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Seven is the magic number

The first seven days are extremely important in the life of a broiler chick or turkey poult. Research indicates that formulation of pre-starter programmes containing highly digestible ingredients improves gastrointestinal development, immune function, and feed conversion efficiency. Additionally, overall flock profitability increases considerably.

By Paul Groenewegen, Alltech Canada, Guelph, Ontario, Canada 

The number seven is often seen as “lucky seven”. There may not be a more appropriate application of this term than in the description of the first week of a young bird’s life. It is stated “an animal never gets over a good or a bad start”, and this is increasingly important in the life of today’s genetically advanced broiler chick or turkey poult. Genetic advancements have these birds reaching market weight quicker every year. With this increase in growth rate comes an increased demand on nutrients to fuel that growth. This is even more critically important during the first week of life due to the immaturity of the gastrointestinal tract and portal drain viscera as a whole. New technologies are being developed and evaluated to fuel this increased nutrient demand, in essence allowing nutrition to keep pace with genetics. One new technology that is proving to meet the escalating nutritional demands of the young chick is a yeast derived functional protein that, when formulated into young chick diets, is resulting in improved lifetime performance and profitability.
The first week of life
Commercially, the first week post hatch represents 20-25% of a broiler’s life. In contrast, a few short years ago this first week would have represented only 15% of its life. Therefore, it is critical that neonatal nutrition and management support this period of accelerated growth and development. Furthermore, improved development during the neonatal period also has a marked influence on not only lifetime bird performance but also on flock uniformity, health and profitability. With the change of nutrient substrate from lipid and protein to complex carbohydrates, it is becoming increasingly important to consider specialised pre-starter diets that allow a rapid and efficient transition to lower the cost in grower diets.
The development and maturation of the gastrointestinal tract is a gradual process during which time the digestibility of nutrients improves dramatically (Figure 1). Therefore, the formulation of specific pre-starter diets to meet the changing demands of the developing chick is critical. Specific pre-starter diets during this development period can lead to improvements in 7-day weights of up to 21% and final 42-day weights by 9%. While formulated cost of the pre-starter diet will be increased compared to a conventional starter diet, the improved live bird performance will increase returns and result in a flock with overall improved profitability.
Intestinal morphology
Increased attention is focused on the formulation of nucleotides and nucleotiderich products into pre-starter poultry diets. De novo synthesis of nucleotides was once thought to be adequate to supply the requirements of growing animals. However, recent research indicates the nucleotide requirement of rapidly growing cells – intestinal mucosa, brain cells, bone marrow and tissues related to immunity – may be greater than that supplied by de novo synthesis, thus the possible need for dietary supplementation.
Research studies shown improvements in intestinal morphology, as indicated by increased length of the villi in the small intestine, leading to improved nutrient absorption, growth rates and feed efficiency when supplemental nucleotides are formulated into the diets of young birds. However, there may be a difference in the nucleotide source as pure nucleotides have shown variable results in improvement in gastrointestinal morphology and live bird performance compared to specialised ingredients containing functional nutrients including nucleotides. Overall, improved early weight gains, with the use of an effective prestarter, has shown to increase final body weights of broilers. Table 1 indicates that the accelerated growth rate seen in birds on a pre-starter diet continues through to market and may indicate the application of an effective pre-starter be used to allow birds to grow closer to their genetic potential.
Practical implications
Under commercial conditions for a new technology implementation, it must be practical and cost effective. A specialised ingredient, NuPro®, a yeast-based protein containing functional nutrients including nucleotides that when formulated into the pre-starter diet of poultry and fed for seven days post hatch, has been found to improve performance through the first seven days of life with this improvement seen through to market. Table 2 illustrates the positive impact of formulating NuPro compared to only nucleotides into the pre-starter diet of broiler chicks. There was, however, a significant improvement in gastrointestinal morphology when chicks were fed the functional protein source containing nucleotides compared to the high nucleotide Torula yeast. This may be an indication that the nucleotide source is as important as nucleotide supplementation on its own. Figure 2 illustrates the improvement of gastrointestinal development in 7-day broiler chicks intestinal morphology with a pre-starter diet formulated to contain a functional protein containing nucleotides.
Marked improvement
Effective pre-starter programme
Key factors to consider in developing an effective pre-starter programme include:
• Maximising diet digestibility with high quality, highly digestible ingredients – minimise the indigestible component of the diet.
• Feed chicks as soon as possible post hatch to stimulate intake dependent enzyme synthesis.
• Formulation of pre-starter diets to account for lower digestive capacity in young birds – amino acids, energy and fat.
• Increase sodium level to stimulate water and consequently feed intake. This may also improve absorption of nutrients via active transport across the immature gut.
• Optimise feed particle size.
• Adequate levels of crude protein to ensure the supply of non-essential amino acids such as glycine and serine are met.
• Proper feed additives to protect the bird from pathogens, mycotoxins, antioxidants, pre- and pro-biotics.
• Functional nutrients such as nucleotides to supplement the rapidly growing tissues.
Achieving optimal development of the gastrointestinal tract not only influences chick performance, but is also closely related to immune function. The first seven days of life are critical in the development of the immune system in chicks, and this process is not only a very energy-expensive process but also one that relies heavily on nucleotides needed for the rapid cell growth within the developing immune system.
Research conducted in the US indicates that feeding a pre-starter diet formulated with NuPro had a marked improvement not only on live bird performance but also on immune function and development of key lymphoid tissues. This may be one of the reasons that improvements in live bird performance, as well as a reduction in mortality and condemnations, are observed under commercial production conditions.
As a net result, these improvements in performance led to an overall improvement in flock profitability compared to flocks not implementing an effective pre-starter programme containing functional nutrients to support the accelerated growth rates we see in today’s genetically advanced broiler chicks.
Keeping pace
Genetic advancements in poultry have pushed the birds closer to their maximum potential on nutritional supplementation. As a result we need to look at new techniques and technologies to support and sustain these accelerated performance standards. Application of pre-starter diets is know to improve performance during the first week of life, which will continue through to market. However, other factors such as immune function also play an important role in ensuring birds can withstand the challenges faced under commercial conditions.
Research indicates that formulation of pre-starter programmes containing specialised, highly digestible ingredients not only improves gastrointestinal development, immune function, growth rate and feed conversion efficiency, but also overall flock profitability compared to conventional dietary formulations. When viewed from a commercial application perspective, the use of a specialised pre-starter programme will result in a slightly higher formulated ingredient cost for the first diet. However, when considering the low feeding rate of this pre-starter diet (200 grammes/bird in the first 7 days), the impact on total cost of production will be minimal. When considering the improved live bird performance (growth, FCR, liveability), the improved performance will result in increased flock profitability. Tailoring nutrition with the use of new technologies will allow nutrition to keep pace with genetics.


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