Disease prevention and poultry farm bio-security.

We all like to think that we look after our birds, but every now and then something goes wrong. There is simply not enough time or space to discuss every disease, parasite, or complaint here, and producers who have concerns should seek professional advice. This article will focus on the most important aspect of disease, and that is prevention.

A farm bio-security plan is a poultry producer’s best line of defence against disease and can mean the difference between success and failure, and should come second only to marketing and distribution plans.

Growing poultry is both a privilege and a pleasure, and it comes with a certain burden of responsibility. Obviously, our first responsibility is to the welfare of our birds, and secondly our customers, who are relying on us to produce a quality product that is both safe and enjoyable. Another area of responsibility that is sometimes overlooked is our responsibility to the Australian poultry industry in general. Due to our tight quarantine protocols and border protection policies, our country is regarded to be free of many exotic avian diseases, notably Avian Influenza. This allows us to protect our domestic industry from imported products and ensures a better, disease-free life for our birds. As poultry producers, we need to consider our place in the national bio-security equation and make every effort to do our part to minimise the risk of exposure or spread of avian diseases.

Australia has a national farm bio-security website www.farmbiosecurity.com.au with resources for various industries, including poultry. It is mainly focused on large-scale intensive production, however, it also covers free-range production. As well as familiarising yourself with this website, the following points may be particularly helpful to small-scale poultry producers:

Adopt a farm bio-security mind-set
Everyone who lives and works on your farm needs to adopt a bio-security mind-set. If staff perceive a lack of commitment from management, or management’s family for example, they will struggle to understand why they should uphold the farm’s bio-security protocols.

Be Mindful of Where You Have Been
Always be mindful of where you have been. Avoid visiting poultry shows, backyard flocks, and other poultry producers unless you can afford a break before re-entering your own production areas. If you visit another poultry keeper or producer, do not wear the same clothes and shoes back into your poultry production areas. You should at least have a shower and change your clothes and shoes before you visit your own birds and production areas, and more preferably not enter back into your own production areas for at least 24 hours. Some poultry disease organisms can live on or in humans for up to a week – on our clothes, in our hair, ears, nasal passages etc. and they also carried on vehicles and tools etc.

When a farmer transports their chickens off-farm to an abattoir, particularly one that processes multi-species of poultry for many different farmers, they are exposed to a high-risk area in terms of their farm bio-security. An action plan to minimise the risk must be in place, and must be understood and complied with by everyone involved. For example: vehicles and crates should be thoroughly washed before re-entering the farm, and no one should re-enter farm production areas before showering and washing clothes, headwear and shoes.

Be Mindful of Where Your Visitors Have Been
Always be mindful of where your farm visitors have been and restrict their access to your production areas, (including feed, equipment and utilities’ suppliers). Ask them where they have been before arriving at your farm (don’t be shy about this – remember this is your livelihood at stake). Here is a link to a downloadable form that you may find helpful in managing farm bio-security and visitors ‘Farm Visitor Protocols’.

The last two points also highlight the importance of ‘defining’ your production areas, and ‘containing’ birds within them to help manage farm bio-security.

Management of Multi-Species
Adopt a producer mind-set. Traditionally, small-scale family farms have successfully kept a mixture of livestock, (picture the typical farmyard scene in children’s story books), however if you choose to become a commercial producer, a different mind-set is needed. Once poultry are kept in larger numbers on a continual basis, diseases that may otherwise lay low can quietly build in the background, sometimes reaching a point where an outbreak occurs – which can damage or even cripple production. Imagine how devastating this would be if you have just begun to build a reputation with consumers, and orders are increasing. If you are planning to produce different types of poultry products on one farm, you need to consider whether you have enough land to sustainably manage forage areas, and enough resources (including infrastructure, staff, and equipment) to manage them completely separately from each other. You should also manage poultry separately from pigs (pigs and poultry share similar diseases).

Management of Different Ages
Flocks should also be managed separately, according to age. Always attend to the youngest birds first, working your way up in age order. Young chicks have not had time to build up resistance to any diseases your older birds may have been exposed to. The ideal is to have a staff/family member dedicated to brooding chicks only, however, as a minimum there should be protective clothing and footwear that is used only in the brooding area.

Management of In-Coming Stock
Only bring poultry onto your farm from reliable suppliers. Establish quarantine protocols, where new birds coming onto your farm can be kept separate from existing flocks. By doing this you can observe the new stock for any sign of illness or internal and external parasites. If they do appear sick, remove them at once. Whilst you might trust the person who sells you new stock, it may still be possible his birds might be carrying lice, mites, worms or some sub-clinical (not making the bird sick) disease.

Green Field Advantage
If you are starting a poultry production enterprise on a property that has never had poultry on it, you are in a very unique position, and have what is referred to as a “green field advantage”. Please seriously consider professional advice regarding your “farm bio-security plan” BEFORE bringing any live birds onto your property.