is negligible and more than offset by the physiological benefits.

Modulating intestinal flora

This experiment was carried out with 72 ISA Brown laying hens, starting with day-old chicks, up to the age of 8 weeks. In total, 2 groups were compared: a control group and a test group that received 1% eubiotic lignocellulose. Body weight and food intake were recorded in both groups. In each group, 6 chickens were housed separately to collect feces. The same 6 animals were euthanized at the end of the test period to collect samples of caeca. Parameters influenced by lignocellulose supplementation are presented in Table 1. Performance parameters were slightly better in the test group, but this effect could not be validated statistically.

Positive performance data in this field test (Table 2) can be attributed to the presence of AGCC. The use of AGCC has resulted in a better and more uniform use of power from the power supply. This gave the hens more energy for egg production. This is also reflected in the better feed conversion. The metabolism of the animal becomes more efficient which is beneficial for its performance and health.

Improved intestinal metabolism

The study showed that the addition of eubiotic lignocellulose has a positive influence on various parameters of intestinal health and metabolism in the cecum of young laying hens. Eubiotic lignocellulose influences egg production and food conversion during the laying phase. The link is clear given that SCFAs contribute to a more constant energy supply and thus have a positive effect on animal health and performance.


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Shawn Beecher

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