Farm chicken in a barn, eating from an automatic feeder [iStockphoto]

There is a concern worrying experts in the livestock sector. Extensive use of antibiotics in low doses by farmers whether in feed or drinking water has brought global concern for development of resistant strains of bacteria and other micro-organisms in host animals.

This drug resistant bacteria or 'superbugs' as they are sometimes referred to is becoming a risk to human and animal health. Drug resistance is not a new phenomenon, it was first observed soon after the introduction of antibiotics, many years ago.

It is our responsibility as food animal industry players, farmers, government regulators and pharmaceutical industries to look towards comprehensive strategies to address wanton use of antibiotics in farm animals. It is certainly in the common interest of poultry meat and egg consumers that the major industry players can maintain security of supply of the Kenyan population with healthy, inexpensive, safe meat and eggs with zero antibiotic residues. Here are ten ways farmers can achieve this noble venture.

  1. Strive to buy your chicks from disease-free parents

Maternally inherited or transferred diseases to newborn young chicks from parents is just as common as in other animals. Members of salmonella micro-organisms, Mycoplasma and chicken anaemia can easily cross over into hatching eggs and affect day old chicks. A good quality chick should be clean after hatch, stand firm and walk well, be alert and active and free from deformities.

  1. Do not over stock (control stocking density)

Caretaker must provide the correct stocking density for the type and age of the bird as they grow into productive age. Overcrowding is likely to lead to competition for feed and water resulting into outbreaks of diseases and stress.

  1. Avoid multi-age flock production system

Farmers are advised to manage birds of single age on the same site, this is on the principle of 'All-in/All-out' programme. Managing different ages near one another is recipe for problems. It makes vaccination and cleaning more difficult and less effective leading to use of antibiotics to control health related issues.

  1. Go for disease-resistant breeds

The use of slow growing breeds that are disease resistant is gaining currency in the current market. These strains are bred to produce dual-purpose, black, red, brown, and barred feathered birds for free range systems. Their parents are selected for growing ability, viability, and efficient egg production.

  1. Up your bio-security levels

Biosecurity involves putting measures to prevent disease causing pathogens from entering the poultry building. This can be done by creating barriers like fencing, showering before flock visits, and changing into clean uniforms and boots prior to flock visits.

  1. Practice sound management skills

Stockman ship is the positive human interaction between the chickens and their environment with all the physical senses of feel, taste, smell, hear and sight. A good stockman will always be in tune with and aware of the flocks in its environment. They must provide adequate nutrition, water, comfortable environment, bedding and light for the optimal growth and development of the flock.

  1. Vaccinate flocks accordingly

Vaccination generally prepares birds for a possible field challenge of a disease by exposing them early to a similar form of the disease-causing organism(antigen). Vaccination programme varies with the type of bird and the region and should be carried out by competent veterinary health experts.

  1. Use antibiotics on prescription only

If a disease occurs in a flock, veterinary help should be preferred, and a prescription done after establishing the true nature of the disease by way of postmortem examination and microbiological analysis. Antibiotics should not be used as growth promoters or as preventive doses in the event of no clinical manifestation of a disease.

  1. Cleaning and disinfection

This starts with a well thought out cleaning and disinfection process after removal of the old litter. You must use plenty of water and detergent and follow with disinfection with a potent disinfectant applied according to manufacturer recommendations. Monitoring the effectiveness of cleaning and disinfection procedures will ensure that chicks are placed into a clean environment and remain healthy and productive through to depletion.

  1. Practice water acidification

Water is an essential element in nutrition, but it can also be a large source of infection and disease. Taking care of the water supply is vital for having healthy and well performing flock. Water should be acidified to Ph 3.5 to 4.0 to achieve low bacterial load in the gut.

[Dr Watson Messo is the Head Vet at Kenchic]