Phytogenics: A Tool to Reduce the Impact of Beak Trimming on Pullet Performance

Photo: istockphoto/mschowe

Certain poultry field activities can trigger physiological processes leading to loss in performance parameters.

Where allowed and done correctly, beak trimming is a tool for:

  • Preventing birds from causing harm to each other
  • Stopping cannibalism
  • Removing abnormalities that may lead to social stress and an increase in mortality. 

Scientific developments have resulted in the addition of phytogenic products to poultry diets to alleviate the impact beak trimming has on performance.


Beak trimming is used to eliminate feather peaking and cannibalism in the poultry industry (Cloutier et al., 2000), even though it causes feed intake depression and losses in body weight gain and uniformity. Body weights may be 2 or 3% lower in beak-trimmed birds compared to their body weight prior to beak trimming.

This body weight loss may increase depending on the age of the bird, the extent of trimming, and other environmental conditions such as heat stress, high humidity, or housing density. A number of countries have begun to limit or phase out beak trimming (BHWT, 2018). Additionally, activists consider beak trimming a mutilation given that this practice touches on animal welfare—a topic gaining importance among consumers nowadays.

Phytogenic feed additives

Phytogenics are plant extracts with biological activity. Science Scientific research has demonstrated biological activity of plants and plants extracts to produce positive consequences including anti-inflammatory, digestibility enhancing, antioxidant, and antimicrobial effects. The main objective of the science in developing products with these substances is to support gut performance and subsequently the response of the immune system against frequent challenges faced by birds in the field.

Phytogenics as a complementary strategy to diminish beak-trimming effects on performance

Beak trimming leads to an inflammatory process. The cardinal signs of all inflammatory processes are discomfort, increased temperature, redness, and poor function of the organs involved which triggers the inflammatory processes. As a consequence of these effects, birds may reduce their feed intake, negatively affecting growth and live weight gain.

Phytogenics are able to diminish the impact of this management practice through their anti-inflammatory and gut protective effects and ability to enhance feed digestibility. The anti-inflammatory effect is due to an influence on the regulation of chemokines secretion leading to modulation of the immune response in the bird. It has been broadly demonstrated that essential oils can positively influence the digestibility of feed ingredients and nutrient extraction through enhancing digestive enzyme activity (Lee et al., 2003; Jang et al., 2007), improving liver function and fat digestibility (Lee et al., 2004a,b), and increasing the concentration of digestive enzymes coming from pancreas (Al-Kassie, 2009).

Case study results

One commercial study was carried out in Colombia with female Lohmann Brown birds from one day old day to 17 weeks of age were split into two groups. Average temperatures throughout the trial were 24oC. There were two groups, control group (65000 birds) and the Digestarom® group (72000 birds).

The birds in both groups had their beaks trimmed but only those in the Digestarom® group received Digestarom® Poultry additive at a dose of 150g/ton of feed. Body weight (Figure 1) and mortality (Fig 2) were measured at 17 weeks of age.

The average body weight of the birds in the Digestarom® treatment group was 73 g heavier at 17 weeks of age compared to those in the control group. In addition, mortality was nearly one percentage point lower in the Digestarom® treatment group.

Figure 1. Body weight at 17 weeks of age

Figure 1. Body weight at 17 weeks of age

Figure 2. Total mortality at 17 weeks of age

Figure 2. Total mortality at 17 weeks of age

Figures 3 and 4 illustrate the average body weight and feed intake of the two groups over the duration of the trial respectively. Both graphs show that the Digestarom® treatment group had higher average body weights, and higher feed intake levels for the majority of the trial.

Figure 3. Body weight over time

Figure 3. Body weight over time

Figure 4. Feed intake over time

Figure 4. Feed intake over time


Management practices such as beak trimming may cause feed intake depression and a reduction in body weight and body weight uniformity. Science has discovered plant extracts with biological compounds, called phytogenics, which may help to reduce the negative impact of these management practices on the performance of pullets. Using these scientific developments, it is possible to modulate the inflammatory response, to enhance gut integrity, and to reduce poor feed intake after beak trimming. These effects result in higher absorptive surface (due to less damage and cell turnover) leading to feed efficiency increased and a general better performance compared to untreated flocks.


Al-Kassie, G.A. (2009). Influence of Two Plant Extracts Derived from Thyme and Cinnamon on Broiler Performance. Pakistan Veterinary Journal. 29(4). 169-173. British Hen Welfare Trust. (2018). Beak Trimming – the Facts! [Online] Available from: [Accessed 01.05.2018].

Cloutier, S., Newberry, R.C., Forster, C.T. and Girsberger, K.M. (2000). Does pecking at inanimate stimuli predict cannibalistic behavior in domestic fowl. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 66(2000). 119-133.

Jang, I.S., Ko, Y.H., Kang, S.Y., Moon, Y.S. and Sohn, S.H. (2007). Effect of dietary supplementation of ground grape seed on growth performance and antioxidant status in the intestine and liver in broiler chickens. Korean Journal of Poultry Science. 34(1). 1-8.

Lee, K.W., Everts, H., Kappert, H.J., Frehner, M., Losa, R. and Beynen, A.C. (2003). Effects of dietary essential oil components on growth performance, digestive enzymes and lipid metabolism in female broiler chickens. Br Poult Sci. 44(3). 450-457.

Lee, K.W., Everts, H., Kappert, H.J., Van Der Kuilen, J., Lemmens, A.G., Frehner, M. and Beynen, A.C. (2004a). Growth Performance, Intestinal Viscosity, Fat Digestibility and Plasma Cholesterol in Broiler Chickens Fed a Rye-containing Diet Without or With Essential Oil Components. International Journal of Poultry Science. 3(9). 613-618.

Lee, K.W., Everts, H., Kappert, H.J. and Beynen, A.C. (2004b). Growth performance of broiler chickens fed a carboxymethyl cellulose containing diet with supplemental carvacrol and/or cinnamaldehyde. International Journal of Poultry Science. 3(9). 619-622.