Probiotics for Chickens: Why They Are Important

Add These Essential Nutrients to your Flock’s Diet to Boost Health, Production and Longevity

by Erin Snyder

Probiotics for chickens are just as important for their immune systems and digestive tracts as probiotics and ferments are for humans. With their ability to help ward off harmful bacteria and viruses and keep our guts healthy and robust, it’s no wonder we want to include probiotics in our everyday diet. Not only does feeding chickens probiotics improve their well-being, but it’ll also improve their flock owner’s health.


What Are Probiotics?

The word probiotic means “for life.” So, it’s only fitting that every living creature needs probiotics to thrive. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria and yeast known as live organisms in your chicken’s body. These organisms line the chicken’s digestive tract and intestines with a protective coating to help prevent infections and disease. Probiotics also help to raise a chicken’s antibodies to further protect against illness and harmful bacteria or yeast. (More on that later.)

While all chickens naturally have some probiotics in their bodies, just like humans, supplementing their daily diet will increase these beneficial microbes, resulting in a healthier, more robust flock.

Through probiotics, chicks receive the beneficial bacteria they need to fight off infection by pathogenic bacteria, such as salmonella.

Probiotic Pros

So many benefits come from supplementing your chickens’ diet with probiotics that it’s difficult to know where to begin. While we know that probiotics help control salmonella, E. coli and other bacterial infection outbreaks in backyard flocks and commercial chicken farms, you might wonder what else probiotics do. Before diving into different ways probiotics benefit our chickens, let’s look at how probiotics can help combat and avoid salmonella and E. coli outbreaks.

Salmonella and E. coli are members of the bacteria family. Both can be very harmful and cause sickness and, in extreme cases, death. Probiotics work to coat a chicken’s intestinal tract to protect against these and other harmful bacteria and yeast attacking the intestinal walls. Probiotics stimulate the micro-floral and pathogen growth in a hen’s intestines, combating harmful bacteria with good bacteria in the intestinal tract. Research has proven that probiotics can not only lessen a chicken’s chance of contracting salmonella, but they can also heal the gut of a chicken that has a salmonella infection.

While E. coli exists in all poultry manure, it only becomes a problem when a chicken’s (or flock’s) digestive system becomes susceptible to the E. coli. These bacteria can happen because an individual hen is sick, but the infection usually starts because a chicken has an unhealthy gut. The infected hen will poop manure infected with E.-coli, spreading the bacteria to the rest of the flock. E. coli infections are a severe condition that will spread through the flock and could also harm you and your family if you consume the eggs or meat from infected birds.

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Probiotics for chickens are the best way to combat an E coli outbreak. In contrast, antibiotics can increase the E.-coli bacteria leading to death. Probiotics eliminate the effects of an E. coli infection by safely removing harmful bacteria from an infected hen’s intestines. Since the antibiotics’ job is to kill all bacteria (good or bad), it makes sense that probiotics would be a more effective treatment for an E.-coli outbreak.

So, how else do probiotics benefit our flocks? Probiotics provide backyard flocks the chance to live healthy, productive lives. Chickens raised on probiotics are more energetic and lay bigger eggs with thicker eggshells. These traits are due to probiotics enhancing the gut’s ability to break down carbohydrates, releasing the necessary energy our chickens need to thrive.

Did you know that 60% of a chicken’s immune system is in their digestive tract? This explains why chicks and chickens raised on probiotics have a stronger immune system capable of fighting infections and diseases, including cancer.

Researchers at have found that probiotics may prevent and, in some instances, help to treat toxins, infections, bacteria and conditions. These include avian intestinal spirochetosis, avian tuberculosis, chronic respiratory disease, coccidiosis, E.-coli, fowl cholera, heatstroke, salmonella, sour crop, yolk sac infection and more.

Probiotics can also have positive side effects on molting chickens and hens recovering from antibiotic treatment and prevent respiratory diseases. However, never use probiotics to treat a sick or injured chicken unless directed otherwise by a licensed veterinarian.

Adding to Your Flock’s Diet

Just as you take supplements daily to keep yourself healthy, your flock needs probiotics daily to thrive. Adding probiotics to your chickens’ daily diet is very easy. There are two ways to incorporate them into your flock’s diet, as probiotics can get mixed into either feed or water.

Feed Probiotics

Pros: Feed probiotics are convenient because you only have to mix in probiotics when opening a food bag. It’s just once and done without the hassle of a precise probioticsto-feed ratio.

Cons: The downside to probiotics mixed into feed is your lack of control over your chickens’ consumption. The probiotic powder often sifts down to the bottom of the bag, leaving your flock with little to no probiotics at the top and potentially consuming too many nutrients when the bag starts running low.

Probiotics can be mixed with fresh water.

Water Probiotic

Pros: Water-soluble probiotics are my favorite. Just add the probiotics to a gallon of water, and that’s it. And if all flock members drink, everyone gets equal nutrition daily.

Cons: Many flock owners consider water-soluble probiotics a con due to the need to refill waterers twice daily. However, chickens prefer fresh drinking water, so changing water twice daily with or without probiotics is advised.

Whether you choose to mix probiotics into feed or water is a personal choice. Store all probiotics in a dry area in an airtight container. Avoid placing probiotics in direct sunlight, especially when mixed with water.



There are many poultry probiotics, so what should you be looking for? Probiotics formatted specifically for chickens should always include lactobacillus. It’s one of the most common and beneficial probiotics in a chicken’s gut. Buy a probiotic that includes lactobacillus in its ingredients.

When purchasing probiotics, read online reviews to see what other poultry keepers recommend. While there can be conflicting reviews, look for probiotics that help sick chickens recover. An easy rule to remember is: If it can help the sick, it can help to prevent the healthy from contracting an illness.

Most importantly, when you find a good probiotic, stick with it. While purchasing the cheapest probiotic currently on the market may be tempting, this practice could cause your flock more harm than good. A chicken’s digestive tract and immune system can be delicate, and the constant switching of probiotics could make individual birds sick.

Avoiding Probiotics

Even when fed a proper diet with probiotics, chickens can still become ill and require medication. Never feed probiotics to a chicken taking medication (especially antibiotics) unless directed by your veterinarian.

Once the chicken has completed a round of antibiotics, provide probiotics for six to eight weeks until she has regained her strength.

Even if probiotics aren’t part of your flock’s diet, always administer to a chicken recovering from any illness or injury unless directed otherwise by a qualified veterinarian.

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Probiotics can also just be used during times of stress, such as molting, and after antibiotic treatment.

A Healthier You

Today, many backyard flock owners raise their chickens for enjoyment, but the chickens’ original purpose was to provide meat, eggs or both. Therefore, we want to ensure our meat and eggs are safe to consume by our family and customers. You may wonder how supplying your chickens with probiotics will equal a healthier you. The reason is that harmful bacteria and yeast in your chicken’s gut may lead to human salmonella or E. coli infection.

While the common myth believed by most flock owners is that salmonella comes from ingesting an egg that has come in contact with manure, most cases result from the egg yolk getting contaminated in the ovary. Even though many hens carrying salmonella appear healthy on the outside, their gut is still unhealthy. Therefore, experts suggest that all chickens, whether they appear healthy or not, should consume probiotics daily.

Chickens raised without probiotics are 99% more likely to spread salmonella or E. coli to humans through the consumption of their eggs or meat, then chickens raised on probiotics. With probiotics, you and your family can safely consume eggs and meat without worrying about disease, giving you the peace of mind of a healthy family and flock.

While feeding your chickens probiotics doesn’t mean they’ll never get sick, it does help to decrease their chances of becoming ill. So, if you want a healthy, long-lived flock that provides you with quality eggs and meat, consider supplementing their diet with probiotics.

This article about probiotics for chickens was written for the January/February 2024 issue of Chickens magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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