Dietary inclusion of feathers affects intestinal microbiota and microbial metabolites in growing Leghorn-type chickens.

Meyer, B.; Bessei, W.; Bessei, A. W.; Vahjen, W.; Zentek, J.; Harlander-Matauschek, Alexandra (2012). Dietary inclusion of feathers affects intestinal microbiota and microbial metabolites in growing Leghorn-type chickens. Poultry Science, 91(7), pp. 1506-1513. Poultry Science Association 10.3382/ps.2011-01786

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Feather pecking in laying hens is a serious behavioral problem that is often associated with feather eating. The intake of feathers may influence the gut microbiota and its metabolism. The aim of this study was to determine the effect of 2 different diets, with or without 5% ground feathers, on the gut microbiota and the resulting microbial fermentation products and to identify keratin-degrading bacteria in chicken digesta. One-day-old Lohmann-Selected Leghorn chicks were divided into 3 feeding groups: group A (control), B (5% ground feathers in the diet), and C, in which the control diet was fed until wk 12 and then switched to the 5% feather diet to study the effect of time of first feather ingestion. The gut microbiota was analyzed by cultivation and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis of ileum and cecum digesta. Short-chain fatty acids, ammonia, and lactate concentrations were measured as microbial metabolites. The concentration of keratinolytic bacteria increased after feather ingestion in the ileum (P < 0.001) and cecum (P = 0.033). Bacterial species that hydrolyzed keratin were identified as Enterococcus faecium, Lactobacillus crispatus, Lactobacillus reuteri-like species (97% sequence homology), and Lactobacillus salivarius-like species (97% sequence homology). Molecular analysis of cecal DNA extracts showed that the feather diet lowered the bacterial diversity indicated by a reduced richness (P < 0.001) and shannon (P = 0.012) index. The pattern of microbial metabolites indicated some changes, especially in the cecum. This study showed that feather intake induced an adaptation of the intestinal microbiota in chickens. It remains unclear to what extent the changed metabolism of the microbiota reflects the feather intake and could have an effect on the behavior of the hens.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


05 Veterinary Medicine > Department of Clinical Research and Veterinary Public Health (DCR-VPH) > Veterinary Public Health Institute

UniBE Contributor:

Harlander, Alexandra




Poultry Science Association




Andrea Stettler

Date Deposited:

17 Jul 2014 12:26

Last Modified:

17 Jul 2014 12:26

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:



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