Essential oils key to Cargill’s plan in reducing antibiotics in poultry

chickens eating
(UGA Photo/John Amis)

MINNEAPOLIS — Cargill researchers are focusing on improving gut health in poultry to promote feed efficiency and keep birds healthy. Cargill has been researching the use of non-medicated feed additives for several years as an alternative to antibiotic growth promoters.

As an independent supplier, Cargill has performed cross-additive research and determined the most beneficial types of feed additives for individual customer needs. For consistent performance improvement, essential oils turned out to be a key solution because they impact all four key gut function areas (listed below).

Essential oils study

Since 2009, a combined total of 77 comprehensive in vitro and in vivo trials have been conducted at Cargill’s Animal Nutrition Innovation Centers in Velddriel, the Netherlands, and Elk River, Minnesota, as well as at regional facilities in Jordan, France, Poland, India and the U.S., on additives including essential oils, probiotics, yeast derivatives and medium chain fatty acids. While all additives studied showed some benefit in these areas, Cargill researchers found that selected essential oil compounds, particularly those derived from thyme, cinnamon and oregano, had the most comprehensive effect on overall gut health.

Benefits included:

  • Antimicrobial activity
  • Modulation of immune response
  • Antioxidant activity
  • Improvement of nutrient digestibility
  • Stimulation of mucus production

Chickens EatingAntibiotic reduction

In addition, essential oils were found to be particular efficient in conditions where intestinal infections such as Salmonellosis and Coccidiosis were present. They were also found to be a viable alternative to antibiotics as more than 85 percent of the results showed a minimal difference between the positive control (antibiotics) and essential oils.

The research also showed that essential oils are just one facet of a feeding program that promotes ideal gut health and allows antibiotic reduction. Research findings support combining essential oils with organic acids to get maximum efficacy.

“Cargill’s local nutrition experts are working directly with poultry producers to develop customized, holistic feeding programs encompassing nutrition, additives and farm management based on the study results,” says Twan Van Gerwe, poultry R&D director in Cargill’s animal nutrition business.

Combined study results from 12 trials demonstrated that birds given Cargill’s PROMOTE® Biacid Nucleus additive, which contains a proprietary mixture of seven carefully selected essential oil compounds, in combination with an antibiotic-free diet, consistently improves body weight gain by 2 percent and feed conversion by 1.5 percent, producing a return on investment of 5:1 for producers.

Long-term benefits

For poultry producers the high return on investment is a top benefit of intestinal health support. However, promoting gut health also helps address issues in food safety and animal welfare. Healthy poultry intestines may result in a lower risk of bacterial food contamination and in healthier barn environments.

Finally, feed efficiency has become increasingly important due to the growing world population and limitations in feed resources. Supporting gut heath contributes to efforts to meet increasing demand for global animal protein in an efficient way.


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  1. Way to go Cargill! This is a positive step in the right direction, within a large company. You are setting a precedent for other companies to follow…and those that don’t will be left in the dust. Thank you, Catie, for bringing this news to the readers!


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