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Social dynamics of poultry disease spread

Livestock By Njoki Thuo – Mwakughu | December 14th 2020 at 09:05:00 GMT +0300
Every homestead in rural Kenya and a considerable number in urban centers rear chicken.

If you are like me, you are probably excited that Christmas is around the corner.

Even though I am 30 plus years old and married, I still get excited when December comes because I know I will get to buy a new outfit and visit my favourite grandma, the one who always slaughters her big cockerel whenever I visit and escorts me with another when I go back home.

Well to be honest, I am way past getting excited about new clothes for Christmas, just nostalgic about my childhood memories.

What many of us don’t know is that this great act and memory poses a significant risk to our poultry enterprise as farmers.

Almost every homestead in rural Kenya and a considerable number in urban centers rear chicken. Chicken is a cheap source of protein from their eggs and meat and their droppings are great for manure for the farms and kitchen gardens.

Chicken is a cheap source of protein from their eggs and meat and their droppings are great for manure for the farms and kitchen gardens. 

The enterprise not only represents a fundamental nutritional resource for the rural folk, but also is an economic resource.

However, a huge burden of poultry diseases limits their potential to impact rural livelihoods. This is because our most common way of rearing chicken exposes them to so many production-limiting factors.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Fisheries, there are an estimated number of 31 million birds kept by the farming population in Kenya. Out of these 75% are indigenous birds commonly referred to as Kienyeji chicken.

Farmers keeping these indigenous birds usually prefer backyard rearing, that is, scavenging as the production system. This is a very cheap production system for the rural farmers but comes at great risk.

Scientists discovered an interesting phenomenon about Newcastle disease (NCD) in the rural sector. A breakout of the disease would follow a festive season where people and animals moved a lot. This is yet to be exhaustively covered but currently evident is the fact that human movement contributes to the spread of a disease with Covid-19.

This phenomenon has led to the assumption that most often, we are gifted birds from one area and we move them to another area for different purposes such as to improve the genetics of our flock.

Farmers rarely practice biosecurity practices like quarantining new birds.

What we don’t know is that the bird your grandma gifted you, could be a carrier of a deadly poultry disease that could wipe out all the chicken in your village.

Farmers rarely practice biosecurity practices like quarantining new birds to observe them and control any disease they could be carrying before introducing them to their herds.

Most just let the new bird mix with their flock and the flocks of your neighbours especially for scavenging production systems. After a while, a village starts to lose massive numbers of birds due to a disease.

It is advised that farmers practice the following to avoid such breakout:

  1. Always quarantine new birds. Never mix them with your flock lest you cross-infect them. Sometimes it could be the other way where the new bird is clean and your flock is diseased.
  2. Source for new stock in safe markets. Seek to buy day-old, month-old, 2-month-old bird from a reputable supplier who can provide a vaccination history of the birds.
  3. Consider putting your indigenous birds on a vaccination schedule. Most farmers tend to ignore this as it is said that Kienyeji chicken are resilient. However, diseases such as NCD also affect them in a big way. Please protect your investment by vaccinating your flock with NCD vaccine every 3 months. Other diseases have a particular vaccination protocol that you can adopt.
  4. Consider a better production system other than scavenging. You may take care of your birds but your neighbour does not. The birds interact during day while scavenging and can cross-infect each other hence watering down all your efforts.
  5. Adopt biosecurity in your farm – ensure that your farm has a fence, a gate and footbaths all over the poultry houses so that everyone interacting with the flock thoroughly disinfects themselves before and after interacting with your valuable investment. This follows the “nothing in, nothing out” principle.

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