Both broiler and laying chicks have been shown to benefit from immediate access to feed. A high quality pre-starter provides a good basis for successful performance. Including plasma protein in young chicken nutrition is a solution which offers sustained future growth.
To cope with market demand for an efficient production, modern broilers are reaching market age sooner than they did in the past. An impaired performance in the starter period is likely to have a negative effect on final weight. With the reduction in days to slaughter, good growth during the starter period becomes more important as there is no time for compensation. Therefore young birth nutrition will be fundamental to securing this rapid growth achievement and maintaining sustainable broiler production.
Although the focus of young poultry nutrition has been on provision of energy, chicks benefit from a balanced nutrient profile, particularly protein and amino acids. After hatching, the digestive function of the chicks gut has not reached full digestive capacity, and therefore digestibility of protein and carbohydrate sources have to be taken care of. Accordingly, ingredients are chosen to maximise nutrient availability, rather than simply meeting energy or amino acid levels in the broiler diet formulation. High quality diets have a significant stake in reducing antibiotic use too, while bacteriological challenges (infections) in the digestive system at the early stage of life hamper growth and are a reason for antibiotic treatment. These infections become less likely when digestion is optimal and gut health is stimulated by the diet.
Given the requirements of immediate growth and good gut health for young poultry, inclusion of spray dried plasma in pre-starter diets is a worthy consideration. Several tests in broiler chickens and turkeys have shown that this highly digestible protein source with intrinsic functional components supports the early growth of chickens and improves their intestinal health. There are several possible roles the inclusion of plasma in starter and pre-starter diets can have. Blood plasma is made from hygienically collected blood at slaughter, mainly bovine and porcine. The plasma of blood contains several functional proteins. The plasma is separated from the blood cells by centrifugation. During the following drying process of the plasma, the bio-functionality of the components is maintained, while more sophisticated processing methods are used compared to the production of blood meal.
Addition of spray dried plasma (SDP) to the diet of piglets has demonstrated to give positive effects on growth rate and health. There is a large number of publications and studies showing better feed intake, better growth and better feed conversion ratios in pigs. But also effects on health are highlighted. For instance, SDP fed piglets consistently reduced cytokine responses in the small intestine after challenges with pathogenic microorganisms such as Escherichia coli K88 or Salmonella typhimurium, suggesting that SDP has anti-inflammatory properties. It is widely accepted that Immunoglobulins (Ig) are the major active molecules in SDP, explaining the above mentioned effects. SDP from porcine origin had larger effects in piglets than bovine SDP, suggesting some specificity of the Ig fraction against porcine pathogens and/or higher functionality of homologous IgG. Trials in piglets nevertheless showed that heterologous plasma from bovine and ovine origin has a significant effect on performance too.
Effect of plasma in broilers
More than a dozen publications can be found that support the positive effect of plasma in broilers. The first publications on the application in poultry go back to the 1990s. In most of the published studies a significant improvement of feed conversion, on average around 6 points improvement, is reported. With the same feed intake, growth is improved. In the evaluation of the effect on carcass composition no differences are reported.
To formulate the starter diets bovine, ovine and porcine plasma can be used. Positive effects were reported with different inclusion days, e.g. 5, 10 and 14 days, and with different inclusion percentages like 0.5, 1 and 2%.
The better performance of poultry on plasma supplemented diets partly goes back to the high digestibility of a nearly ideal amino acid profile. Similar to pigs, another part of the improved performance is due to changes in the immune modulation. These immune-modulatory effects have been found in chickens fed with plasma too. To better understand the underlying mechanisms research is ongoing that will answer the question how the immunoglobulins and other bio-active components in plasma balance the immune system of the chicken and how it improves gut-health. Whereas in piglets the high palatability of plasma protein contributes to an increased feed intake, in broiler chickens no improved feed intake is seen.
Economic evaluations show that the total production costs were less when plasma was added to the starter formulations. The relatively high ingredients costs were more than compensated by the improved feed conversion. In experiments with different inclusion rates, where 6 to 12 point improvement of feed gain and improved growth was observed, the cost per kg growth were lower, especially with a 2% plasma inclusion in the diet.
Additional work has to be done to quantify the economic value of positive effects of these feeding concepts with high quality hatch feeds and pre-starter feeds, that increase livability and uniformity and reduced antibiotic need.
The experiences in poultry are comparable to the piglet experience, with broiler chickens showing better growth and feed efficiency. The full potential that plasma protein has in chicken nutrition is gradually becoming clearer. Results show that:
Plasma protein should be taken into consideration for incorporation into early chicken diets. It is a highly digestible protein source, with ideal protein composition, that makes it eligible for the formulation of pre-starter and starter diets for poultry in today’s industry, which puts a high demand on the chicken. The application of plasma in poultry diets appears to be an excellent possibility to improve pre-starter and starter diets for broilers and laying hens. These high quality diets can support the digestion in the immature chicken and support the immune system of the broiler to compete the pathogenic challenges. This may help in starting without antibiotics and rearing uniform flocks. In many of the reviewed trials a significant improvement FCR and growth in first phases was seen, making it an economically valuable feed ingredient.
References available on request