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Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

Anticoccidial Vaccination Is Associated with Improved Intestinal Health in Organic Chickens

Jansson, Desiree S.; Hoglund, Johan; Bagge, Elisabeth; Jinnerot, Tomas; Kaldhusdal, Magne


Simple Summary In recent years, the number of organic chicken farms has increased. Chickens can be infected by single-cell parasites, coccidia, which cause lesions in the lining of the intestine leading to poor growth and sometimes death (coccidiosis). This infection can also lead to overgrowth in the intestine of a bacterium, Clostridium perfringens, that may cause further damage (necrotic enteritis). Prevention is often achieved by adding substances in the feed that will slow down the development of parasites and bacteria, but this is not allowed in organic farming. The aim of this study was to investigate if vaccination against coccidia can prevent these diseases in organic chickens. Vaccinated chickens developed milder gut lesions, had fewer and less damaging C. perfringens, and had similar or higher body weight compared to unvaccinated chickens six weeks after vaccination. No deaths from coccidiosis or necrotic enteritis occurred among vaccinated chickens while some unvaccinated chickens died from these diseases. We conclude that vaccination against coccidia benefits organic chickens. This study provides knowledge supporting further development of the organic chicken industry. The results are also of relevance to the management of coccidiosis and necrotic enteritis in conventional broilers. Eimeria spp. and Clostridium perfringens (CP) are pathogens associated with coccidiosis and necrotic enteritis (NE) in broiler chickens. In this study we evaluated the effect of anticoccidial vaccination on intestinal health in clinically healthy organic Ross 308 chickens. On each of two farms, one unvaccinated flock (A1 and B1) was compared to one vaccinated flock (A2 and B2) until ten weeks of age (WOA). Faecal oocysts were counted weekly, and species were identified by PCR (ITS-1 gene). Lesion scoring, CP quantification and PCR targeting the CP NetB toxin gene were performed at three, four, and six WOA and chickens were weighed. Necropsies were performed on randomly selected chickens to identify coccidiosis/NE. Oocyst shedding peaked at three WOA in all flocks. Later oocyst shedding (E. tenella/E. maxima) in unvaccinated flocks at 5-7 WOA coincided with coccidiosis/NE. Although results differed somewhat between farms, vaccination was associated with lower intestinal lesion scores, reduced caecal CP counts, lower proportions of netB-positive CP, lower body weight at three-four WOA, and similar or slightly increased body weight at six WOA. In conclusion, the intestinal health of organic broilers can benefit from anticoccidial vaccination when oocyst exposure levels are high.


anticoccidial vaccination; broiler; Clostridium perfringens; coccidiosis; Eimeria spp; necrotic enteritis; netB; organic production

Published in

Veterinary Sciences
2022, Volume: 9, number: 7, article number: 347
Publisher: MDPI