It’s all in the grist

The ban on antimicrobial growth promoters in feed in the EU in 2006 and the subsequent drive for a reduction in antibiotics has triggered an explosion in poultry intestinal health research. Picking this apart to reveal insights to improve flock performance can be a challenging task. Experts at livestock nutrition supplier Harbro advise that whatever else, producers should examine their feed grist profile. 

“By far the biggest driver of the gut microbiome is what the bird eats,” says Paul Wigley, Professor of Animal Microbial Ecosystems at the University of Bristol. “There is some difference in microbiome between breeds, but it is not particularly strong. 

“Modern production means you don’t get the pioneer microbiome you would get in a standard pastoral rearing system. Chicks brooded and reared by the hen get the transfer of some microbiome. 

“With everything geared towards maximising productivity in poultry, a question though is if they were 10% less productive but had changes in diet, rearing, and welfare, they may be healthier and improve the function of the immune system.”  

Professor Wigley believes that the industry is still finding out and understanding prebiotics and dietary additives. Using diet to model the microbiome, he is working on tannins, which have been shown to increase bacteria associated with good outcomes. 

“Organic acids and short-chain fatty acids can inhibit things like salmonella, and multiple strains of probiotics are the best way forward; there is no one thing alone that is enough,” he adds.  

The critical element we should focus on is nutrition to support natural health versus nutrition to support productivity, believes Professor Wigley. Highlighting the importance of nutrition in gut health can focus attention on the actions that deliver the most impact. 

Allison Elliott, one of our monogastric nutritionists from, agrees. Her experience has shown that focusing on grist size and feed presentation is the cornerstone of any effective program to improve flock gut health and productivity.  

“Gut health is always a priority for the farmers I deal with,” says Allison. “However, they don’t always frame it as gut health. A farmer sees good gut health as better digestion. Nutrients are used better, which improves performance.

Increasing and paying attention to the particle size profile of wheat, for instance, provides benefits in the form of increased mechanical function of the gizzard and proventriculus. The stomach is the first line of defence in preventing digestive issues; therefore, a good function is critical.

When looking at ingredients in rations and the milling process, it is important not to underestimate the role of raw ingredients and the impact of processing. Fibre content is critical for its satiation qualities.

She adds: “Barley in rations plays an important role due to time spent in the digestive tract, and we know there are links to feather cover. Homegrown ingredients like wheat and barley have less of a diluting factor as there are no fillers in the diet. When formulating the optimum grist profile, this can be personalised on the farm by the Tropper, which has a roller mill to crush grain rather than chop.  

We know that raw materials, feed intake and additives are common factors which influence grist, and we need to maintain consistency, which is also beneficial for gut health. 

What makes Harbro’s mill-and-mix service and compound feed offer so unique is we can change the grist profile of our meal. This helps gut health in a big way, increasing feed conversion.” 

Compound feed with a bespoke grist profile 

Harbro aims to expand its compound feed business, targeting egg producers in the locality of their mills. They believe new additions to their team, combined with their expert advice and all-important grist profile will prove a winning combination. 

“The mills aren’t conventional feed mills but are based on our Tropper mill-and-mix machines,” says Doug Steele, pig and poultry sales manager for Harbro. “This allows us to adjust output to demand and tailor the compound feed to the customer’s specifications. 

“The technology of the Tropper allows us to create a unique grist profile which optimises feed intake and improves gut health, enhancing feed efficiency and sustainability even further. 

“We have the Harbo standard compound feed, which would be the only available option at many larger mills. However, some customers have different requirements for different reasons. It might be the equipment they use or a specific issue they want to tackle. The farmer will consult with their Harbro nutrition adviser in this situation, and we will produce a bespoke ration.” 

Potters Farm Production, located near Thirsk in Yorkshire, began purchasing compound feed from Harbro earlier this year and has been pleased with the switch. They manage 500,000 hens in-house, with another million birds on contract. All of their eggs are produced in Yorkshire and packed by their Yorkshire Farmhouse packing business, with a proportion marketed locally using the James Potter brand. 

“I have known Doug for a long while and have always found him to be an honest person to deal with,’ says Gordon Alexander, production director at Yorkshire Farmhouse. “With the Harbro mill at York being so close, there was an opportunity for us to do business together, so I said I would try Harbro compound feed and have been very pleased with everything. 

“Sam Parker is our Harbro rep, and I have found him very professional, which is how I want to do business. Because the mill is smaller than one of the big ones that produce 6000 tonnes per week, they do a really good job. The feed presentation is excellent.  

“I can dictate what raw materials go into the feed, which is difficult to do with the big mills. For example, I only want to use soya oil, whereas most companies will use blended fats. We also have specific requests to get the egg quality right for our James Potter brand. Harbro has been very accommodating with this.” 

Yorkshire Farmhouse transports its feed from the mill to its farms. The proximity of the York site has reduced their transport costs, with three of their farms remarkably close. 

“I will certainly be giving Harbro more business in the future. There are some opportunities for additional farms to be supplied, and we have planning permission for more new sheds. The national flock is missing about three million birds, so we see an opportunity to grow.  

“As long as everything continues as it has been, I see Harbro’s business growing with us. It is cheaper for us to haul, a good product and competitively priced,” concludes Gordon. 

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