Why is this research project important?
Chicken gut health greatly impacts poultry productivity, animal welfare, and food safety. Coccidia and necrotic enteritis, two of the most important gut pathogens in meat chickens, cost more than US$9 billion to the chicken industry every year.
Despite the great importance of monitoring gut health more broadly, current methods to assess it require the post-mortem examination of a large number of birds and the high testing costs make its application limited to research settings. Monitoring of coccidiosis and necrotic enteritis in commercial flocks also requires post-mortem examination of a great number of birds. Current diagnosis based on gross pathology can be subjective and clouds the evaluation of on-farm control strategies. Because of those difficulties, flock gut health on commercial farms is usually measured indirectly using metrics such as feed conversion rates, which can be greatly impacted by many other factors.
The establishment of practical population level tools to directly monitor changes in gut health instead of relying on indirect measurements such as flock performance, or very expensive diagnostics based on individual chickens, would allow a more rational and informed assessment of management interventions targeting gut health.
Why did you get involved in the project?
The main motivation for my research is to find solutions for problems that directly impact livestock producers. Current advances in gut microbiome research and the modulation of gut health through probiotics and other products has sparked great interest in the poultry industry and yet these research tools are not readily applicable to commercial flocks. This project was envisioned through conversations with industry collaborators, and with poultry gut health experts and diagnosticians at RMIT (Rob Moore) and UNE (Shubiao Wu and Steve Walkden-Brown) that are equally enthusiastic in translating research findings to industry settings.