Poultry Health Management – Is your flock at risk?

What you don’t know can hurt you

Good livestock husbandry starts with proper health care and management. Without proper health management, the ability of an animal to perform at its best potential capacity may be dampened, even with the best nutrition and housing environment available at its disposal.

What you need to know

Poultry production is significantly affected by poor management and disease challenges. Having the right knowledge of disease management is important in planning and forming an effective flock health program. Good management of flock health includes conducting field health planning, developing and enforcing structural policies, conducting risk management and managing assets for the farming business.

Poultry health management is the administration or oversight of flock health systems. It ensures information is disseminated efficiently and smoothly throughout the business, specific outcomes are reached, and resources are used efficiently. This includes prevention of disease, early recognition of disease and early treatment of disease.

The problem

A disease is a condition that negatively affects the vital physiological processes of a living animal’s body. It is manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms. Disease in poultry may be caused from infectious or non-infectious origins.

Sources of infectious diseases include viruses, bacteria, fungi, mycoplasma, chlamydia and parasites. Infectious diseases lead to high mortality, production and economic losses.

Is your flock at risk?

The extent of a particular disease that is usually present in a flock is influenced by general health conditions, stress and immunity levels, contamination levels, and quantity and quality of feed and water.

The signs

Health assessment is important and often the preliminary step in identifying the flock’s problem. The purpose of the assessment is to identify and establish the remedial need of the flock. Flock health is assessed by acquisition of a health history and physical assessment.

The first, essential step in the field evaluation process is to conduct a general observation from a distance and within the flock. Observation includes the behaviour (activity level and alertness) and uniformity of the flock. This is followed by the examination of the appearance of litter conditions and fecal material (dry, solid, semisolid, frothy, mixture of undigested feed materials or watery form).

A physical examination is the assessment of the bird’s vital signs and physical appearance to determine its state of health. The physical examination should include inspection of body conformation, bodyweight, comb appearance and color, signs of secretion from eyes and nostril, and signs of pasty vent. This will provide further indications to a possible diagnosis.

Behind the statistics

Laboratory diagnostics uses flock health information for the purpose of making a clinical decision. Laboratory tests can be valuable aids in making a diagnosis or detecting hidden disease in asymptomatic flocks.

Validation and moderation of assessments can be conducted by three commonly used methods of testing flock health in farm. This includes periodical antibody tests, flocked swabs and environmental samplings, field and laboratory autopsies.

An antibody test is often performed to detect the presence and quantity of antibodies within a bird’s blood. The amount of antibodies correlates to the strength of the bird’s immune response.

Flocked swab and environmental sampling have been used primarily for detecting and verifying biological specimens of bacterial and viral pathogens in birds and poultry rearing houses.

Autopsy is an essential diagnosis tool performed on a poultry carcass, searching for lesions that may point to the cause of death.

Comprehensive sampling and testing in poultry flocks will increase the probability of disease diagnosis. Achieving the standard parameters indicate the flocks are in healthy condition.

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