Bio-security for poultry profit

With increasing input costs and tighter profit margins, poultry producers have to be efficient to stay in business. Niel Saayman spoke to Dr Sean Wisdom, a vet with C4 Africa Professional Consultants.

Dr Sean Wisdom
Photo: Courtesy of C4 Africa

What exactly is bio-security and why is it important to the chicken farmer?
Simply put, bio-security is any measure taken to prevent a disease from spreading. This includes the spread of disease onto the farm from other chickens and also between chicken houses on the same farm.

What are the most common diseases in chickens?
It depends on the type of chickens and their age. Broilers are susceptible to Gumboro (infectious bursal disease), Newcastle disease, infectious bronchitis and coccidiosis. Layers are susceptible to Newcastle disease, infectious bronchitis, Mareks disease, infectious coryza and fowl pox.

What can be done to prevent diseases coming onto the farm?
Anything coming onto the farm from the outside is a risk. The farm should be fenced and no one should be allowed in, unless they work there. People buying chickens and eggs must not come onto the farm. The eggs and chickens must be taken out to customers.

Can chickens be inoculated against diseases? And if so, how does this work?
Chickens can be vaccinated against most of the important diseases, and all of those I’ve mentioned. Vaccines can effectively reduce disease, but exposed birds still become infected and can shed disease organisms. A vaccine is a weak form of the disease. It is given to the bird so that its body can learn how to fight off the disease before it causes a big problem. 

Vaccines come in two different types: ‘live’ and ‘inactivated’ (killed). Live vaccines for chickens come as powders in a small glass bottle. They’re mixed with water and then given by spray, drinking water or eye drops. Inactivated vaccines come as white liquids and are injected into the breast muscle of the bird.

Isn’t it expensive to vaccinate chickens?
Basic vaccines are all cheap on a per bird basis, but they come in large volumes. The smallest amount you get is usually 1 000 doses. A Gumboro vaccine may cost R30 for 1 000 doses. If you only have, say, 100 chickens you’ll have to dilute the vaccine in 1l of water and then throw away 900ml before using the 100ml to vaccinate.

If chickens already have a disease, can they be treated successfully?
This depends on the disease. While treatment may be effective, the disease will continue to cause a problem unless steps are taken to prevent it from recurring. Prevention is better – and much cheaper – than cure.

Are there vets who treat chickens specifically?
Yes, although they’re not like your normal vet. Vets who specialise in poultry practise preventive medicine, where the focus is on getting an entire farm healthy, not just an individual bird.

After a disease outbreak, how must the chicken house be treated?
At the end of any cycle of keeping birds in a house, that house must be cleaned and disinfected. Remove all the manure from the house (and the farm) and sweep the floor clean. Wash the chicken house with an industrial soap and clean water. Apply a disinfectant to all surfaces and leave the house empty for as long as possible. Chickens that have died of disease must be taken off the farm and buried or burned.

Do you have any other tips on chicken health?
Preventing diseases is only one part of a successful chicken operation. The housing, housing management and bird management are all very important. Above all, the birds must have enough water, feed and fresh air. If any of these are lacking, the operation will have problems regardless of the disease status.

Phone Dr Sean Wisdom on 083 659 3603 or email [email protected].