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Home / Smart Harvest

Telemedicine: How to help your vet diagnose disease through the telephone

Fredrick Mutie (R), the project officer for enhancing opportunities for women enterprises project, shows Kasendi Mutinda how to vaccinate chicken against Newcastle and Fowl pox diseases which are highly contagious in Kyangwithya West in Kitui county. [Philip Muasya, Standard]

Dear Dr Messo,

“My birds are weak, and one died yesterday. What drugs should I buy?” “Daktari, yesterday I saw yellow fecal droppings. Which medicine should I give?”

hese are some of the questions we avian vets are confronted with daily over the phone, especially today as we are slowly accepting the Covid-imposed new normal.

As a professional veterinarian, I enjoy attending to my clients’ chickens in the farmhouse where they are and discussing cases in detail with the farmer. But this new challenge has forced us to think outside the box.

Covid-19 has changed the way of doing business. My colleagues and I are now more likely to use phones, live videos or text messages to treat most common diseases without seeing the patients face to face. This is known as telemedicine.

As we adapt to this trend, we are encountering challenges in getting the vital information of situations on the ground. Here are some of the tips to farmers that can help veterinarians in arriving at the correct diagnosis and prescribing the best medicine in controlling disease conditions in their farms.

1. Be extremely observant

Always be vigilant to pick anything abnormal in the chicken house, its environment, the litter, the droppings. By paying more attention to the five senses of sight, hearing, feeling, smell, and taste one can decipher what is wrong. What visual signs and symptoms can you quickly pick? Are the eyes swollen? Are birds walking or huddling together? Are they sneezing or coughing? Is the sneezing more pronounced at night? What is the colour of the fecal droppings? Is it red or bloody, slimy, watery, green, or white? The best time to observe birds is during feeding time, so take photos, videos, sounds and share with your vet... the more the better.

2. Abnormality noticed in the flock

Visit flocks at least twice in a day, and if possible, during the feeding time, and keenly watch the birds’ activities. This is by far the most important aspect of poultry farming to detect an early disease outbreak. Check for things like lameness, poor feather cover, head injuries, trauma, circling or star gazing gaits. A photo or video of the flock is appropriate at this stage.

3. Measure growth rates

All commercial farmers should have a weighing scale in the farm. It is important to weigh birds periodically. In times of disease or poor performance or death, the Vet will be asking those weekly weights for the previous 14 to 21 days. Weigh 2 per cent to 5 per cent of your birds every week at the same day, time, and location in the barn. Scan on your phone and share with your vet.

4. Measure daily feed and water intakes

Before you make those phone calls to your vet, have records of water and feed consumption for the past seven to 14 days. Feed consumption is measured as grams per bird per day, while water consumption is in milliliters per day or estimated as twice the amount of feed fed per day. During disease outbreaks, intake of feed and water will slow down. Share the figures on any digital platform.

5. Share production drops/decline

For egg producers, production percentage per day is critical and so is average egg weight per week. Weekly figures should be scanned and electronically shared. For meat birds, drop in weights will go a long way in establishing or eliminating other nutritional conditions and malabsorption syndromes. These figures must be shared during virtual meeting with the vet.

6.  Mortality records

No farmer would want to see birds die in their farm, as this will affect the bottom line. So, all dead birds must be recorded. My rule of thumb is that losing three birds out of 1,000 in a week is worth investigating. Mortality records are extremely important in establishing the remedial action as quickly as possible.

7. Plan of action

Once the cause of problem has been identified, the vet will write a plan of action and share with the farmer virtually. If further physical farm visit or laboratory analysis is required, the farmer will be alerted.

[Dr Watson Messo is Head vet at Kenchic, [email protected]]

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