Arm & Hammer Animal and Food Production
poultry with producer

Mastering immune system basics for poultry resiliency.

Posted March 24, 2022 by Dr. Xandra Smith, Director, Innovation and Product Development


Keeping your flock healthy and thriving relieves the unnecessary stress and productivity loss which come from birds not meeting their productivity potential. Unlocking the solution to keeping birds healthy and productive lies in a resilient immune system. And the key to a resilient immune system lies in the microbiome.

How does the microbiome impact immunity?

Studies have shown that microbiota affect maturation of both the innate immune system—the first line of defense, and the adaptive immune system—the responsive immune system. These two components are incredibly important to preventing and fighting disease. A dense mature mucin layer which is important for innate immunity will prevent pathogens from being able to reach and adhere to the gut epithelial cells, while activated T cells that “remember” pathogens allow birds to respond rapidly to a subsequent challenge.

A healthy microbiota helps improve immunity and promote nutrition absorption and disease resistance. A healthy gut and microbiota are critical to the overall health of an animal. When the gut is healthy and the microbiota strong, bacteria are fought off in the gut and prevented from reaching the rest of the body.

What do probiotics and antibiotics mean for the microbiome?

Probiotics and antibiotics are both gut microbial modifiers which can play an important role in modulating the microbiome. Under conditions with a low pathogen load, growth promoting antibiotics and certain probiotic strains can have a similar beneficial effect on performance characteristics such as growth and feed conversion. The difference, however, is antibiotics work by lowering the bacterial load and complexity in the gut, which results in a less mature immune system. Bacillus-based probiotics build up the good bacteria in the gut resulting in better immune cell maturation and proliferation.

Inflammation and other signs that something isn’t quite right.

The immaturity of the antibiotic-fed birds’ immune systems becomes apparent when the birds are exposed to an inflammatory challenge. Inflammation occurs when white blood cells accumulate around a pathogen or other foreign substance in the body. Antibiotic-fed birds have higher general systemic inflammation, whereas probiotic-fed birds tend to mount a more controlled inflammatory response.

The presence of inflammation, measured by acute phase proteins, indicates that the animal is fighting some sort of stress. When your flock doesn’t appear to be thriving—showing signs of slow growth or increased morbidity—look to the gut to determine what may be happening inside the animal to prevent healthy growth.

When it’s time to act.

If you realize something isn’t quite right, the solution starts with understanding the microbial makeup of your environment, also known as the Microbial Terroir™. With an on-farm Microbial Terroir assessment, the Arm & Hammer Animal and Food Production team can uncover your flock’s unique pathogenic challenges and identify the appropriate Bacillus strain—or probiotic—that can offset the challenges your birds are facing.

For more insights on building a resilient immune system, be sure to listen to Dr. Smith’s recent episode of Food Chain Chats. To learn about conducting your own Microbial Terroir assessment, contact your ARM & HAMMER representative today.




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