Essential oils may better equip chicken embryos and hatchlings to fight disease

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/davit85
© GettyImages/davit85

Related tags: essential oils, Gut health, chicks

A University of Queensland (UQ) research team is evaluating native Australian essential oils to see if they support the gut health of chicks.

That UQ team is, in general, investigating the benefits of essential oils for animal welfare, productivity and sustainability in the domestic broilers sector.

This gut health focused project is funded by AgriFutures Chicken Meat Program and supported by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and UQ.

“We’re determining if important essential oil compounds transfer through to the egg, and if they do, are they providing any significant benefit for the embryos’ health and robustness,”​ said professor Eugeni Roura from UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation. 

“The most critical period in a broiler chick’s life is the first hours after hatching. This is when the young bird is more susceptible to environmental pathogens, yet its defenses and its natural gut microflora are not well established,”​ she added.

Range of essential oils under the spotlight  

The research team, which also includes Dr Marta Navarro and Dr Shahram Niknafs, is trialing essential oils such as tea tree oil, lemon myrtle, nerolina, niaouli, lemon myrtle, anise myrtle, eucalyptus, and Tasmanian native pepper.

“These native oils have reported strong antioxidant or disease-fighting attributes and have been extensively studied here at UQ. This study is aiming to develop a nutritional program to minimize disease in chicks to enhance productivity and sustainability,”​ said Dr Navarro.

Essential oils could affect how bacteria communicate and spread, inhibiting the formation of bacterial biofilms as an example, she outlined. 

This may open new possibilities to target non-desirable populations of bacteria in the chick’s gut while it is still in the egg. Also, the oils can stimulate appetite and digestion to promote strong and vigorous early growth and development.”

In-ovo nutrition

The team is employing a strategy whereby essential oils and nutrients will be injected into fertile eggs using in-ovo injection technology.

The researchers said they will measure multiple parameters and indicators of gut health during trials including microbiome composition, growth, overall embryo development, and the stage of development following fertilization.

Once hatched, we’re measuring the chick’s growth and performance during the first 10-15 days of its life. At the end of the project, we’ll perform a trial with all the knowledge acquired during the project in commercial conditions,” ​ said Dr Navarro. 

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