Chickens on traditional free-range poultry farm [iStockphoto]

The rising food prices, high farming input costs and current inflationary concerns all mean that farmers are going to stretch to survive beyond this year. As if those are not enough concerns, Generation X consumers are demanding chickens grown without the use of antibiotics since they have been educated and have a little more cash to spend. Amidst pressure to reduce the use of antibiotics, poultry and egg producers must now focus more on disease control programmes and bird wellness, perfect their biosecurity preparedness and rip the benefits.

What can farmers do to benefit from biosecurity steps?

To survive these issues in the short term, farmers must work closely with veterinary health experts to provide good biosecurity and early chick health management for better performance. Biosecurity in poultry refers to all measures that must be undertaken to prevent disease-causing organisms from infecting your birds and causing harm, loss of production and in severe cases death. These include the following.

  1. All farm workers must be educated on the benefit of a good biosecurity program

Everyone involved in poultry production, whether owner, manager, farm worker, contractor, driver, or farm veterinarian, must have a sound knowledge of the objective of biosecurity and what it means in practice. It must be understood why flocks of chicken are better off housed than left scavenging freely in the field. Make sure you choose and construct a farm away from other poultry facilities, this will reduce the chances of diseases transmission from one infected site to another. Training on basic flock health care, feeding and watering techniques and the ability to spot sick, isolated and depressed birds is a prerequisite for better performance. The four most important farm inputs that must be properly managed are quality chicks, clean water, robust feed, and good working litter.

  1. Know where disease agents are likely to come from and avoid contact.

Most poultry farmers may not know the sources of disease-causing organisms, where they live, how they are transmitted from their hideouts to the chicken house. The safest approach to take is to assume that the immediate environment or barn of the chicken is 'clean' and everything that is outside the environment is 'dirty'. And that anything that moves from the 'dirty' area to the 'clean' area must be subjected to cleaning and disinfection. This belief is used many times to limit unnecessary visitors to your flock house. This strategy also helps in preventing the spread of diseases such as Gumboro, Fowl Typhoid, cholera and Coryza.

  1. Avoid keeping flocks of different ages and species in proximity

During the construction of flock houses, avoid story building if you can, but if you cannot then keep flocks of the same age in each unit. Kindly note that the level of immunity of young and old birds differs and there are specific diseases prevalent among age groups, so if you keep multi-age flocks in one site, you endanger the younger flocks more than the older flocks. One should keep the distance between one unit to another at 100 feet if you have different aged flocks on one site. If for lack of adequate space and multiage flocks are kept in one site, as we see it in urban farming set-up, then farm workers must visit different units in order of age, starting from youngest to oldest and from the healthy flocks to the sick flock last.

  1. Conduct thorough cleaning and disinfection of the poultry units

This starts with a well-thought-out cleaning and disinfection process after the removal of the old litter. You must use plenty of water and detergent and follow with terminal disinfection with a potent disinfectant applied according to the manufacturer's 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. Between flocks, it is a good practice to eliminate any rodents. Rodents carry many diseases that adversely affect the health of poultry. A one-metre barrier around each house free of grass (preferably some concrete "apron") must be maintained to prevent rodents from entering poultry houses.

[The writer is Head Vet at Kenchic]

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