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Natural products for enhanced poultry productivity

Department of Poultry Science Bombay Veterinary College
Parel, Mumbai - 400 012.
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Use of natural products is use of herbal products or medicines either for treatment of various diseases or disease conditions, or for general upkeep of health of an animal or bird. Hence, it is the use of plants or plant preparations for the treatment of diseases or improvement in health and productivity. The last two decades have seen tremendous increase in the area of use of medicinal and aromatic plants. The role of plant derived drugs is being emphasized both at national and international level. One person in every five persons in Europe uses herbal and alternative medicine system. The similar trend of use of such medicines is ever increasing in USA as well. The Americans are taking greater interest in herbal medicines for their own health and for the health of animals. They are constantly in search of alternatives to conventional medicines and about 34% of Americans use herbal medicines. 50 to 60% people in India use herbal or alternative medicine systems. In our country, it is not uncommon to find numerous persons having deep knowledge about a particular herb as medicine or knowing correct herbal treatment for a particular disease in every town. In fact, it will not be an exaggeration to say that certain conditions e.g. jaundice have no specific medicine in allopathic system, but potent herbal preparations are available for its cure. In every home in our country the basic medical help or advice which the elderly people have been giving is herbal or natural in origin. Locally and easily available, routinely used household items are the first to be used for treatment e.g. turmeric for cuts and wounds for its antiseptic properties. Likewise many items can be listed which emphasize the use and effectiveness of natural products for treatment or improvement in performance in humans as well as animals.

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Rigveda , the oldest document of human knowledge, written between 4500 and 1600 BC mentions the use of medicinal plants in the treatment of man and animals. Ayurveda dates back to 5,000 to 10,000 years and is widely considered to be the oldest form of health care in the world. Ayurveda gives the account of actual beginning of the ancient medical science of India, which was written between 2500 and 600 BC. Sushruta mentions eight branches in Ayurveda (Ashta Chikitsa) and those could be compared to eight wings or subjects of importance like Medicine (Kaya-chikitsa), Surgery (Shalya-chikitsa), Hygiene (Sutrasthan), Gynaecology and Obstetrics (Prasooti-tantra), Toxicology (Agadh-tantra), Paediatrics (Kaumar bhritya), Diseases of head and neck (Shalakya-tantra), Diagnosis (Nidan-shastra). Thus Ayurveda, since beginning has been covering all aspects of health cover. The Classical treatments or remedies (Samhitas) by Charak, Dhanwantari, Sarangdhar and Bhavprakash contain unique and effective combinations of several drugs of natural origin. The herbal combinations mentioned in the Samhitas were termed as “Kashth Aushadi” and the combinations of inorganic origin were termed as “Ras Aushadhi”.

Ayurveda and use of herbal medicines spread during the 6 th century to countries like Tibet, China, Mongolia, Korea, Sri-Lanka, through Buddhist monks traveling to those lands. Unfortunately the science and information which those monks carried is not surviving in its original form, however, whatever little information percolated over the years, has its effect on various new age concepts. In the present world Ayurveda, which includes natural medications, has become the science and philosophy that balances the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual components necessary for holistic health, offering a rich, comprehensive outlook for a healthy life.


A number of plant drugs have proved successful in recent years and have contributed to the development of modern drugs. As a result more and more pharmaceutical companies are exploring medicinal plants to discover molecules with novel structure and activities. In general practice, besides newer molecules being used as drugs, herbal preparations are being used for various other purposes listed below.

  • As growth promoters
  • For maintenance of reproductive health
  • For immuno-modulation
  • For prevention and control of metabolic disorders
  • Anti-stress factors
  • Toxin binders
  • For increased absorption and metabolism of nutrients
  • Alternatives for chemical compounds and nutrients

In addition to these uses, the eco-friendly and non-hazardous nature of herbal medicines for human handlers and animals, absence of residual effects, minimum problems of drug resistance and absence of side effects are also the factors responsible for increased interest in herbal medications.

Mechanism of Action

Man and animals have been using plants for food to nourish and sustain the body. Plants can be seen as a bridge between inner physiological environment and the outer ecological environment. They help the body to sustain or regain homeostasis and enhance health by facilitating harmony and resonance. Herbal drugs restore the balance of the body, thus enabling the body to mobilize its own healing power. Ultimately, they bring optimum physiological state without producing any unwanted effect on functioning of vital organs. Medicinal plants with a particular affinity for certain organ or system of the body are used to restore the function of those organs, which have become weak. Thus, when the balance and harmony are restored, health is regained.

When the plants were used for treatment since olden times, combinations of different plants in specific manner were used with specified do’s and don’ts. These used to be the complex formulations. This was because the entire approach during treatment was to identify the underlying cause of the problem and its elimination from the body rather than mere focus on suppression of symptoms. Therefore, a wholesome approach in eliminating or correcting the disorder by use of different herbs together was practiced. Different combinations of herbs blended in appropriate proportions with suitable catalyst and carrier to have synergistic effect were used. There is evidence of synergism of various constituents within a complex plant and between different plants. It is believed that interdependence and presence of various constituents within the plant are necessary for the medicinal action of the plants. Thus, many different ingredients in each plant work synergistically to balance the body. Therefore, herbs are many times prescribed as mixture, as it has been found that certain combinations of herbs enhance each other’s actions. The combinations were also helpful in reducing the side effects. This mechanism therefore prohibits the use of extracted and purified active principle from a plant. The process of extracting the active principle and purifying it will be helpful in eliminating variation and contamination, however, in the process the mechanism of synergism may be lost. Thus, the use of whole herb is preferred over using single active constituent.

Limitations and Constraints

However, with advancement in knowledge and technology of extraction and purification process of herbs, it has been observed that herbs extracted under proper physical and chemical conditions are showing remarkable efficacy of desired intensity as compared to their crude form. This type of scientific approach to extraction and processing of herbs has created new dimensions in herbal medicine and will be a boon to the future development of this ancient but effective medicine system. Moreover, it must be remembered that herbs are not easily quantifiable and standardized due to their complex composition, which varies according to the growing conditions. The location, soil type, weather conditions, altitude, season during which the plant is grown, harvesting procedure, storage conditions, etc are many variables which affect the composition of the plant, thus affecting its suitability to be used effectively. Above all, many plants look alike, so, a small mistake in proper identification of the plant can cause a disaster. Hence, if these aspects are kept in mind then the quality of the herbal preparations can be maintained consistently.

Stability of herbal preparation and standardization are the key aspects in the herbal medicine system in the present scenario. Although, majority of herbal components are stable, there are various constituents, which are photo-labile, thermo-labile and less stable. Hence, fingerprinting of herbs at regular intervals is necessary to determine the stability from time to time. Standardization is must to provide adequate dosage. Without standardization, it is impossible to ensure adequate delivery of the active principle in the system to be effective. The effectiveness is mandatory, thus proper standardization procedures are necessary to make the herbal preparations usable and more popular.

In the present situation herbal medicines can be more popular and will be used by more people if the aspects related to active ingredient, standardization and determination of effectiveness are made clearer for the users. Medicinal plants contain hundreds of chemicals and there is often no agreement as to which are potentially active. Using double blind, randomized and placebo-controlled clinical trials should be periodically undertaken to check the effectiveness of herbal preparations. This will further help in increase in the use of herbal products in future.

Scope in Veterinary Field

In veterinary medicine, the herbal preparations are being used for maintenance of reproductive health since a very long time. Use of hormones to promote reproductive health of the farm animals is getting banned in modern-day organic farming practices. Therefore hormones can be used only to treat specific conditions. On the other hand herbs and herbal products are known to improve reproductive traits of animals and poultry by favorably stimulating Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Gonadal axis, through synchronization of estrous. Herbs can also improve uterine health, sperm counts, etc. in animals and poultry.

Different kinds of stress factors, infections, debilitating diseases, use of pesticides, antibiotics and chemical drugs, presence of mycotoxins in feed etc weakens the immune system. This predisposes animals and birds to various diseases and causes mortality. Low maternal antibody titers also contribute to high mortality and poor growth of birds and animals. There is no specific treatment for viral infections and for prevention vaccination is the only reliable option. In such cases, it is necessary that the host’s immune system must be strong to avoid immuno-suppression. Many herbs are known to have positive effects in this regard. Ranade et al. (2002) has reported the usefulness of herbal preparations in improving the immunity of broilers. Borel et al. (2000) has also reported increase in antibody titres by use of herbal immunity boosters.

Lot of herbal preparations help the birds to fight stress arising due to various reasons. Adaptogenic herbs like Ashwagandha, Tulsi, Amla, and Ginseng etc. are being used as anti-stress factors for very long years in human and animal medicines with proven results. Gole (2001) demonstrated the effectiveness of Tulsi along with Vitamin E and Selenium in reducing the effects of stress on birds. The effect of Tulsi in immuno modulation was also demonstrated in the same experiment.

Herbal preparations are useful as growth promoters. Ban or time bound decline in use of antibiotic growth promoters will provide good scope for other growth promoters including herbal preparations for their use. There are various herbs known for their effect on gut health. They have a complex mode of action on various organs or systems due to active ingredients present in them. They are supposed to have greater impact on different factors that promote growth and health, by improving physiological and immunological functions of body. Thus, they can be considered as more sustained and long term solutions. Prasad (2004) has reported efficacy of herbal growth promoter to be comparable with antibiotic growth promoter in improving feed consumption, body weight and feed conversion ratio in broilers. Moreover, many herbs are known to improve digestion, metabolism and absorption of certain nutrients in bird’s body. Such preparations have better scope to counteract deficiencies and improve performance. Dobretsberger et al. (1997) reported usefulness of various herbal preparations in the improvement of performance of broilers.

Herbal growth promoters due to their multidirectional actions are also useful in controlling pathogenic bacteria without possibility of development of resistance and are also safe for animals and humans. In such manner they can work as herbal antimicrobial agents. Rao (2004), Shon et al. (2002) and Reddy et al. (2002) have reported that use of herbal preparations as anti-microbials to be economical, free from possibility of resistance, maintaining normal functions, improving production performance in broilers, improving egg size, lymphocyte percentage and egg weight in layers.

Another area in which the herbs have been very successfully used in Veterinary field is for liver protection. Singh et al. (2002), Bahera et al. (2003), Roy et al. (2003), Singh et al. (2002), Chatterjee and Agrawala (2002) and many others have reported the usefulness of herbal preparations for liver protection. Special contribution of these products has been proved on microsomal system against liver dysfunctions in broilers. Herbal preparations having liver stimulating action have been proved to be effective for improving production performance and carcass quality in broilers.

Herbal medicines can also be used to correct certain metabolic disorders. The herbs having diuretic properties can be used to flush the kidneys and the deposition of urate crystals in other visceral organs, thus, helping the birds in cases of gout. Chatterjee and Misra (2004) has proved distinct advantages of herbal preparations in feed as well as water in improving kidney function in commercial broilers. Deshpande et al. (1982), Meher et al. (2001) and Chakrabarti et al. (1997) have also reported the role of herbal preparations in reducing the metabolic disorders in birds.

Some herbs have been identified to be useful in increasing the metabolism and uptake of certain nutrients or a particular component of the diet. Patil et al. (1997) carried out the experiment on use of a herbal preparation for improvement of calcium and phosphorus absorption and availability. They found out the product to be useful in broilers for increased absorption of the minerals. Such preparations are widely used in herbal medicine in order to increase the bioavailability of such nutrients.

Recent studies and research have indicated the possibility of preparing and use of herbal vitamin A or herbal choline or herbal amino acids. These products are reported to perform similar functions in the system as that of synthetic alternatives. Mahajan (2004) has reported that using herbal methionine is economical. The bio-availability and activity of such product was found to be better than synthetic methionine. He has also reported effectiveness of herbal vitamin E and reported better results in egg production, settable eggs and hatchability. Herbal medicines can also be used as toxin binders in poultry diets. Preparations containing such products, in combination with liver or kidney protective herbal agents can prove to be a comprehensive solution to mycotoxicosis and problems related to other toxicities.

Future and Scope

With all these various roles being performed by herbal medicines and higher bioavailability of factors present in herbs, it may be worth to formulate a cocktail preparation as a single feed additive or supplement in the form of a premix. Herbal and natural products, which have proven results in various areas of poultry production, can be combined and a mixture, similar to a premix can be prepared and used in feed formulations. Normally, certain mandatory feed additives and feed supplements are added in poultry feeds. They comprise of vitamin mixes, trace and other mineral mixtures, anti-oxidants, anti-coccidials etc. In addition choline, methionine, lysine, growth promoters, probiotics, prebiotics and enzymes are added to the feed in order to make up for the deficiencies or to facilitate efficient utilization of nutrients. Many of the herbal preparations available now have the capacity to replace the synthetic or inorganic sources contributed by these products. Thus, a premix comprising of herbal methionine, herbal lysine, herbal choline, herbal biotin, herbal Vitamin E and C, herbal anti-oxidant, herbal toxin binder, herbal growth promoter, herbal liver tonic, herbal metabolic stimulant and herbal immuno-modulator is possible. This can increase the bio-availability of all the ingredients and will help in reducing the negative effects of synthetic and inorganic sources used under normal conditions. This type of new concept will be useful in taking care of various nutritional needs of birds with the help of more bio-available materials.

Thus, it can be seen that lot of work has been done on use of natural preparations in poultry field to enhance productivity. More and more people have started diverting to the alternative medicine systems to avoid side effects and residue problems of traditional allopathic medicines. Herbal preparations manufactured by different pharmaceuticals have started exhibiting consistent results in their performance. Natural alternatives to almost all chemicals, inorganic elements as well as nutrients are now available at comparable cost and performance with higher bioavailability. Hence, the future for use of natural products for improving productivity of birds appears to be bright. Looking at the tremendous increase in the interest, inclination, and willingness of more and more people to use natural products, the pharmaceuticals should provide standardized quality products, tested from time to time. This will maintain the health and productivity of livestock and human beings in a traditional and holistic manner and the good age-old system of natural medicine of our country will be alive and active with prosperous future.


The authors are thankful to Mr. S. K. Agrawala and Dr. S. Chatterjee from M/s. Indian Herbs, Saharanpur U.P. for providing useful information.


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Source : IPSACON-2005