‘Cage-free’, ‘free-range’ and ‘antibiotic-free’ are all-too-familiar terms within the poultry industry. As consumer demand grows for these types of products, the poultry industry has been working hard to satisfy the world’s appetite for this versatile protein.
While building customer trust is essential, consumers need to know none of these changes in poultry production can happen overnight. As with many things, there is a learning curve to antibiotic-free production, and though it will take time to make the shift, it seems most producers are now ready.
“Changing the paradigm of 60 years of antibiotic use is quite difficult. As a lone voice for some time, I tended to get pushed down,” said Dr Steve Collett, clinical associate professor at the Poultry Diagnostic and Research Center, University of Georgia, at Alltech’s annual breakfast at the 2016 International Production and Processing Expo (IPPE). “Development is quite slow, but from what I’ve seen in the last year, the industry has picked up phenomenally. Very big companies are adding these technologies and starting to see good results.”
Where is this drive for antibiotic-free food coming from? The push started with consumers, and it is clear that restaurants and retailers have listened.
To give consumers what they want, producers are turning to innovative methods in order to remain sustainable. What many have found is that, in order to keep up with demand, it’s not as simple as just removing antibiotics. A complete gut health programme is needed, and this involves more than just using a unique component or intervention.
Collett describes the process he has been using as the “Seed, Feed and Weed” approach. This consists of seeding the gut with the right bacteria, feeding them and maintaining a proper environment for them to survive, and weeding the unfavourable microorganisms before they colonise the intestinal tract.
Strategies to improve gut health in commercial operations need to be cost-effective, sustainable, farm-specific and holistic. Intervention/product selection needs to be science-based yet practical, and each intervention must address the specific objective for its inclusion. Customised approaches to gut health are needed, keeping in mind the fact that principles of good husbandry are the very necessary foundations of gut health, and full programmes, not products, will be the key.
Alltech has pioneered antibiotic-free solutions since 1980. Our Antibiotic-Free programme brings together over 35 years of research and practical application with state-of-the-art support tools and technical expertise, giving producers a holistic approach to navigate the challenges of antibiotic-free production. For more information on Alltech’s Antibiotic-Free programme and to build a customised approach like Collett’s, visit Alltech.com/antibiotic-free.