By Tingting Fan, Regional Technical Manager Poultry, EW Nutrition
Chicken coccidiosis is a common and important disease in poultry production, with an incidence of infection as high as 50-70%. The mortality rates are around 20-30% or higher in highly severe cases. In addition to losses due to mortality, producers lose money due to poor growth as well as decreased meat yield and quality. Additionally, the birds get more susceptible to secondary infections, e.g., necrotic enteritis (Moore, 2016).
The costs caused by coccidiosis in poultry are about 13 billion US $ (Blake, 2020). These costs globally divide into 1 billion costs for prophylaxis/treatment and 12 billion due to performance losses. Until now, only 5% of the prophylaxis costs have been created by natural solutions. That means that there is still a high potential to be tapped.
Natural solutions, unfortunately, are only used by a minority
For a long time, ionophores fitting the classical definition of antibiotics and chemicals were used in coccidia-fighting programs – and contributed to the development of antimicrobial resistance (Nesse et al., 2015). Nowadays, the combination with vaccination in rotation or shuttle programs has reduced this danger, but there is still potential. Meanwhile, some natural solutions are available that can be integrated into coccidiosis-fighting programs. However, producers using natural solutions are still a minority.
For thousands of years, plants have been used in human and veterinary medicine. Before the discovery of antibiotics in 1928, diseases were fought with plants. To regain the effectiveness of antibiotics, using natural solutions for prophylaxis should be once more standard, and the use of antibiotics is the treatment only for critical cases.
How does Eimeria damage broilers
The pathogenic mechanism of coccidia or Eimeria spp. is mainly the massive destruction of host intestinal cells when it reproduces, resulting in severe damage to the intestinal mucosa. On the one hand, the damaged gut wall loses its capability for effective digestion and absorption of nutrients, leading to worse feed conversion and lower weight gain.
On the other hand, this damage reduces the chicken’s immunity and paves the way for other infections, such as necrotic enteritis, and raises mortality.
Table 1:The seven most known Eimeria species in broilers and their main site of occurrence
|Eimeria species||Predilection site|
|E. acervulina||Duodenum and prox. jejunum|
|E. maxima||Central jejunum|
|E. mitis||Distal jejunum and ileum|
|E. necatrix||Central jejunum and ceca|
|E. brunetti||Ileum, entrance of the ceca and rectum|
|E. praecox||Duodenum and prox. jejunum|
Concerning their pathogenicity, for poultry, the Eimeria species must be ordered in the following way: E. necatrix> E. tenella > E. brunetti > E. maxima > E. acervulina > Eimeria mitis, and Eimeria praecox.
Prevention is better than treatment
Thanks to its bi-layered wall with a robust structure, the oocysts of coccidia are extremely resilient. They can survive 4 to 9 months in the litter or soil and are resistant to common disinfectants. Farm personnel and visitors are also important vectors, so good biosecurity practices can reduce the number of oocysts contaminating the premises and help prevent clinical out-brakes. Coccidiosis control in poultry should focus on “prevention” rather than “treatment”, combining biosecurity practices, feed additives, and/or vaccination.
Effective hygiene on the farm is crucial
To prevent coccidia infections, one of the most critical points is hygiene. Biosecurity practices are crucial and include cleaning and disinfection of the poultry houses and their surroundings, pest control and prevention, restriction, control, and management of the entry of personnel, visitors, vehicles, and equipment, among others.
Coccidia oocysts are ubiquitous and survive for a long time, and even effective cleaning and disinfection cannot completely remove them. After a severe outbreak, it is recommended to take drastic biosecurity measures such as flame or caustic soda disinfection to prevent further spread of the disease.
When there are birds in the house, it must be paid attention that the litter is not excessively humid. Litter moisture should be maintained around 25%; turning and replacing moist litter are the best practices to follow. For keeping the litter dry, adequate ventilation and appropriate stocking density are beneficial.
To avoid unnecessary stress and gut health issues, the birds must be fed according to their requirements with high-quality feed so that the animals build up good immunity and resilience.
Coccidiosis can be controlled with effective programs
Anticoccidial drugs were the first means of preventing and controlling coccidiosis in chickens and once achieved very good results. Since Sulfaquinoxaline was found to be effective in the 1850s, about fifty other drugs have been developed for the prevention and control of coccidiosis. Generally, the anticoccidials used for years to prevent the disease can be divided into ionophores and chemicals.
Ionophores, produced as by-products of bacterial fermentation, are technically antibiotics. The great benefits of ionophores are that they kill the parasite before it can infect the bird and thus prevent damage to the host cells. Eimeria species also take a long time to develop resistance to ionophores (Chapman, 2015). Well-established ionophores are products that contain monensin, lasalocid, salinomycin, narasin, or maduramycin; the trade names are Coban/Monensin, Avatec, Coxisstac, Monteban, and Cygro.
Chemicals, these molecules, are produced by chemical synthesis. They differ from each other and ionophores as each one has a unique mode of action against coccidia. In general, they act by interfering with one or more stages of the life cycle of Eimeria, e.g., supplying fake nutrients (Amprolium, Vit. B1) to the parasite, starving them out. The active components here are nicarbazin, amprolium, zoalene, decoquinate, clopidol, robenidine and diclazuril, and the respective trade names Nicarb, Amprol, Zoamix, Deccox, Coyden, Robenz and Clinacox. Eimeria species develop resistance to these chemical molecules; therefore, they must be used carefully and with strict planning. However, cross-resistance does not develop, making them highly valuable in rotation programs.
Vaccination against coccidiosis is accepted by many farmers as a good solution to control coccidiosis in chickens. Vaccination aims to replace resistant field strains with vaccine strains, which are sensitive to anticoccidials. Currently, commercial chicken vaccines are available in natural and attenuated strains; research to obtain safer and more efficient vaccines is also ongoing.
Non-attenuated vaccines are less expensive and make for good immunity, but as they may mildly damage the intestinal epithelium, the risk of necrotic enteritis can increase. On the contrary, attenuated strains – usually “precocious” strains with shorter reproduction cycles, cause less intestinal damage and thus have a lower risk of provoking bacterial or necrotic enteritis. The immunity is like after normal infections; however, you have a controlled epidemiology, fewer coccidiosis outbreaks, and an improved uniformity of the flock.
Phytomolecules-based natural anticoccidials saponins and tannins are natural components that can also help control coccidiosis (e.g., Pretect D, EW Nutrition GmbH). These ingredients act in different ways: the tannins improve the intestinal barrier function locally and systemically. The saponins directly impact the oocysts by preventing their growth, interacting with the cholesterol in the cell membrane (triterpenoid saponin), or hindering further sporulation and causing cell death by causing pores in the cell membrane of the parasite. Altogether, Pretect D promotes the beneficial microbial population and reduces the harmful one, improves the gut barrier function, reduces mucosal inflammation, inhibits growth and replication of Eimeria, preventing their lesions, and fosters birds’ immune response against Eimeria spp.
To prove Pretect D’s effectiveness in the reduction of coccidiosis, several trials were conducted. One of the trials was carried out in Poland with 360.000 broilers in commercial conditions. The animals were divided into ten houses, and two cycles were tested. Half of the birds served as control and received Narasin and Nicarbazin in the starter and grower I diet and salinomycin in the grower II diet. The other half also were fed Narasin and Nicarbazin in the starter and grower I diet, but Pretect D @1kg/t in grower II and 0.5kg/t in the finisher diet. The results are shown in figure 1: The application of Pretect D in the grower II and finisher diet decreased the number of oocysts in the droppings more than the application of salinomycin and, therefore, reduced the spreading of coccidiosis. In addition, the performance of the broilers receiving Pretect D was nothing short of the control’s performance showing Pretect as an optimal completion in shuttle or rotation programs (see more HERE).
Figure 1: Reduction of oocysts in the droppings by Pretect D
Managing coccidiosis without promoting antimicrobial resistance is not easy, but feasible
Coccidiosis is a challenge aggravated by our current high level of production. Tools such as ionophores, chemicals, but also vaccines, and natural products are available to fight coccidiosis. However, due to the high probability of resistance development, these tools must be used carefully and in structured programs. The phytomolecules-based product Pretect D gives the possibility to reduce antimicrobial resistance as part of programs against coccidiosis.
References upon request