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Pushing the limits of shell quality through gut health


The laying industry faces unique challenges due to Covid-19. Prices are volatile, yet consumer demand is high. Producers must work hard to produce the best possible eggs, while also finding alternative ways to improve margins in these challenging times.


BY EMILY MARSHALL, ALLTECH EUROPE T


he avian egg is seen as the most complex amniotic egg in oviparous vertebrates. With complexity comes challenge, and while reducing costs is difficult, one means of doing so is through improved


bird productivity. The role of layer gut health in this aim is often overlooked, despite its link to shell quality. Many factors influence the quality of an egg, but shell strength is often regarded as crucial. Cracks significantly contribute to downgrades, and producers must consider this, especially as second-class egg percentages are critical to profitability. A healthy gut is one from which the bird can sustainably produce to its genetic potential, not just one absent of disease or subclinical infection. A healthy gut can optimise performance, so much so that it is often referred to as the limiting factor. Intrinsic to gut health is microbiota diversity. But why does enhanced diversity lead to improved layer performance? The gut is an ecosystem, and maintaining health is a balancing act. There are multiple species of microorganisms in the gut — bacteria, protozoa, fungi and viruses — all with different classifications. Birds have a symbiotic relationship with these organisms; they all work


together to create a functioning ecosystem within the gut. For context, imagine a village where a disaster has hit. If the population contained people who all had the same skill, they would not be able to rebuild the village and sustain them- selves effectively. However, if the people in the village had different skill sets, it would be rebuilt efficiently and quickly. This exact theory can be applied when looking at the impor- tance of the microbiota in the gut. Each species has a niche, and beneficial organisms provide a service for the host. One example is through metabolising NSPs into butyric acid, which the bird can then use as an energy source for entero- cytes lining the gut.


Health status key The gut is the biggest organ in the body. As a result, its health status can directly impact a whole host of other areas; one example being egg production. The shell is a complex structure of multiple layers, composed primarily of calcium carbonate (CaCO3


). The base layer (mammillary body) is


formed first, comprising of the mammillary cones. This provides a platform on which other components can form. The palisade layer forms on top of this, followed by the transitional vertical crystal layer and the cuticle. Each layer is a highly specific structure, providing high resistance to compressive stress. These structures have CaCO3


components,


but their structural integrity is withheld in the organic matrix by glycoproteins and glycosaminoglycans. Ensuring an optimised shell structure will improve strength, helping to prevent breakages and hairline cracks. Structural layer creation is multifactorial. As such, many things can influence their composition. The shell is created


The shell is created from components fed in the hen’s diet. Optimum gut health ensures optimal shell quality.


42 ▶ GUT HEALTH | DECEMBER 2020


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