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May 12, 2020

Going antibiotic free: two broiler producers’ experiences

May 12, 2020

Lallemand worked with two farmers to introduce products that help support gut health and deal with bacteria in poultry houses,  resulting in the antibiotic reduction.

Poultry housing contains a complex microbial environment with potentially high pathogenic pressure. Undesirable residual bacteria present after disinfection can recolonise what otherwise appears to be a ‘clean’ building with biofilm, presenting a health risk to the newly placed chick.

One product designed to deal with this is Lalfilm PRO, a blend of bacteria selected for their ability to form a positive biofilm and inhibit pathogenic bacterial growth. By adhering to surfaces and installing a protective positive biofilm within the building, it can be complementary to the cleaning process in creating a safer environment for bird growth.

Gut health

Alongside the risk of contamination from opportunistic environmental bacteria, birds also encounter periods of stress during their life which can negatively impact gut health and subsequent performance and well-being.

Stress sources

Housing – Ventilation, temperature, lighting, density

Feed & Water – Composition, presentation, digestibility, distribution

Handling – Transport, arrival, vaccination, thinning

One product designed to help deal with pressure on the gut is Bactocell Drink, which contains a probiotic bacterial strain which supports gut maturity and integrity through diet optimisation plus microflora balance, especially during periods of stress. Improvements in litter quality have been reported on farm.

Matthew Phillips, Shed Field Farm


Mr Phillips started in poultry in 2014. He previously worked for Tarmac for nine years before becoming a poultry farmer. He initially grew two broiler crops for Cargill on a company farm, while project managing the building of Shed Field. It became operational in July 2014 and he is part of the Red Tractor and NSF assurance schemes.

“No antibiotics have been used on the farm since 8th January 2019 when I started the full programme. You have control over when you can use it and you can change what you’re doing if you have to treat the birds,” says Mr Phillips. “You also have better control over money. It is good to be able to spot use and change up what you’re doing.”

Two crops ago, he achieved 426 EPEF, with 410 EPEF on the last crop, a big improvement for the site.

Initially, he had to overhaul his water management to make sure everything was clean and running well, then he added the Bactocell Drink into the lines to support water quality. Mr Phillips says he hasn’t used any other products in the drinker lines since three crops ago, including vitamins and no bacteria has been found in the drinker lines since three crops ago. He says he has had no leg problems as a result.

Lower mortality and better feed conversion

I haven’t treated for lameness since being on the programme,” he says.

“I have seen a good drop in mortality and have had a big drop in rejects. The best has been within the last two crops – 1.5% decrease in rejects and mortality. Birds have also been more even since using the programme,” he adds.

“Feed conversion has definitely been betters since using the products, with a 1.46 FCR,” says Mr Phillips. “Differences can be seen crop on crop, with accumulative results. They are easier to manage, and I spend less time picking up dead birds and culling. It’s easier for the catchers too, I’ve had comments about fewer dead birds around when thinning and clearing.” Gut health is also checked on farm, with reports coming back as ‘clean as a whistle’.

Mike Harrison & Michaela Gourlay, Vantage Farm

The couple had their first crop of birds in July 2015, and in July 2019 started their 31st crop. Previously Mr Harrison was a dairy farmer but converted the site to chickens four years ago; Ms Gourlay used to work for a cereals company. The pair has six sheds, with 350,000 birds, and are members of Red Tractor, recently achieving a perfect audit. The farm started using Lalfilm PRO and Bactocell Drink four crops ago.

Harrison and Gourlay initially put the products in to help gut health, then noticed the litter quality improving.

“Faecal quality is the most noticeable thing,” says Mr Harrison.

“It’s better formed and drier.”

“It’s a much drier surface for the bird than the very wet, ‘fudge’ type litter, where shavings would never help with consistency,” he adds. “Shavings can now be applied and will stay dry rather than sinking and getting wet.”

Positive outcomes using probiotics in poultry nutrition

They have had fieldsman comment on the better formation of faeces, Ms Gourlay says.“He commented that you can always tell whether a farm is using  probiotics in poultry nutrition as to how well formed the faeces are as you walk around.” All farms have problem areas, but you can see that the litter has been lifted and problem areas, such as hock and podo issues, have improved, she adds.

“There are also more even birds leaving the farm; it’s much more consistent since beginning the programme. They also seem to cope with the starvation stress much better,” says Mr Harrison.

“It’s also something you can give as an alternative to treating sometimes, which you don’t then have to pay a ‘litter penalty’ for. Sometimes you have to treat to get the water and feed intake started with the younger birds and you know that wet litter will follow as a consequence.

When we use Bactocell Drink, we know that the litter won’t be sacrificed as the quality of the faeces is preserved,” he adds. “We have seen a better crop fill within the first 12 hours of chick tip, using the drink sprayed on the feed as well, than when they were untreated.”