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Essential oils being studies to see they help gut health, fight disease

Popular native Australian essential oils including tea tree oil and eucalyptus are being studied to determine if they better equip chicken embryos and hatchlings to fight disease.

Dr Shahram Niknafs, Postdoctoral Research Fellow Centre for Nutrition and Food Sciences Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation
Dr Shahram Niknafs, Postdoctoral Research Fellow Centre for Nutrition and Food Sciences Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation

University of Queensland researchers are investigating the benefits of essential oils for animal welfare, productivity and sustainability in the Australian chicken meat industry.

Professor Eugeni Roura from UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation said essential oils, which have pathogen-fighting properties, were being introduced into the diet of breeder chickens.

“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,” Professor Roura said. “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 defences and its natural gut microflora are not well established.”

Dr Marta Navarro, The University of Queensland
Dr Marta Navarro, The University of Queensland

The research team, including project leaders Dr Marta Navarro and Dr Shahram Niknafs, is trialing Australian native essential oils including 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,” Dr Navarro said. “This study is aiming to develop a nutritional program to minimize disease in chicks to enhance productivity and sustainability.”

She said essential oils could affect how bacteria communicated and spread, inhibiting the formation of bacterial biofilms as an example.

Eggs involved in the research
Eggs involved in the research

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