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Soluble Vitamin Supplementation in Poultry

Paul McMullin DPMP MVB MRCVS

Poultry Health Services

It has been known for hundreds of years that certain diseases are associated with certain diets. However it was only in the early years of the 20th century that the specific compounds, now known as vitamins, which could prevent these effects in man and animals were identified. Vitamins are organic compounds which are required in small amounts in the diet to support normal growth and development and a range of physiological functions. The table below summarises the association of particular vitamins with certain problems which may be observed in poultry.

  Water-Soluble Vitamins - B Complex Fat-Soluble Vitamins
Problem Biotin Folic Acid Niacin Panto. Vit.B2 Vit. B6 Vit. B12 Vit. A Vit. D3 Vit. E Vit.K.
Perosis +- +- +-     +-          
Rickets                 +++    
Curled Toe Paralysis         +            
Encephalomalacea                   ++  
Muscular Dystrophy                   +  
Exudative Diasthesis                   +  
Dermatitis/Scaly Skin +     +              
Mouth Lesions     +         +      
Conjunctivitis               +++      
Anaemia   +         +        
Fatty Liver and Kidney Syndrome +                    
Fatty Liver               +      
Excessive Bleeding                     ++
Poor Feathering   +           +      
Loose feathers +                    
Hatchability problems + -   ++ ++   ++ - + +  
Embryo with clubbed down         +            

However it must be emphasised that most modern poultry diets are well balanced and supplemented with all of these vitamins so obvious and severe problems associated with deficiency are now rare. However there are a number of circumstances in which marginal deficiencies can occur and their effects may be difficult to identify. The RUMA Coalition has recently highlighted the importance of optimal nutrition in reducing the need to use antimicrobials in poultry. Poultry suffering a range of disease challenges tend to benefit from additional supplementation because of a range of factors :

The water soluble vitamins (sometimes called B.Complex) are not stored in the body, so any deficit of these tends quickly to have an effect. The fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E and K) are usually well stored in the liver so daily intake is less critical.

Water soluble supplements are a convenient and effective way of improving intake of important vitamins at particular times of increased demand. So what should you look for in a water-soluble multi-vitamin product?

1. Range and quantity of vitamins present.

Except when a specific deficiency disease is diagnosed, it is preferable to provide a broad range of vitamins in quantities which take into account the normal requirement. Products available on the market vary markedly in cost but also in range and quantity of vitamins they contain. Adding to this varying recommendations on the dilution rate makes direct comparisons somewhat difficult. We have recently carried out a comparison of the stated label content of 6 products available on the UK market. We took into account dosage recommendations and compared published figures for the requirements of young broiler chickens for vitamins. The results of this comparison are presented in Figures 1 and 2 below. The values shown represent the content per litre of drinking water, as a proportion of the stated requirement per Kg. feed. In other words, for a content ratio of 1 the total requirement of the vitamin would be obtained if the bird drinks as much water as it would normally eat feed (health birds drink about twice as much water as the feed they eat).

Figure 1 shows the picture for fat-soluble vitamins - remember that these are stored in the liver and we will usually wish to establish or re-establish stores. Note that the products are very variable in composition and sometimes combine excessively high ratios for some vitamins (e.g. vitamins A and/or D) and none of others (vitamins E and K). Only Hillstec Solution presented a satisfactory level of supplementation for all 4 of these important vitamins. It was highest it vitamin E content which is recognised to be of major importance in maintaining immune function and avoiding effects of oxidation in tissues. For a good review of the importance of vitamin E see RossTech (USA-PDF download) Vitamin E and Imunnocompetence in Broilers (after Dr Bruce Boren).

The equivalent comparison for the water-soluble vitamins is shown in Figure 2. Once again product composition was extremely variable and some important vitamins such as Biotin, Folic Acid and B12 totally absent from some products. Yet again Hillstec Solution most consistently satisfies the demands of poultry.

2. Carriers and formulation

Liquid products are more easily dissolved than powders. Carriers which provide a medium which could facilitate growth of algae and/or bacteria in drinker systems are best avoided (see RUMA recommendations on drinking water hygiene). In addition to the issue of microbial growth, the formulation can also increase the risks of drinker valves sticking and causing accidental water leakage in the poultry house. All components of the formulation should be food-approved and food-grade.

3. Manufacturer/Supplier

Is the product manufactured to a high standard and readily administered through a range of drinker systems? Is it readily available when required?

4. Packaging

Is it available in well-sealed packs purged of oxygen of an appropriate size? Some vitamins are susceptible to oxidation on prolonged storage? Choose pack sizes which can be used over a couple or few days once opened.

And Finally...

No multi-vitamin supplement can be recommended for specific disease treatment unless it is approved as a veterinary medicine.

We at Poultry Health Services have reviewed our requirements for a satisfactory soluble multi-vitamin supplement for routine use in poultry and are happy to recommend and supply Hillstec Solution. While it is certainly not the cheapest such product available (per litre), on the basis of its vitamin content it is, we believe, the best value available on the UK market. Cost in real terms of this product has come down year-on-year. This is partly due to reduced cost of some of the expensive components, partly due to the amount we purchase. Even when used at a reduced dosage to equalise its cost/litre treated with competitor products, it can, in our experience, be expected to provide more vitamins than competitors. For further details click on any of the Hillstec Solution links.