Scientists from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have found that feeding baby chicks a special diet rich in dietary supplements can boost their immune systems when they are most vulnerable.
Christi Swaggerty, a food and feed safety research microbiologist at the USDA-ARS Southern Plains Agricultural Research Center in College Station, Texas, working with Italian research partner Vetagro, fed day-old chicks a supplemental diet blend of organic acids and botanicals.
“We know from our previous research that boosting innate immunity helps the baby chicks to fight off important pathogens,” Swaggerty said.
For example, Salmonella can make baby chicks sick and may even cause their death, but Salmonella is also a leading cause of foodborne illness that makes millions of people sick each year. Foodborne illness associated with common bacterial pathogens can cost upwards of $5 billion per year, when the lost wages of sick workers are factored in. Chickens that have lower levels of Salmonella will be less likely to pass along the bacteria in products that reach consumers, which will result in fewer cases of foodborne illness in humans.
With rising concerns over antimicrobial resistance, Swaggerty’s team was driven to explore safe, natural alternatives to boost animal health. “Fewer and fewer antibiotics are used in animal agriculture, including poultry production,” she said. “We wanted to determine if a commercially available feed additive can boost the immune response of young chicks so they will be more able to fight off infections while their immune system has time to mature.”
Data suggest that feeding broiler chicks a diet supplemented with a blend of citric and sorbic acids, thymol, and vanillin both primes key immune cells to make them more functionally efficient and act as an immune-modulator to boost the inefficient and undeveloped immune system of young chicks.
“Chickens with an effective innate immune response will be able to quickly and efficiently react to a broad range of foodborne and poultry pathogens allowing them to perform to their potential,” Swaggerty said. “But, more importantly, an effective early response allows the birds to clear infections and stay healthy, resulting in a safe and wholesome product for the consumer.”