For many years, the poultry industry has emerged as a major source of the much-required animal protein. One major concern of the poultry farmer is the curtailment of mortalities in his flock.
This is because the attainment of an impressive growth rate, high productivity, and profit are closely related to overcoming the challenge of high mortalities. The productive life of poultry is relatively short (about 10 weeks for broiler chickens, 1-1½ years for commercial layers) and therefore any diseases induced defects to the body and functions of birds virtually end up in irreparable damage to weight and egg production performances.
Poultry can ill-afford any recuperative period, no matter how short. Therefore the prevention of disease is the only good option and route to efficient productivity in poultry.
Good management practices that are easily adopted have evolved as one of the tools to help whosoever keeps poultry to have a healthy stock to achieve his production objective(s). Other tools are preventive medication and vaccination.
Farm Management Practices and Hygiene
Farm management practices show the general principles for disease prevention and efficient productivity in the stock. Hygiene on the other hand is the functional (day-to-day or periodic) component for achieving efficiency in disease control.
The challenges caused by diseases are particularly important when birds are housed under intensive conditions with birds in close proximity to each other as obtains in modern poultry. This allows the maximum opportunity for diseases to spread from one bird to another.
However, it should be noted also that even under extensive conditions birds can easily spread disease because they are normally housed close together at night in order to protect them from thieves and carnivorous animals.
The following are important hygiene and farm management steps to ensure that disease attack and spread are minimized:
Often, the poultry farmers who experience serious disease problems are those who fail to consult with professionals whose opinions and advice are cogent. These are:
- The poultry extension specialist.
- The poultry pathologist.
- The veterinarian.
Read More: Chicken Eggs Handling Best Practices
Consultation with these specialists will help to prevent some of the common pitfalls and this should be done at the planning stage. The specialists will advise on various management practices to prevent diseases. These include:
- Choosing a favorable geographical location to site the farm puts into consideration the production objectives.
- Building design involves the orientation of poultry buildings, spacing, animal comfort, and ease of cleaning.
- The types of feed for each category and mode of feeding.
- The types of litter material available for use in deep litter house, depth of litter, litter hygiene, and disposal.
- Brooding of chicks and ventilation for adult stock
- The control of vermins.
- The control of human traffic both staff and visitors, and hygiene of staff.
- Culling operations.
- How to handle disease outbreaks, early detection of diseases, veterinary services available, cleaning out.
- How to eliminate stress factors by following high standards of management and hygiene.
2. Sources of Chicks
The source of chicks is an important aspect of management if you do not hatch eggs on your farm. Chicks and preferably day-old should be purchased from a reputable hatchery or a proven source.
Many poultry diseases originate from the hatcheries while some are transmitted from the hen to the chicks through the egg. A good hatchery must therefore maintain a high level of sanitation to prevent chicks from becoming infected.
3. Rearing of Poultry
The birds should be reared in separate houses according to their age groups and species. If birds of different ages and different species are housed together, the spread of disease is encouraged.
If birds of one age only are kept on one side there is far less chance of disease spreading from older birds to younger ones. This can be achieved if the poultry breeder follows the all-in/all-out system.
In this system, whether egg-type or meat-type, all the birds are brought onto the site at the same time and same age. At the end of the production period, all birds are removed, the manure is cleaned out, the houses thoroughly disinfected and a gap of at least two weeks is left between the selling of one batch of birds and the replacement with a new batch.
Brooding is the care of baby chicks during the periods when supplementary heat is provided for the comfort of the birds.
Proper brooding is very important in preventing disease in chicks and minimizing loss.
In a tropical climates, heat stress is probably the most important factor to contend with in poultry house designs.
Poultry houses should be designed to provide adequate ventilation to prevent excess dust and wet litter which can lead to ammonia build-up. Improper ventilation may cause wet litter which in turn promotes the development of coccidal oocyst.
Coccidiosis is a very common disease of poultry especially when they are raised in a deep litter system. Coccidial oocyst requires moisture to develop into the infective stage. Proper ventilation promotes dry litter and therefore inhibits the development of coccidial oocyst, thus preventing coccidiosis.
Poor ventilation, on the other hand, promotes the rapid spread of poultry diseases, especially those that can easily spread from bird to bird through the air.
Non-workers on the farm should be restricted from entering the flock house. This is a good way of preventing the introduction of diseases from outside to the farm. Where it is necessary to allow visitors on the farm, proper sanitary precautions must be taken to ensure they do not bring disease to the flock.
Vehicles and poultry equipment that have been used elsewhere are other ways by which diseases can be introduced to your farm. Such equipment and vehicles should be disinfected properly before use on the farm.
Provide a footbath containing a disinfectant at the entrance to each pen house. Prepare fresh disinfectant daily.
7. Feeds and Feeding
Adequate feeding together with other management steps is very essential for the maintenance of flock health and productivity. Correct feeding is required for normal growth, vigor, egg production, hatchability, and long productive life.
Poultry feed rations are formulated to contain all the nutrients essential for the proper functioning of the body in the right quantities. Deficiency of any of these essential nutrients often causes disease conditions.
Water is the cheapest of all the feed nutrients and the supply must be tested for quality to make it safe for poultry. Poultry feeds should be purchased from a reputable feed manufacturer. It is good to seek advice from older farmers in your locality on the brands of feed available.
A good feed kept for too long in the store may lose some of its essential nutrients. Also, the use of mouldy feeds results in aspergillosis or brooder pneumonia. Many poultry diseases can be spread through the feces containing the feeders and waterers.
Therefore, feeders and waterers must be designed in a way that prevents fecal contamination.
8. Post-Mortem Examination
With the best of management, an occasional loss is experienced as a result of the death of known and unknown causes. Efforts should be made to find out the cause of death even with the loss of one bird to prevent recurrence.
One way of determining the cause of death is post-mortem examination which veterinary services will provide. Whenever a bird is found dead, it should be removed at once for examination before it is disposed off.
A freshly killed or dead animal is the most suitable for a post-mortem examination but if veterinary services are not readily available, then the dead bird can be kept in a refrigerator for some days. The veterinary doctor based on his findings will then give professional advice on the steps to take to prevent future occurrences.
9. Record Keeping
Record keeping is very important as it helps to give the required warning of an impending problem. Most disease problems are reflected in the feeding pattern of the birds.
A drop in feed consumption is usually one of the first signs exhibited by a sick bird. There are three types of records that all poultry farmers should keep, namely:
1. Inventory record
2 Production record
3. Financial record
Among these three, the production record is the one that relates very closely to poultry health management.
10. Disposal of Dead Birds
One way of preventing the spread of disease from dead birds is by proper disposal of the dead ones. For this reason, dead birds must be buried or burnt immediately. Vermins may serve as carriers of disease germs after contacting diseased or dead birds.
The essential management procedures to minimize or prevent the spread of diseases from dead birds are as follows:
- Immediate removal of all dead birds from cages, and floor pens.
- Keeping the waste bin for holding dead birds closed always to prevent contact with flies, dogs, insects, etc.
- The waste bins should be well isolated from the operational areas.
- After handling a dead bird, all equipment, and materials used should be disinfected.
Methods of disposal vary and a farmer should adopt whichever method he considers suitable for his needs. The common methods are:
Incineration: This involves burning the carcasses completely until ash is formed. The incinerator is the place where the burning is done.
The Disposal Pit: This uses continuous bacterial action to break down the soft tissues as dead birds are added. Pits are constructed in the ground to deposit dead birds.
Rendering: This helps to recycle dead birds by converting dead carcasses into animal by-products and feed.
Acid Hydrolysis: This uses phosphoric acid, water, and heat to convert indigestible animal tissues into a high-protein feed supplement. Carcasses are ground and then hydrolyzed by the acid and blended directly into a feed formulation. The hydrolysis plant is expensive and is not for small-scale poultry operations.
Other Important Management Steps
- Stock the house bearing in mind the feeding and drinking space, and bird space requirement. The stocking density or ratio must not be ignored.
- Keep vermins out of the poultry house-since these have been shown to have the capacity to introduce micro-organisms into the poultry house.
- Feed troughs and water troughs should be cleaned out daily and refilled with fresh feed and fresh and cool drinking water. Stale feed and water are veritable media for the growth of microorganisms.
- Make use of veterinary services before medication and vaccination administration for proper guidance and effectiveness.
- Sick birds should be isolated promptly from the flock. The farmer should not hesitate to destroy them by burying them or burning them in an incinerator. To be able to detect sick birds, the farmer must observe the flock at regular intervals.
This is the prevention of disease. It has been found that the most careful observance of good farm management and hygiene practices may not be fully-proof in the prevention of diseases.
Occasions for additional efforts will arise. However such occasions can be greatly minimized by the use of preventive medication and vaccines. It is important to know why and when to employ preventive medication and vaccines. For instance:
When it is known that certain diseases are endemic in an area and therefore pose a threat that can only be handled by preventive medication and or vaccination e.g. Newcastle disease, fowl pox, Gumboro disease, Marek’s Coccidiosis
When unfavorable climatic changes are likely to precipitate a disease condition like coryza in poultry
When stock density or litter management problems raise the possibility of disease outbreaks like coccidiosis.
In these and other instances, vaccines or drugs can be strategically applied to pre-empt disease outbreaks. Since the timing of disease outbreak cannot be predicted with regular precision, this has given rise to routine vaccination and medication practices in farm animals including poultry.
The vaccines or coccidiostats are applied when the disease has not appeared in stock so that defensive mechanisms are introduced through the development of antibodies in one case and the destruction of the early stages of the disease agent (coccidia) in the other.
Different coccidiostats should not be mixed since they may be harmful. Coccidiostats should be mixed in the food but should be withdrawn four days before the birds are slaughtered so that it does not find their way through poultry meat into the consumer. Amprolium is a potent coccidiostat to treat birds when an outbreak of coccidiosis occurs in a flock.
Vaccination in Poultry Production
This is the process of vaccine administration in chickens to protect them against bacterial and viral diseases of economic importance by stimulating immunity in the chickens. For vaccines to be used, they must be germ-free and the chickens to be administered should be healthy.
Vaccination is better than cure and has no alternative. The use of vitamins five days before the vaccination date will help in reducing vaccination stress.
There are two types of vaccines in use:
- Live vaccine and
- Dead vaccine.
The live vaccine should precede the use of a dead vaccine. Check out our previous articles on the recommended vaccination programs for poultry chickens for more information.
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