This study was conducted to evaluate the effects of different levels of milk thistle meal on performance, blood biochemical indices, ileal bacterial counts and intestinal histology in laying hens fed diets containing different levels of metabolizable energy. A total number of 200 Leghorn laying hens (Hy-Line W-36) were randomly assigned to eight experimental treatments with five cage replicates of five birds each. Dietary treatments consisted of four levels of milk thistle meal (0%, 15%, 30% and 60%) and two levels of AMEn (11.09 and 12.34 MJ/kg) fed over a period of 80 days. In vitro studies revealed that the total phenolic component of milk thistle meal was 470.64 mg gallic acid equivalent/g of the sample, and its antioxidant activity for inhibiting the 2-2-diphenyl-1-picrichydrazyl free radical and reducing ferric ions was about 21% higher than that of butylated hydroxyltoluene (p < .05). Diets containing high level of AMEn led to improved egg production (p < .05), egg weight (p < .05), egg mass (p < .01) and feed conversion ratio (p < .01). In addition, offering diets containing high energy significantly enhanced (p < .01) serum triglyceride and malondialdehyde (MDA) concentrations as well as jejunal villus height. Dietary supplementation of 3% milk thistle meal resulted in the best feed conversion ratio (p < .05), reduction of ileal Escherichia coli enumeration (p < .01) and an enhancement in the villus height-to-crypt depth ratio (p < .05). Furthermore, feeding incremental levels of this meal led to remarkable decrease in serum cholesterol, triglyceride and MDA (p < .01) concentrations while significant increase in blood high-density lipoprotein content and goblet cell numbers (p < .05). The present findings indicate that milk thistle meal with high antioxidant and antibacterial properties in laying hen diets may improve health indices and productive performance.
Keywords: antioxidant activity; laying hens; metabolizable energy; milk thistle meal; performance.
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