Essential oils key to Cargill’s approach to reducing antibiotics in poultry 

January 28, 2016

For centuries, essential oils – defined as natural oils typically obtained by distillation and having the characteristic fragrance of the plant or other source from which they are extracted – have been used around the world for a variety of therapeutic purposes. The ancient Egyptian, Greek, Chinese and other cultures used essential oils in cosmetics, perfumes and medicines. Today, many people use essential oils to enhance their mental, emotional and physical well-being.

The benefits of essential oils aren’t limited to humans, however. At Cargill, animal nutrition researchers are focusing on improving gut health in poultry to promote feed efficiency and keep birds healthy – and essential oils play a key role.

Essential oils key in gut health support

Gut health is important in poultry production because the digestive system performs key functions essential to ensuring birds’ optimum performance. Cargill seeks to better understand optimal gut function in four key areas:

  1. Managing microflora for a well-balanced bacterial population
  2. Controlling immune function and inflammatory response
  3. Maximizing nutrient digestion and absorption
  4. Improving the physical barrier against pathogens

Cargill has been researching the use of non-medicated feed additives for several years as an alternative to antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs). This research has shown that for consistent performance improvement, essential oils are a key solution because they impact all four key gut function areas.

Since 2009, a combined total of 77 comprehensive in vitro and in vivo trials have been conducted at Cargill’s Animal Nutrition Innovation Centers in Velddriel, the Netherlands, and Elk River, Minn., as well as at regional facilities in Jordan, France, Poland, India and the U.S., on additives including essential oils, probiotics, yeast derivatives and medium chain fatty acids (MCFA).

While all additives studied showed some benefit in the four key areas, Cargill researchers found that selected essential oil compounds, particularly those derived from thyme, cinnamon and oregano, had the most comprehensive effect on overall gut health. Benefits included:

  • Antimicrobial activity
  • Modulation of immune response
  • Antioxidant activity
  • Improvement of nutrient digestibility
  • Stimulation of mucus production

“Only essential oils have both a broad spectrum of activity against pathogens and a direct impact on digestive function,” said Stephanie Ladirat, global technology lead for gut health additives in Cargill’s animal nutrition business.

Essential oils role in antibiotic reduction

In addition, essential oils were found to be particularly efficient in conditions where intestinal infections such as Salmonellosis and Coccidiosis were present. They were also found to be a viable alternative to antibiotics as more than 85 percent of the results showed a minimal difference between the positive control (antibiotics) and essential oils.

The research also showed that essential oils are just one facet of a feeding program that promotes ideal gut health and allows antibiotic reduction. Research findings support combining essential oils with organic acids to get maximum efficacy.

“Cargill’s local nutrition experts are working directly with poultry producers to develop customized, holistic feeding programs encompassing nutrition, additives and farm management based on the study results,” says Twan Van Gerwe, poultry R&D director in Cargill’s animal nutrition business.

Combined study results from 12 trials demonstrated that birds given Cargill’s PROMOTE® Biacid™ Nucleus additive, which contains a proprietary mixture of seven carefully selected essential oil compounds, in combination with an antibiotic-free diet, consistently improves body weight gain by 2 percent and feed conversion by 1.5 percent, producing a return on investment (ROI) of 5:1 for producers.

Long-term benefits of healthy digestion in poultry

For poultry producers, the high return on investment is a top benefit of intestinal health support. However, promoting gut health also helps address issues in food safety and animal welfare. Healthy poultry intestines may result in a lower risk of bacterial food contamination and in healthier barn environments.

Finally, feed efficiency has become increasingly important due to the growing world population and limitations in feed resources. Supporting gut heath contributes to efforts to meet increasing demand for global animal protein in an efficient way.

“Promoting gut health while reducing AGPs is critical for sustainable animal performance and profitability,” adds Van Gerwe. “Our R&D work in improving poultry gut health is an important part of Cargill’s commitment to nourishing the world’s population.”