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Food supplements that fortify fowl

ARS researchers have found that feeding supplements such as ground green tea and probiotics to chickens can boost their immune systems and reduce the spread of infection. (ARS photo by Stephen Ausmus.)

Poultry infected with the parasite Eimeria maxima usually develop avian coccidiosis, a disease estimated to cost producers globally more than $1.2 billion every year. So Agricultural Research Service immunologist Hyun Lillehoj has been working with colleagues in ARS and around the world to find dietary supplements that strengthen the poultry immune system.

Lillehoj, at the ARS Animal Parasitic Diseases Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., cooperated on the research with scientists at South Korea's Gyeongsang National University College of Veterinary Medicine.

The researchers found that chickens that consumed ground green tea for two weeks prior to parasitic infection produced significantly fewer fecal E. maxima oocysts than the control group. This finding could help reduce the spread of infection in poultry houses.

Working with ARS visiting molecular biologist Sung-Hyen Lee and Imagilin Tech LLC, in Frederick, Md., Lillehoj evaluated the effects of adding commercial probiotics to poultry diets. Probiotics are health-promoting dietary supplements derived from live bacteria or yeasts.

Chickens eating diets supplemented with Pediococcus-based probiotics reduced their oocyte production, increased the production of cytokines essential for a strong immune response, and experienced improved weight gain.

Poultry immunities got a similar boost from a combination of Pediococcus and a yeast-based commercial probiotic product. Chickens that consumed a probiotic combination of lactic acid bacterium and yeasts also showed a significant antibody response to parasites.

Lillehoj, Lee, and other colleagues from South Korea collaborated with scientists at the Rural Development Administration--South Korea's national agricultural research organization--to see if other phytonutrients might also be beneficial. They found that plum powder supplements stimulated spleen immune cell production and killed tumor cells. Infected poultry fed with the supplement also gained weight and reduced parasite shedding. Supplements of safflower, which have been used by traditional Chinese practitioners for thousands of years, were found to be similarly beneficial.

Read more about this research in the May/June 2009 issue of Agricultural Research magazine, available online at: www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/may09/poultry0509.htm.

ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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