• August 11th, 2020

Biosecurity in free-range chicken production (the brooder)

 Elmor Deelie 

WINDHOEK- Biosecurity, a list of management strategies implemented to control and reduce the introduction and spread of infectious disease in livestock operations, is often associated with large-scale, capital intensive operations such as table egg or broiler production systems. This is no further from the truth as good biosecurity measures contribute immensely to the profitability and economic viability of any livestock enterprise, and free-range production systems cannot do without it.

Maintaining an effective biosecurity programme with good hygiene practices as well as a good vaccination programme is essential in disease prevention and control. The key to biosecurity is to reduce pathogens and prevent their reintroduction. Biosecurity in free-range systems, however, is mostly neglected or producers do not fully comprehend the concept of biosecurity. That’s primarily influenced by the mere fact that biosecurity for free-range systems is inherently different from intensive production, however, the concept and practices remain the same. 

Free-range systems are open and pretty much exposed to a significant percentage of all living organisms in their growing environment. Without limited access, the control of disease becomes increasingly challenging, however poultry (especially indigenous breeds) under free-range would have better immunity to the environment than poultry kept in confinement that has never been exposed to the outside environment.

Day-old chicks or with less exposure to variant environmental conditions are more susceptible to bacterial and viral diseases. This stresses the significance of why biosecurity, especially during the brooding phase, should be highly prioritised. The brooding environment bears all the characteristics of intensive operation. During the first 14 days of life, a significantly high number of birds are confined in a small temperature-controlled environment. All feed and water are supplied by the farmer, which provides the perfect window of opportunity to introduce pathogens within a perfectly healthy flock. 

Conventional wisdom still holds, when they say that the success of any poultry operation is determined during the first 14 days of the young chickens right. Generally, young chicks are more susceptible to disease. Thus, it makes economic sense to implement strict biosecurity measures at the brooder house. Some of the basic measures include having a well-demarcated brooding facility a good distance away from older free-range birds. Keeping the brooder house clean and always working from the youngest flock first to the oldest to prevent the movement of pathogens between the two. Well, it remains important to have a footbath at the entrance of the brooder house, cleaning and disinfecting hands, equipment, and clothing before working with the poultry, but this is easier said than done. 

Sickbay brooder
If any of the chicks fall sick or start showing signs of getting an illness, it should be immediately removed from the brooder and placed separately to prevent the spread of the disease through the remaining flock. Take note that most poultry diseases are highly contagious and can be spread through the air. Thus, the brooder sickbay should be downwind from the main brooder facility. Having a sickbay brooder makes economic sense if a large number of birds have to be medicated back to health; however, if it is not cost-effective it would be recommended to humanely euthanize the bird.

Quarantine brooding station
When a new flock of day-old chicks are brought on to the farm, they should not be introduced into an already brooding flock even if they look incredibly healthy. The new flock has to be reared separately from older brooding flocks in a manner that mimics a quarantine facility. 

Diseases could as well be disguised in a healthy-looking flock. By quarantining the poultry coming in, producers limit the risk of the disease coming to the farm.

In summary, to better comprehend biosecurity for free-range poultry, producers have to understand how disease comes about. For any disease to show its ugly face, there has to be a susceptible host (e.g. low immunity chicken) environment that has to be optimal for the pathogen to thrive and the specific pathogen that causes disease has to be present. If producers can keep the environment unfavourable for the pathogens, the growth of the disease can be prevented. 

Staff Reporter
2019-08-20 07:58:47 | 11 months ago

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