New system paves way for antibiotic-free poultry

A new method of rearing chickens that has taken 12 years to develop promises to dramatically reduce the need for antibiotics - and ultimately even eliminate it.

Pitched as a healthier, more natural way of producing eggs and poultry meat, the ‘seed, feed and weed’ system has been developed in the US by Professor Steve Collett of Georgia State University.

Having already been tested in the US, it is now being promoted in the UK by feed nutrition company Alltech UK, which has spent two years trialling it on UK chicken farms in tests involving five million birds.

Under the system, poultry producers feed probiotics to chicks within days of hatching to ‘seed’ their intestines with microflora to support the digestion of feed.

Organic acids are then supplied in the chicks’ drinking water - the ‘feed’ element - to help improve water quality and reduce the bacteria living in the lower intestine. Supplements are also fed to ‘weed out’ harmful pathogens.

The system was designed with the aim of achieving antibiotic-free poultry, and several flocks in the US had already achieved this, claimed Judd Culver, director of poultry solutions at Alltech UK.

However, he added: “At the moment, what ‘seed, feed and weed’ is achieving for most producers is reduced antibiotic usage and the ability to manage that antibiotic usage more closely.”

Although it cost more than standard production systems, the benefits of ‘seed, feed and weed’ would be worth it, said Culver. “It will increase costs to the farmer with the understanding that their flock health will improve over time, reducing the need for antibiotics as desired by the end user.”

To date, trials have been run with independent UK poultry producers, but Alltech is now in contact with all the major UK suppliers.