The Mid Atlantic Poultry Farmer a supplement to the Delmarva Farmer

Antibiotic-free chicken popular choice


(Editor’s note: Jennifer Timmons is an assistant professor at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.)

(February 2017) — Antibiotic use in poultry production has been a common practice up until a few years ago.
In 2013, less than 5 percent of the chicken produced in the United States was raised without antibiotics.
However, there are several food chains that have announced they plan to only serve chicken that has been raised without antibiotics.
As a result, antibiotic free poultry production is expected to continue to grow as the industry accommodates for increase consumer demand.
Typically when antibiotics are added to broiler feed, the weight gain and feed efficiency of broilers improved.
It is important to note, that regulations are in place to ensure that all birds are antibiotic free prior to being processed.
However the consumer is concerned that antibiotic use in animal agriculture can contribute to antibiotic resistance issues in humans.
As a result, some poultry are being raised without the use of antibiotics.
This article is not an endorsement of any type of management practice, as there is no evidence to suggest that conventionally raised poultry is superior to antibiotic-free produced poultry and vice versa.
An article from Poultry Health Today reported that 12 percent of the United States broiler feed made in 2015 was related to “No Antibiotic Ever” programs (Rennier Associates, Inc.).
This article also stated that 34 percent of the United States-manufactured broiler feed in 2015 was used for conventional production.
The USDA Food Safety Inspection Service defined “no antibiotic chickens” as “chickens have never been given antibiotics, including in the egg.”
USDA FSIS definition of organic chicken allows for antibiotic use in the egg and during the first day of life of the chicks.
The USDA FSIS packaging label “raised without antibiotics” means “no antibiotics in their feed, water or injection including ionophores during the birds’ life.
Ionophores are not used in poultry production to treat bacterial infections.
Ionophores are used as antiparasitics to control coccidia, a protozoan parasite which causes intestinal disease in poultry.
There are potential production challenges when birds are raised without the use of antibiotics.
Some alternative compounds such as probiotics or oregano are being used in place of antibiotics.
These products have been shown to have antimicrobial properties and/or promote intestinal health.
As a producer raising birds under these antibiotic free programs it important to be even more diligent to prevent any undue stress which may cause birds to be more susceptible to disease.
Stricter biosecurity, reduced stocking density increased layout time, and more frequent clean-outs are all strategies that can be used to reduce the incidence of disease.
In some cases, preventing and controlling disease in antibiotic free flocks can be less efficient and more expensive.
A Poultry Health Today article stated that antibiotic free poultry production could possibly reach 25 percent in the next five years.
It is expected when birds are raised without antibiotics that changes to feeding, management and heath programs will be made to respond to the potential impact on bird performance.