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Essential oils in poultry feed gain increased popularity

Saskatchewan researchers say benefits include increasing feed’s palatability and improving the digestibility of nutrients.
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New poultry feeds contain additives such as essential oils, which the industry claims result in healthier chickens and improved egg weight.
WESTERN PRODUCER — Essential oils in poultry feed are becoming a popular addition as researchers show the benefits.

Natacha Hogan, a professor in the department of animal and poultry science at the University of Saskatchewan, said research on essential oils has been ramping up.

“What we do know from the research done in poultry is that essential oils can have a lot of diverse, really good effects on poultry health,” Hogan said.

According to her, these good effects can include improving the taste so the chickens eat more. It also improves the digestibility of nutrients, which promotes growth of the bird. Hogan said essential oils can also change the gut microbiome.

“That’s going to promote the growth but not through an antibiotic mechanism, because the whole idea is that these products are being looked at as antibiotic alternatives, because of the decreased use of widespread antibiotic use by the poultry industry in Canada and the U.S., and really a lot around the world.”

Hogan said the research has taken off and garnered a lot of support.

Cargill has released poultry feed with additives such as essential oils, which they say creates better egg weight and healthier chickens.

According to a news release from Cargill, different ingredients were added to two of its existing poultry feeds, alongside natural essential oils:

  • Prebiotics, probiotics and yeast culture for nutrient absorption and digestion.
  • Vitamin D3, which is supposed to help with stronger eggshells due to an increase in calcium absorption.
  • Plant extracts.
  • Yucca schidigera, a plant that is supposed to help the odour of chicken manure.

Heidi Armbrust, an innovation and technical lead at Cargill, said the company has conducted research into numerous areas including talking to backyard poultry enthusiasts, laboratory analysis of the essential oils, analyzing how the finished product reacts to different environmental conditions, carrying out animal studies to evaluate animal performance and egg qualities, and in-field animal observational studies.

Armbrust said the company also used supplier research, which spanned years. The research trials included experimenting with different ingredients, animal studies, and finished product analysis.

“We demonstrated in the studies that the proprietary blend of high-quality essential oils when used at an optimal level in Nutrena NatureWise poultry feeds can deliver safe and consistent benefits that support the chicken in various ways from appetite, digestion, appearance and overall egg production,” said Mark Eggers, also an innovation and technical lead with Cargill.

He said the research started after listening to the needs of backyard poultry enthusiasts.

The product is currently available only in the United States, but Hogan said eventually more of these products will be offered in Canada.