Why is the microbiome important to bird health?
Scientists are discovering the wondrous influence of a balanced microbiome. The microbiome is the active microbial eco-system (or community) that lives in or on an animal’s body - over 100 trillion microbes plus their genes. The genes in an animal’s microbiome outnumber the genes in its genome by about 100 to 1.
While microbiota live on virtually every surface of the animal’s body (skin microbiota, respiratory microbiota, etc.), by far the greatest concentration of these invisible creatures is in the gut.
The primary task of the gut microbiota (formerly called gut flora), is to enable food to be fully digested and nutrients to be metabolised. Another key job is to maintain a healthy gut by nourishing the cells of the gut wall. This wall is only one cell thick, with the bird’s immune system just on the other side.
In summary, a balanced gut microbiota live in a peaceful coexistence with their host while looking after its health and welfare. They influence a bird’s immune system, the bird’s production of vitamins and metabolites, and its production of enzymes to enable food to be digested and nutrients to be metabolised. An imbalanced microbiome results in diseased and distressed birds.
Probiotics or direct-fed microbials are becoming increasingly popular as one of the alternatives to AGP (Antibiotic Growth Promotants) in animals and birds. They not only maintain and improve the performance (productivity and growth) of the bird but additionally prevent and control enteric (gut) pathogens. The Bacillus subtilis species has the advantage here as it is delivered as spores which are stable in feed additives.
Bacillus subtilis (Natto) has been shown to reduce pathogenic gut microbes such as Salmonella spp., E. coli, Campylobacter, Enterobacteriaceae and Clostridium perfringens (causing necrotic enteritis).