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Brachyspira, a hidden cause of sub-optimal laying persistency

Since there has been a change from battery cages to free range and enriched cages, laying hens come more and more in contact with their own faeces and can become infected with Brachyspira. Proven solutions to combat Brachyspira are now paramount to poultry performance.

In January 2012, a ban on conventional battery cages in the EU was introduced. This means that the amount of laying hens kept in battery cages rapidly decreased in the EU member states. The switch had to be made from battery cages to enriched cages or free-range systems. As laying hens have greater contact with their own litter in these systems, some markets and farms are increasingly suffering from Brachyspira in laying hens.

In 2010, research showed that 25% of the flocks in the UK is Brachyspira positive (in free-range, this number was even bigger). Photo: Nuscience
In 2010, research showed that 25% of the flocks in the UK is Brachyspira positive (in free-range, this number was even bigger). Photo: Nuscience

Prevalence and consequences of Brachyspira in laying hens

In 2010, research showed that 25% of the flocks in the UK is Brachyspira positive (in free-range, this number was even bigger). Studies showed that this problem is present throughout the world: with an average of around 40% Brachyspira positive flocks (Table 1).

Brachyspira causes more harm than is recognised. It can be the hidden cause of lowering the persistency of the laying hens. The major pathogenic Brachyspira pathogens are B. intermedia, B. pilosicoli and B. alvinipulli. Also B. murdochii and B. innocens have been associated with depressed egg production in free-range systems.

If a flock is Brachyspira-positive, foaming caeca can be observed. The laying rate decreases more pronounced after 50 weeks compared to Brachyspira free flocks. Differences of up to 6% laying rate have been observed. As a result, the financial consequence of a Brachyspira infection in laying hens can be huge.

A strategy to reduce the Brachyspira infection

Since Brachyspira is colonising the lower gut wall and the caeca after entering the animal, Brachyspira is quite difficult to tackle. In that way, the traditional antibiotic alternatives (like phytogenics, MCFA’s, organic acids, probiotics, prebiotics) can’t reach the colonised Brachyspira in the lower gut. That is why Nuscience developed a combination of ingredients that can kill the entering Brachyspira at stomach level and is able to reach the lower gut to tackle remaining pathogens, a product named Vitadys.

It is proven that MCFA’s are highly effective in killing Brachyspira (Vande Maele et al, 2015). This means that pathogens entering the animal will be killed very effectively, but there are always some Brachyspira bacteria able to proceed to the lower gut. To reduce the Brachyspira infection in the lower gut, adding a specific agglutinating fibre to the diet is of high importance.

This fibre needs to be soluble in the gastro-intestinal tract and needs the ability to withstand fermentation. The fibre must be able to agglutinate the periplasmatic flagellas, guiding them to the outside, ending in the litter. In that way, the Brachyspira will not be able to colonise the lower gut. Very important is that once the Brachyspira pathogens are attached to the gut wall and in the caeca, even the fibre can’t reach the bacteria anymore. That is why it is recommended to start with the product immediately at entering the Brachyspira positive environment. As a safety measure, it is even recommended to use the product already 2 weeks before entering the infected laying house.

If a flock is Brachyspira-positive, foaming caeca can be observed. The laying rate decreases more pronounced after 50 weeks compared to Brachyspira free flocks. Photo: Nuscience
If a flock is Brachyspira-positive, foaming caeca can be observed. The laying rate decreases more pronounced after 50 weeks compared to Brachyspira free flocks. Photo: Nuscience

Field trial with Vitadys

A farmer was having big financial losses because of Brachyspira-positive laying hen flocks, year after year. Technical results were not optimal, and there was a lot of potential that was not used. After trying several additives, without any positive result, Nuscience proposed to test Vitadys.

Figure 1 - Laying rate of the control group vs the group receiving Vitadys.

91,000 animals received the product in the feed from week 19 on. The measuring period started at week 21 and continued until week 76. Figure 1 shows the laying graph of the control flock versus the flock receiving Vitadys in the diet. This trial shows that adding the product to the feed is a solid strategy to tackle Brachyspira and will result in a big benefit to the laying hens’ performances and the farmers profit.

Author: Manu De Laet, product manager poultry, Nuscience

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