ABSTRACT: Understanding the differences in microbial communities shaped by different food selective forces, especially during early post-hatch period, is critical to gain insight into how to select, evaluate, and improve antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs) alternatives in food animals. As a model system, commercial diet-administered OAs (DOAs) and water-administered OAs (WOAs) were used separately or in combination as Virginiamycin alternatives for broiler feeding during two growth phases: 1-21 days and 22-42 days. Among these three OA-treated groups, the DOA group was most similar to the AGP group in the composition and the proportion of these dominant bacterial communities at the level of phylum, family, and genus in cecal chyme of broilers. Sub-therapeutic Virginiamycin decreased the richness, homogenization, and species diversity of gut microbiota, especially in the early growth stage from days 1 to 21. Among these three OA supplementation schemes, it was clear that DOA supplementation was more likely to increase or maintain the richness, homogenization, species diversity, and predicted gene functions of cecal microbiota in treated broilers than either no supplementation or AGP supplementation during two experimental stages. The interference of DOA treatment with early colonization of probiotics and pathogens in broiler cecum was the most similar to AGP treatment, and OAs did not cause the occurrence of Virginiamycin-resistant strains of Enterococcus at the end of this trial. In terms of the predicted gene functions of the microbiota, AGP and DOA treatments provided a similar selective force for microbial metabolism functions in the cecum of broiler chickens, especially in the early growth stage. Noticeably, the relative abundance of some microbiome that was modified by Virginiamycin or DOA supplementation was significantly correlated with body weight gain and KEGG pathway analysis-annotated gene functions such as replication and repair, translation, nucleotide metabolism, and so on. With the comprehensive analysis of these results and practical application, shortened DOA supplementation, after optimization of the amount of addition, would be a suitable alternative to sub-therapeutic Virginiamycin. It was suggested that the programed intestinal microecology under such early selection forces and the effective addition time may be the key elements to focus on the designed alternate strategies of AGPs in food animals.