A vet plan can pay for poultry producers

When it comes to maximising turkey health and welfare, there is no substitute for having a good veterinary health plan.

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” says David Parsons of the Poultry Health Centre. “A good plan is flexible and will be unique to your farm by providing tailored recommendations, guidance and reference documents based on a critical evaluation of your farming enterprise.”

It will include an overview of the production system and recommendations for reducing and responding to any disease threats. (See Table 1)

Critical to the veterinary health plan are the biosecurity procedures, designed to minimise the risk of disease.

“Developing a biosecurity plan uses the principles of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP),” says Mr Parsons. “This systematic approach requires firstly the identification of potential disease hazards, secondly the design of targeted procedures to control the hazards and thirdly a ‘disaster recovery strategy’ should disease unfortunately occur.” (See Table 2)

A good example of a veterinary health plan in action was seen during an unusual case of infraorbital sinusitis in turkeys, where teamwork and effective planning helped to identify strategies to control the problem and prevent similar disease in future flocks.

“The initial signs of flock infection were probably missed as they were so mild, such as a runny eye, a few bubbles in the anterior corner of one eye, or a clear discharge from the nostrils,” says Mr Parsons. (See photo.)

“While this certainly looks like infraorbital sinusitis, an infectious disease usually associated with Mycoplasma gallisepticum, it was clear that an accurate diagnosis was needed to implement the correct treatment strategy.”

A number of tests were needed to confirm the exact cause of infraorbital sinusitis, including blood samples on live birds, post-mortem examination and bacterial sampling of sacrificed birds.

Tests conducted by ECO Animal Health eliminated Mycoplasma gallisepticum, Avian rhinotracheitis and Ornithobacterium rhinotracheale, but revealed a mixed infection of Mycoplasma meleagridis and Mycoplasma synoviae, an unusual combination. There were also secondary contaminants, including the bacteria E coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, or yeast from either the environment or the water supply.

As a result of the diagnosis, the following procedures were implemented:

  • While establishing an accurate diagnosis, the flock was treated with an antibiotic. However, as achieving therapeutic doses assumes that each bird will drink enough medication, the most severely affected birds were separated into hospital pens to increase the likelihood of achieving effective treatment and also help minimise the further spread of infection.
  • Record keeping was reviewed to ensure the ability to monitor the progress of the disease, help identify disease more rapidly and assess the consequences.
  • The use of foot dips, protective overalls and hand sanitisers were implemented to minimise the spread of infection to other turkey houses by staff.
  • Following drinking water medication, water sanitisers were used to prevent mycoplasmas, E coli and pseudomonas being spread through the drinking system.
  • As mycoplasmas can be transmitted from hen to chick through the egg, future day olds should be purchased from known negative mycoplasma flocks. If this is not possible, then the poults should be treated on arrival to reduce the likelihood of horizontal spread from infected day-olds.
  • The number of breeds and supply sources were reviewed and minimised.

“In this case, the implementation of the veterinary health plan procedures aided an accurate diagnosis, an understanding of the ways that infections can be spread and the importance of administering medication through clean drinker systems,” says Mr Parsons. “This resulted in the control of the disease and improved health and welfare, food safety and profitability for the turkey enterprise.”

Table 1: Aspects included in a good veterinary health plan  
 Evaluation Recommendation Reference
Overview of the production system How to reduce or eliminate potential hazards for disease control Identification of notifiable disease
Identification of potential hazards for disease control Methods of monitoring, correcting and recording any health changes Data sheets for medicines, vaccines, disinfectants and pesticides
Best management practices Welfare codes
Best practice in the event of disease Salmonella codes of practice
Management guides

Table 2: Example procedures to minimise the disease risk 
 Potential disease hazard Targeted procedures to minimise the risk
Inadequate terminal disinfection procedures Appropriate selection of disinfection according to the area (concrete or soil floor, water header tanks)
Use of correct dilution of the disinfectant (higher concentration required for disinfection than sanitisation)
Water supply Removal of used litter to a suitable distance (one mile)
Regular sanitisation of drinker lines
Check fit of header-tank lids
Failure to recognise disease Staff training

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