This study was carried out to assess the effects of a blend of herbal essential oils (namely Thymus vulgaris, Mentha piperita, Rosmarinus offisinalis and Anethum graveolens) and different dietary lipid sources on the performance, ileal bacterial enumeration, intestinal histological alterations and immune responses in laying hens. For this purpose, a total of 150 laying hens were randomly allocated to six experimental treatments with five replicates of five birds each. Dietary treatments consisted of three levels of a mixture of essential oils (0, 100 and 200 mg/kg) and two sources of lipid (soybean oil and fish oil containing different ratios of n-6 to n-3 fatty acids) fed to the animals during an 80-days feeding trial. Findings indicated that dietary administration of fish oil not only increased significantly the spleen relative weight (p < 0.01) and the antibody titre against Newcastle virus (p < 0.05) but also led to reductions in liver relative weight (p < 0.05) and feed conversion ratio (p < 0.05). Moreover, the mixture of herbal essential oils brought about declines in hepatic relative weight, heterophile to lymphocyte ratio (p < 0.05) and intestinal pathogen populations (p < 0.01). Mention must also be made of the improvements it made in spleen weight (p < 0.01), antibody titres against SRBC (p < 0.01) and Newcastle virus (p < 0.05), villus height to crypt depth ratio (p < 0.01), goblet cell numbers (p < 0.05), lamina propria lymphatic follicle diameters (p < 0.01) and feed conversion ratio (p = 0.06). It may be claimed that the enhancements observed in the performance of laying hens fed fish oil and 200 mg/kg of the blend of essential oils could have potentially been associated with improved intestinal health indices as well as cellular and humoral immune responses.
Keywords: essential oils blend; fish oil; immune responses; intestinal histology; laying hens; performance.
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