Nutrition lessons learned from no-antibiotics-ever production [VIDEO]

Alltech's Dr. DG Sandu joins the Chat to discuss how to support NAE and antibiotic-free poultry systems to yield the best results.

Transcription of Feed Strategy Chat with Dr. DG Sandu, poultry technical support services veterinarian, Alltech

Jackie Roembke, editor-in-chief, WATT Feed Brands and Feed Strategy: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Feed Strategy Chat. I’m your host, Jackie Roembke, editor-in-chief of WATT Feed Brands and Feed Strategy magazine.

This edition of Feed Strategy Chat is brought to you by the Feed Mill of the Future Conference. This half-day event will bring together leading feed industry experts to examine emerging feed mill technologies. The conference will be held on January 30 at IPPE 2024. It is produced by Feed Strategy and Feed & Grain, and is organized in partnership with the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA). To learn more about the 2024 edition of the  Feed Mill of the Future Conference, visit

Today we’re joined by Dr. DG Sandu, Alltech’s poultry technical support services veterinarian. She’s here to discuss the future of antibiotic-free (ABF) poultry production and review the valuable lessons poultry nutritionists have learned about maintaining flock health.

Hi DG, how are you today?

Dr. DG Sandu, poultry technical support services veterinarian, Alltech: Hi, Jackie. Good, thank you. My pleasure to be here. 

Roembke: We're glad to have you. Let's dive in. As we begin the new year, are there emerging poultry nutrition or production trends in 2024?

Sandu: Yes, of course, as a veterinarian, I am always very watchful of the latest advancements in technology and what's going on in the industry. Nutrition wise, I do have a background in nutrition, but the majority of my involvement revolves around the veterinary services and the veterinary industry. But something that I have noticed is that whether we're veterinarians or nutritionists, we're always watchful of feed cost and the latest diseases.

Feed cost-wise, we know that the price of corn and soy are the primary drivers here in the U.S. With little changes that we have seen over the last few months in the corn market and the slightly higher soybean meal prices, we know that we're going to be seeing perhaps a little change to perhaps even a little bit of a higher change in the feed ingredients costs this year.

We have seen that some programs, particularly the large bird programs, are struggling a little bit to maintain profitability. This is when we compare them to something like a small bird program or a tray pack bird program. So that's something to keep in mind. While feed costs are still a primary key driver in the in the feeding costs, we know that nutritionists and veterinarians are always seeking to implement new additives as part of their solutions in a feed program. Companies are also aware that while feed costs is a top influencer, we know that perhaps not always being a least cost formulator pays off. In the end with other benefits, especially in programs such as the no-antibiotic production systems or no antibiotics ever. Even organics, we know that being a little bit extra generous with those additives can pay off in other ways.

Production wise, we're having some concerns that are extraneous, not necessarily something that that we can completely get a grasp on, but particularly the layer and the turkey industry, that part of the poultry sector. They have been really struggling with high-path AI (avian influenza) as one of their top disease of concern. This has continued to be a problem last year and more so than the year before that these two sectors have been the most affected and we're seeing that it's definitely showing in some areas, particularly at the consumer level with consumers perhaps not always having the best availability for, perhaps, eggs out there or even seeing some increased prices in those sectors.

We saw that particularly about, I want to say like two years ago, where we really saw the increasing cost on the eggs in the broiler sector. It's interesting because we're still struggling with hatchability and livability. So we're very watchful of that. The livability, the key time, I would say it's between that first week of after hatch or even those first 10 days, that's when we're seeing a lot of issues.

Coccidiosis is still a main issue, particularly across all sectors, more so in the broiler. And if you get into cage-free systems, you're seeing a lot of that too, for your egg layers.

For broilers, even though bacterial chondonecrosis  or coccidiosis is one of the main diseases of concern, we're also seeing some other diseases for Europe, such as enterococcus cecorum — and this has been more so even last year. We, as veterinarians, got together and discussed some of the reasons as to why this particular bacteria has been on the increase. A lot of unknowns here. We're kind of still exploring some of the areas in the industry biosecurity, of course, we're always watchful of that: What are some of the things that we can do to improve their welfare and environment concerns raised from the consumer, as well as even in the end within the industry, because while we're able to produce birds in an antibiotic-free fashion, or even in an organic matter, depending on which label you're going to go for. We do know that there are some concerns that are being raised in those areas.

Another thing too that we are watchful of is food safety, and some of the new adjustments that are coming down the line. We know that Salmonella has always been one of the things that our industry has been watchful over; however, Campylobacter is another one that there are new focus on — particularly from the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) — that are coming down the line. It is really important to be watchful over the new trajectories that are going to be happening in regards to food safety.

New opportunities, new systems to watch, technology. With the new advancements in robotics, and even AI (artificial intelligence), all those things can be can play a role in our industry, and I hope that everybody watches as we develop that as well.

Roembke: Thank you so much for those insights. Now, focusing specifically on antibiotic elimination and reduction efforts, please identify one specific challenge that nutritionists and poultry producers have seen an increase of when they move to a new no-antibiotics-ever program and what measures commonly are taken to address or overcome that issue?

Sandu: This is a tough question because going from a conventional type of system to a no-antibiotics-ever or antibiotic-free program, we see that the challenges there are many. In an antibiotic-free program, these programs place an emphasis on the foundation of the bird. And this is just to try to reduce or eliminate some of the problem areas. Complete elimination, unfortunately, is not always possible. We may not always obtain that; there are some areas that we could improve and see the success of that improvement being applied. However, it is very difficult.

As we say, reduction may be the next best thing. In these kinds of system — depending on which poultry sector you're focusing on, whether it's layers or broilers — we understand that feed cost is very important. In these cases, where you have an ABF or an NAE program, you may want to not always focus entirely on the feed cost because you may have to spend a little bit of extra money in the feed systems or on the feed ingredients.

So that extra additional support may pay off, for example, in the immune system, fortifying that immune system, or adding a little bit more towards the growth in overall productivity. This may be needed to be able to achieve what some of the conventional programs have achieved in the past. However, this is not entirely always the the norm because there are plenty of antibiotic-free production systems that are outshining conventional systems. It is important that nutritionists and producers understand that they may have to implement solutions — and perhaps even additives that have multiple modalities.

What do I mean with multiple modalities? They are not only good at fortifying the immune system, but perhaps they also improve your productivity or they can help with emission reductions. You have to explore your avenues. You have to see what products or what systems, whether it's environmental adaptations or the implementation of technology, influence your antibiotic-free production to go the way that you want it to go and to fit your needs and your market. That's going to be really important.

I have another example where we know that coccidiosis is a major disrupter in the overall health of the bird and the productivity. We see the losses. You may want to implement a vaccine program. I know that's added cost, but it helps to have something to get started to help you in the long run. A vaccine program may help in that area. You may also want to try a new additive that targets protozoan pathogens, or a chemical program that is fitted into your cycle. Whether it's in rotation or you try to use it to continuously, monitor what that program is doing for you.

You're also going to need to pay extra attention to the housing environment of the bird, particularly focus on the flaws. Your feeding, your water, your lighting, your litter conditions, all those things play a very important role in how that bird is going to be doing and the level of stress that that bird is going to be feeling.

Birds may need a little bit of extra support, not only with nutrition and water, but also with all those other external systems that are key to producing a healthy system in this case, and bird. So you're going to want to boost your immunity, particularly, if you're focusing, for example, on coccidiosis, you're going to want to boost your immunity, perhaps giving them a little bit of hydration, improving their digestibility of the feed ingredients that you're putting into the bird. So, helping them fortify what you're doing particularly during cycling of coccidia.

Now, we know that these challenges are very obvious, particularly in the poultry industry, we know that we struggle with these.

We also know that there are other things that we need to do like, for example, increase our biosecurity, particularly during the time of HPAI. But even if when we didn't have HPAI, we still had to focus on biosecurity, just to prevent introduction of new challenges and new diseases into the house.

We also know that good wholesome nutrition is going to be essential. But how are you going to be able to achieve that is dependent on how much emphasis you want to put into your program.

Increased downtime between flocks — we know that that has been key, particularly in reducing some disease challenges out there.

Reduction of stress, I know that this is a very challenging one because birds can be stressed by many things that are outside of our control. So knowing and identifying what those stressors are going to be is important.

All of these are going to be key components, not only on maintaining the health of the bird, but also to maintain the profitability of an antibiotic-free production system. Whether you go conventional, NAE, ABF or organic, you have to focus in all of these, but you may have to adjust and be a little bit more knowledgeable on how to identify those things in the NAE and ABF program systems.

I know that the outcome is not always the same. This has been another challenge, because we know that sometimes we do all the things right, and then we don't know what went wrong. So a little bit of smoothing and troubleshooting may pay out in the long run with some of the challenges that we're seeing in our in our industry.

Roembke: Excellent. Now, you provided a lot of great information there and tips. Are there any other recommendations that producers can take regarding maybe decision-making or their feeding programs that can help enhance the flock health beyond what you just discussed?

Sandu: One of the great things about our industry is resilience and adaptability, particularly adaptability to all the different types of market situations and knowing how to adapt to those situations. It's a tremendous benefit that we have. This is particularly important in poultry systems, but more so in antibiotic-free and NAE systems. We don't have the same tools at our disposal.

Oftentimes, when we talk to older veterinarians or older nutritionists, one of the things that they always say to me is, 'Back when I was able to use X, Y, and Z antibiotic or products ... ,' you know, but a lot of those — depending on what your market is — may not be available. We also know that there are a lot more pressures in our market with environmental concerns, welfare concerns. These are extremely important.

It's going to be key moving forward to be able to know our markets. What is it that we need to satisfy our needs in within the industry? Can we implement different technologies or even artificial intelligence or other other tools that are available out there? Can we implement those to reduce some of the concerns that are being brought up within our industry? It's important to also learn from others so sharing of information within poultry forums, conferences, training opportunities, mingling, perhaps between broiler producers and turkey producers — seeing how we can learn from one another. Or are getting some insights from other sectors, perhaps not even necessarily poultry, but the swine industry learning about their welfare challenges. How can we learn from that?

And then going a step further, globally. How can we learn from other countries to bring some of those experiences to us? This is going to be really important going forward, having a good partnership with technical support, companies that can bring something of value and added value to you as a producer or a nutritionist. Start forming those bonds those friendships and give an opportunity to perhaps address some of these very important issues going into the future here.

Roembke: Thank you, Dr. Sandu. For more in-depth discussions on these topics, join Dr. Sandu's presentation at the Feed Mill of the Future Conference on January 30, 2024, at IPPE. Visit for more details.

Thank you, Dr. Sandu, and thanks for tuning in.

Page 1 of 3
Next Page