A study was made of the effect of antibiotics on growth of chicks and on intestinal absorption of fats and carbohydrates.
Around the 8th day of life, chicks fed an antibiotic-free casein-sucrose diet developed a transitory syndrome of malabsorption of fats and carbohydrates, associated with disturbance of the efficiency of feed utilization and poor weight increase. Administration of virginiamycin, at a level of 20 ppm, suppressed this period of malabsorption and resulted in improved feed conversion and increased weight gain.
The temporary growth depression and malabsorption were not observed in disinfected rooms in new quarters. Under these conditions virginiamycin did not stimulate growth nor was the efficiency of feed utilization improved by the antibiotic. However, the growth-depressing flora could be introduced to the new quarters by feeding each bird 50 mg of fresh feces collected from chicks in old quarters.
Both the intestinal absorption and the growth-promoting effect of virginiamycin were influenced by the type of carbohydrate in the basal diet, and have been found to be most pronounced when sucrose was fed as the sole source of carbohydrate. The malabsorption was less obvious when cornstarch was substituted for sucrose. In this case virginiamycin had only a limited effect on growth and on feed conversion.
The present investigations suggest that antibiotics stimulate growth of chicks by their antibacterial action against Gram-positive microorganisms which interfere with the absorption of nutrients. Furthermore, the growth-promoting effect seems to be most pronounced during a limited period of a few days around the 8th day of life.