Leveraging Insights from the Fiber Flock Forum to Unlock the Potential of Fiber in Poultry Nutrition

The first presentation in the PIP Flock Forum series took place in Red Deer, Alberta, on February 26, 2024. Titled Flock Forum: Mystery Mayhem and Mastery of Fiber, the event brought together poultry producers, industry professionals, and researchers to unravel the mysteries surrounding fiber in poultry diets. Keynote and Breakout session speakers included Dr. Henk Enting, Dr. Gonzalos Mateos, Dr. Anna Rogiewicz and Tracy Speirs. The primary aim of the Fiber Forum was to foster knowledge exchange and brainstorming sessions regarding the effective utilization of fiber in poultry diets to enhance bird welfare and optimize production outcomes. This involved gaining insights into the various tools available for incorporating fiber into diets and understanding the diverse types and impacts of fiber on poultry health and performance. A key focus was on leveraging dietary fiber to influence gut health positively.

The objectives encompassed both expert-led presentations and collaborative learning among peers. Speakers were tasked with exploring the “Mystery, Mayhem, and Mastery” of fiber, tailored to their specific poultry production group:

  • Mystery: Delving into the nuances of fiber utilization to unveil its potential benefits for gut health. This involved uncovering the lesser-known aspects of fiber’s role in supporting overall bird well-being.
  • Mayhem: Addressing potential challenges and pitfalls associated with fiber inclusion in diets. This encompassed discussions on the risks posed by excessive or insufficient fiber, as well as the implications of using the wrong types of fiber or misjudging the timing of inclusion.
  • Mastery: Providing practical guidance on selecting the appropriate fiber products and optimizing their usage. This phase focused on defining desired outcomes and determining the most effective strategies for incorporating fiber into poultry diets to achieve mastery over the feeding process.

By addressing these three key aspects—Mystery, Mayhem, and Mastery—participants gained a comprehensive understanding of fiber’s potential, pitfalls, and best practices, empowering them to make informed decisions regarding fiber utilization in their poultry production operations.

Reconsidering traditional notions

Traditionally considered a diluent and an antinutritional factor, fiber has long been misunderstood in poultry nutrition. It was believed that fiber in poultry diets reduces feed intake, nutrient digestibility, and growth while increasing digesta’s viscosity and harmful microbial growth, gut disturbances, and wet litter problems. However, new insights suggest that fiber’s role is more nuanced, dependent on various factors such as its source, level, particle size, and the specific needs of the birds. Recent research highlights the importance of fiber in gut health, animal performance, and animal welfare.

Diverse fiber sources

Fiber sources in poultry nutrition come in various forms, each with its unique characteristics and potential effects on bird health and performance. The following common fiber sources were discussed in the event:

  • Rice hulls: Thin, rectangular, with smooth edges and sides, rice hulls are known for their abrasiveness and high silica content. This abrasive nature can aid in gizzard function, improving nutrient digestibility and gut health in poultry.
  • Sunflower hulls: Highly lignified and bulky, sunflower hulls are easily deformed under force and have a low resistance to pressure breakage, particularly when the moisture content is low. Despite these characteristics, sunflower hulls can still contribute to fiber content in diets, albeit with varying effects on bird digestion and performance.
  • Oat hulls: Coarse and fusiform, oat hulls are flexible and resistant to grinding. Their abrasive nature can stimulate gizzard activity and aid in digestion, potentially improving nutrient utilization in poultry diets.
  • Palm kernel meal: Rich in beta-mannans (a type of dietary fiber), palm kernel meal provides a unique source of fiber for poultry diets. The variability in ether extract content, depending on the extraction method (solvent vs. expeller), may influence its nutritional value and impact on bird performance.
  • Pea hulls: Smooth and relatively curved, pea hulls are thin plates resistant to pressure breakage. Their high water-holding capacity and starchy nature make them valuable additions to poultry diets, potentially impacting gut health and nutrient absorption.
  • Wheat middling: Coarse and irregular in fragments, wheat middling is bulky and starchy, offering both fiber and energy to poultry diets. Its inclusion can increase gut motility and nutrient utilization in birds.
  • Soy hulls: Bulky and irregular in fragments, soy hulls have a low lignin content, making them a valuable source of digestible fiber for poultry. Their inclusion in diets may influence gut health and overall nutrient absorption in birds.
  • Sugar beet pulp: Hard and amorphous, sugar beet pulp is rich in pectin and offers high water holding capacity. This characteristic can contribute to improved moisture retention in feed and potentially impact gut health and nutrient absorption in poultry.
  • Microcrystalline cellulose: Characterized by a lack of physical structure, microcrystalline cellulose exhibits high lipid adsorption capacity. Its inclusion in poultry diets may influence feed texture and nutrient absorption, although further research is needed to fully understand its effects.
  • Enhanced fiber products: Enhanced lignocellulose such as OptiCell product contains fermentable components, offering numerous benefits for beneficial microbes in the gut. With its minimal inclusion rate in the diet (0.5 to 1%), this product can unlock its full potential without compromising dietary energy levels. By incorporating this product at such a low rate, you can ensure the advantages of fiber without sacrificing energy levels or feed intake.

Key considerations regarding fiber sources

  • Fiber sources differ in size, structure, lignification, solubility, and water absorption capacity, which can influence their physiological and nutritional roles in poultry.
  • Formulating diets based on crude fiber (CF) alone may not accurately capture the diverse effects of various fiber sources. Considering factors such as neutral detergent fiber (NDF), and dietary fiber including soluble non-starch polysaccharides (sNSP) can provide a more comprehensive understanding of fiber’s impact on bird health and performance.
  • Excessive or deficient fiber levels can have significant implications for bird anatomy, physiology, and production outcomes.

The role of fiber in gut health

Contrary to previous beliefs, fiber can play a significant role in improving gut health in poultry. It can enhance gizzard function, regulate feed passage rate, increase digestive enzyme secretion, and modulate the microbiota profile. These effects contribute to improved nutrient digestibility, reduced stress, and better overall gut health. As highlighted during the Fiber Flock Forum, the microbial population residing in your birds’ gut plays a crucial role in their overall health. These microorganisms produce short-chain fatty acids, such as butyrate, which enhance gut health. Butyrate strengthens the integrity of gut cells, helping to prevent conditions like leaky gut syndrome. This syndrome can lead to the penetration of pathogens into the bloodstream, ultimately impacting poultry performance negatively. By supplying fiber alongside appropriate enzymes, you can create an ideal environment for the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. This promotes increased production of butyrate, ultimately leading to enhanced gut health and well-being in poultry.

Optimizing fiber inclusion

Optimizing fiber inclusion requires careful consideration of various factors, including fiber type, solubility, lignification, and the age and health status of the birds. Explore further details on different fiber types in our earlier publication. Formulating diets based on sNSP (soluble non-starch polysaccharides) rather than neutral detergent fiber (NDF) and crude fiber (CF) allows for a more accurate assessment and utilization of fiber’s benefits.

Future directions

The Fiber Flock Forum emphasized the need for continued research to unlock the full potential of fiber in poultry nutrition. By further exploring fiber’s role in gut health, nutrient digestibility, animal welfare, and overall bird performance, researchers can provide valuable insights to enhance poultry diets and optimize production efficiency. In conclusion, fiber in poultry diets is far more than just a filler—it’s a multifaceted component that can significantly impact bird health and performance. By understanding fiber’s complexities and optimizing its inclusion in diets, poultry producers can unlock its full potential and pave the way for healthier, more efficient bird production.

About the author(s)

Research Associate at Poultry Innovation Partnership | + posts