Gut health key to containing pododermatitis

Foot pad pododermatitis is a growing problem on broiler units and litter condition plays a big part in encouraging the development of lesions, delegates to a recent Aviagen roadshow were told.

Although all aspects of management and nutrition are involved, Aviagen vet Africa Fernandez believes that maintaining the intestinal health of the flock is essential to keep litter in good condition – especially during the winter months.


One of the most critical factors is exposure to pathogens in the first 72 hours.

A lot of effort should be directed towards terminal hygiene at turn-round, believes Ms Fernandez. Producers should carry out a full maintenance and repairs programme at all times, and during the life of the flock make a list of what is broken and needs to be repaired.

“Try to carry this out during turn-round, and avoid tradesmen coming on to the premises after clean-out.”

As much of the organic material as possible should be removed. “Even if we are using the appropriate detergent at the right concentration, it’s not going to be as effective if there is a lot of contamination. Extend the cleaning programme to all ancillary equipment, stores and silos.

“Make sure water lines are disinfected, and use a treatment that’s effective against biofilm. Always use products that are strong enough to kill the pathogens, and at the right concentration.

“It’s very useful to do a visual inspection to see if anything has been missed.”

Finally, fumigation with formaldehyde should be carried out to kill viruses, especially those that affect the gut. Make sure the house is at 20-21C, because if it isn’t the formaldehyde isn’t going to be effective. It is important that the house is dry, too, when the birds actually arrive.

Throughout the clean-our process, it is vital to continue with regular use of foot dips. “Good biosecurity is important at all times, not just when the birds are in the house.”


Just as important in the first 72 hours is the level of husbandry.

“It’s very important to have access to feed and water as soon as possible. That’s going to help the development of the gut and therefore the immunity of the gut,” says Ms Fernandez.

“A chick that is fed soon after hatching has an intestinal surface that is very uneven, and the villi which absorb the nutrients are packed together. In a chick that is fasted for 48 hours, there are a lot of areas with no villi and the surface is smoother, with less area for absorption of nutrients.

“Late access to feed and water will delay the development of the small intestine and increase susceptibility to diseases.”

Also, the quicker the access to feed and water, the quicker the chicks will absorb the yolk sac , which contains maternal antibodies, so they will be more prepared for any challenges they may face.


Keeping coccidiosis at bay is an essential part of maintaining a healthy digestive tract, and hence good litter.

Increasing moisture from 15-25% has a marked effect on the rate of oocyst sporulation in the top 5-7cm of litter.

“The oocysts go from a phase when they are not going to cause any damage, to one where they become infectious, so it’s important that this is not facilitated. Avoid creating an environment that is advantageous for the coccidia to proliferate.”

Ms Fernandez recommends that producers do lesion scoring on three or four birds at between 20-25 days, and these will help to decide what coccidiostat programme to choose.

Anything that affects the birds’ feed intake, and therefore coccidiostat intake, will have a direct effect on coccidia numbers.

“If there is an uneven distribution of temperature, there will be an uneven distribution of birds, leading to an imbalance on the feeding pans or drinkers.

“A coccidiosis vaccine every few cycles is worth considering even though it is expensive.”


An adequate vaccination programme should meet the challenges in the locality. It is vital to vaccinate the flock evenly, and as close as possible to 100% of the birds should get a full dose.

“There are diseases that will have a significant impact on gut health and wet litter, particularly infections such as IB, TRT and Gumboro.

“With IB and TRT, maternal antibodies have been shown not to be as protective as we would like, so it’s important to vaccinate for these as early as possible.”

Factors affecting gut health

• Exposure to pathogens in first 72 hours

• Husbandry in first 72 hours

• Coccidiosis control

• Vaccination regime

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