Use of Ionophores in Poultry Production

Small and Backyard Flocks December 08, 2012 Print Friendly and PDF

NOTE Ionophores may not be used in producing organic poultry. However, organic producers may not withhold medical treatment from a sick animal in an effort to preserve its organic status. All appropriate medications must be used to restore an animal to health when methods acceptable to organic production fail. Livestock treated with a prohibited substance must be clearly identified and shall not be sold, labeled, or represented as organically produced.

Ionophores are feed additives used in the control of coccidiosis, primarily when raising broilers, broiler breeders, and replacement pullets. Coccidiosis is a disease in poultry worldwide. It is caused by a protozoan parasite (Eimeria) that invades the cells of poultry intestines. After invading the cells of the intestinal lining, the parasite grows and multiplies. The result is inflammation of the intestines, diarrhea, and, in severe cases, death. Low levels of coccidia infestation result in poor performance (growth or egg production), reduced feed efficiency, and poor flock uniformity. Coccidiosis also can damage the immune system, leaving the affected bird more vulnerable to foodborne pathogens, such as Clostridium, Salmonella, and Escherichia coli.

Ionophores were discovered in the 1970s. Low-level use of ionophores permits a small number of coccidia to survive and complete their life cycles in the intestines of the bird. This results in the development of a certain level of immunity against the disease. Today coccidiosis vaccines are available that can be administered at the hatchery. The vaccines work on the same principle as the feed additive, allowing small numbers of coccidia to grow and thereby stimulate the immune response.

Ionophores include:

  • bambermycin (e.g., Flavomycin)
  • lasalocid (e.g., Avatec)
  • maduramicin (e.g., CYGRO)
  • monensin (e.g., Coban, Elancogran)
  • narasin (e.g., Maxiban)
  • nystatin (e.g., Pharmastatin)
  • salinomycin (e.g., BioCox, Sacox)
  • semduramicin (e.g., Aviax)

NOTE Brand names appearing in this article are examples only. No endorsement is intended; nor is criticism implied of similar products not mentioned.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.