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The Big Impact of a Small Change in Poultry Production

What does 1% do? If I can improve something by 1%, what does it mean?

In May 2022, we spoke with Mike Donohue, Vice President for Agristats, about how small improvements in the health and performance of broilers can make a significant impact on the economics of poultry production. Mike is a 42-year veteran of the chicken industry and recently celebrated his 25th anniversary with Agristats.

An Industry Responsive to Consumer Demands

To start our conversation, we asked Mike to describe the evolution of the chicken industry, both in the U.S. and globally. “The growth of the chicken industry over the last 35 to 40 years, not just in the United States, but around the world, has been almost explosive,” he said. “China didn’t have anything really until 1980 or so when they started commercial chicken production, and they’ve grown to, I believe, the third largest producer in the world. Brazil is a similar situation; they’ve grown in both domestic demand and international demand. And the U.S. production has probably doubled in the last 15 to 20 years.”

The U.S. industry has also seen shifts in the products they produce, to better cater to consumers who are looking for easy-to-prepare, nutritious protein — at a good price. “We’ve been leaders, the chicken industry, in bringing affordable protein to people, not just in the U.S. but in pretty much every other corner of the world. You can see that by any statistic from the government or others on per capita chicken consumption.”

The Impact of 1%

Healthy birds are needed to supply the millions of tons of chicken meat to consumers, so we asked Mike about the importance of maintaining bird health and the impact bird health has on production. He stressed that all chicken producers are concerned about being good caretakers of their birds, by providing good husbandry and trying to mitigate disease and environmental challenges.

Keeping birds healthy allows for better production performance and livability. Mike explained that livability is an important factor for producers and provided the example below on what 1% improvement in livability can do for revenue.

  • The average chicken operation grows about 30 million live pounds a month.
  • A 1% increase in livability means:
    • 300,000 more live pounds
    • 240,000 more finished product pounds (at 80% yield)
    • At $1.20/pound, an extra $288,000 in revenue


But increased revenue is just half the story — costs are also affected by a 1% improvement in livability. “Whatever we can do from a management standpoint, from a husbandry standpoint, from a nutrition standpoint, from a veterinary standpoint, to bring more birds to the plant, to bring healthy birds to the plant, the better the performance is going to be and the better the cost of production is going to be for the company,” Mike said. And when input costs are as high as they are now, a healthy bird is even more important.

“How do we get a balanced diet, at the most accessible cost, that helps birds grow quickly and efficiently and live well, all the way through the life of that flock? That’s part of what I work on; that’s part of what the industry works on day after day.”

Investing in the 1% Improvement

If birds aren’t healthy, they don’t convert feed as well, and that’s an added cost to producers. Mike explained that if you can change something in your production setting (e.g., an alternative feed ingredient) that improves bird health — even if it’s an added cost — it typically means a better feed conversion ratio (FCR), which can make a big difference to revenue. But you need to make sure your return on investment makes sense. In the video below, Mike outlines an example of how adding an extra cost that improves FCR by 1% could definitely be worthwhile.



Improving the Bottom Line

A large part of Mike’s job is helping his customers find the 1% they can change — the poultry industry works with some big numbers, so small changes can add up quickly. In this way, Mike and Amlan have similar goals — we want to help our customers make changes to their operation that improve their bottom line. Our range of natural mineral-based feed additives help support optimal bird intestinal health and productivity, while adding value for producers. Thank you, Mike, for showing us the big impact a small change can make.

Varium® Improves Performance in Commercial Broilers Compared to an Antibiotic Growth Promoter

Varium Product Blog

Varium was developed to provide poultry producers with a product to improve production by optimizing gut health. One of the ways this can be shown is by improvements in feed conversion. Because feed costs are such a large part of the cost of poultry production, any improvement in feed conversion can have a big impact on the bottom line. Additionally, decreasing the amount of feed used to produce a kilogram of meat increases the sustainability of the operation, which is very important in today’s world.

Varium, available in select international markets, has multiple modes of action to increase its ability to improve performance. It was designed to protect against biotoxins ​in the lumen of the gastrointestinal tract and keep them from entering the body, to energize the epithelial cells that line the intestine, and help the immune system prepare to respond to antigens. ​Over the years numerous controlled experiments have shown that Varium improves feed conversion under a variety of conditions. A meta-analysis of this research was presented at the Poultry Science Association’s 2nd Latin American Scientific Conference in Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil. This summary of multiple experiments showed that feeding Varium resulted in broiler performance that was equal to that obtained when an antibiotic growth promoter was fed, this was seen both in birds that were challenged with the bacterium Clostridium perfringens to induce necrotic enteritis and in unchallenged birds. When both the antibiotic and Varium were fed together it improved the feed conversion ratio even more (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Varium improved Feed Conversion Ratio (FCR) compared to unchallenged or challenged control, equal to the antibiotic growth promoter (AGP).

Since that time, information from the field has shown that feeding Varium resulted in less damage to the intestine of commercial broilers and improved villi height/crypt depth, which correlated to improved overall feed conversion (Lima, Peru).

In 2022, a large commercial study was run in southern Brazil. The study used approximately 180,000 broilers from three farms with each farm feeding one house a control diet with their standard feed containing a mycotoxin binder and enramycin, an antibiotic used as a feed additive to prevent necrotic enteritis. A second house had those ingredients removed and 0.1% Varium was added. The chicks that were supplied to the farms for evaluation were from breeders of the same age. Every week a sample weight was measured in each barn and mortalities were tabulated. Birds were harvested at 47.29 days for the Control birds and 47.17 days for the Varium fed birds (Figure 2). With a daily weight gain of 69.60 g for the Control birds and 70.62 g for the Varium fed birds.

Figure 2. Body weight (kg) for broilers fed 0.1% Varium compared to broilers fed feed containing a mycotoxin binder and the antibiotic enramycin.

Weekly mortality, cumulative mortality, and transport mortality were all lower when birds were fed Varium compared to those fed the antibiotic (Figure 3). Overall feed conversion was 1.717 for the Control birds and 1.671 for the birds fed Varium; an advantage for birds fed Varium of 4.6 points.

Figure 3. Mortality was lower for birds fed Varium each week and cumulatively by week. Final mortality included birds that died during transportation to harvest.

Feed conversion was 1.717 for the Control birds and 1.671 for the Varium fed birds, an advantage of 4.6 points (Figure 4). When the feed conversion was adjusted to a common ending weight of 3.25 kg adjusted feed conversion was 1.706 for the Control birds and 1.643 for the Varium fed birds, an advantage of 6.3 points for the Varium fed birds.

Figure 4. Feed conversion improved when broilers were fed Varium versus an antibiotic, both for overall or when adjusted to a final weight of 3.25 kg.

The 2022 Brazilian study shows that feeding Varium can improve efficiencies and performance, which are critical to increasing profits. In this case, the added annual profit for a producer processing 1 million birds per week would equate to approximately USD 6 million. Using an estimated price for the control diet of USD 375 and USD 380 for the Varium diet, the return on the cost of adding Varium vs the antibiotic control diet is approximately 4 to 1.

To learn more about improved performance with Varium and how to request a field trial, contact your local Amlan representative.

Consumer Demand Driving Natural Feed Solutions

Poultry barn with Amlan Logo text graphic.

Source: Amie Simpson, Brownfield Ag News, January 28, 2022

“Increasing regulation and strong consumer demand are creating a growing market for natural animal protein production solutions,” commented Dr. Wade Robey, our VP of Marketing and Product Development, in a recent interview with Amie Simpson from Brownfield Ag News. Wade also discussed Amlan’s introduction of natural mineral-based feed additives into the US market and the growth opportunities this presents for Amlan in 2022. Read more here.