How to reduce disease risk

Red chickens sit in a cage on a farm

Protecting poultry flocks from microorganism contamination is an extremely important part of poultry farming. The introduction of a highly pathogenic, contagious disease organism into poultry flocks could result in serious economic consequences for farmers. Here are 10 things you can practice in your farms to keep these pathogens away from your flocks.

1.  Visit restrictions

One of the most serious threats to biosecurity is human transportation of microorganisms. As such, restriction of unnecessary human traffic is a major component of a sound biosecurity program. Poultry farmers or their workers should stop any visitor into their units and should likewise refrain from visiting other poultry operations.

2. Showering and change of attire

Whenever it is necessary to visit the farm, visitors and employees should be allowed to shower and change clothes and footwear before entering the farm. This is especially critical, following meeting with family members or friends that may have birds or when participating or living with anyone who may participate in activities where poultry or other poultry people are present.

3. Foot bath management

Foot baths containing a suitable disinfectant should be placed at the entry point of all poultry houses. The foot baths disinfectant should also be changed regularly, at least once a week, depending on traffic to the poultry units. After every three months, a disinfectant with a different molecule should be rotated to avoid developing resistance.

4. Control of tools and equipment

When equipment, tools, or replacement parts need to be introduced on the farm, they must be washed and disinfected before being brought onto the farm. This will reduce microbial load on vehicles and other mobile equipment by washing and disinfecting at critical times before allowing them into the units. If they cannot be washed, they should be fumigated using 40 per cent formalin in a safe enclosure.

5.  All-in all-out strategy

Wherever possible, an all-in/all-out production system should be planned on a site. This means keeping one batch of flock on one site from placement to death or end of production. keeping multiage flocks in one site only complicates disease control as there will never be a time to completely empty the farm for a deep clean before next flock placement.

6.  Importance of down time

The period between one flock and the next is commonly referred to as ‘downtime’ or ‘turn-around’. In this case we consider everything that had contact with the previous flock to be ‘dirty’ until such time as it is effectively decontaminated. A minimum of nine weeks turnaround time will be adhered to for breeding farms, while 2-3 weeks is required for commercial chick operations

7.  Rodent control

Eliminating or reducing pests will reduce the risk of contracting or spreading a disease. Vermin are everywhere where poultry are. Control is very important, not just because of the direct damage, but perhaps especially because of the possibility of the carryover of micro-organisms.

8.  Litter management

For a complete cleaning, it is important to remove all debris and visible organic material (manure, used litter). If the used litter or manure is composted, it is recommended to cover it with a plastic at least 6 mm in thickness. In deep litter systems, any litter introduced, whether at the beginning of the flock or in re-littering, is a potential source of contamination with disease-producing organisms. Keep your litter dry and friable all the time. Contamination with spores of mould (usually Aspergillus fumigatus) can cause disease in young chickens, and in turkeys of any age. It occurs when litter materials have been high in moisture content and exposed to warm temperatures

9.  Wild birds’ control

Poultry farmers should avoid all contact with backyard flocks and wild birds. These types of poultry are seldom fully vaccinated for the major poultry diseases and thus pose a risk to poultry flocks. Keep your units covered with wire netting that will keep wild birds away.

10.  Flock vaccination

Today, no flock can be successfully raised without a good vaccination programme that will meet both the area and farm needs which is considered essential for flock health management. It is important to purchase chicks from a hatchery where the vaccination history of the parents is known as this determines the level of protection the chicks have acquired from the parents and the vaccination to follow.