Food Security


Practicing good broiler stockmanship is the key to minimising antibiotic use

The emergence of antibiotic-free (ABF) or minimal-use antibiotic programmes around the world has focused attention on the importance of stockmanship and best-practice management techniques in the broiler house

A good stockman will use all senses – sight, taste, hearing, smell and feel – to stay “in tune” with the birds’ behaviour and comfort level, and in the case of an ABF environment, stockmanship becomes even more important. The stockman must be able to recognize changes in flock behaviour which may indicate a problem that requires prompt corrective action.

Potential performance issues can almost always be identified by daily flock observations, accurate record keeping and regular record/data analysis. An experienced stockman will be aware of the areas where challenges appear during the broiler flock cycle, and what input is required to either prevent or minimize the effect on flock welfare. This article highlights key areas where broiler flock issues can occur, and emphasises the importance of good stockmanship for bird welfare and performance.

Bio-security should be a primary focus for all broiler farms, but this is especially true for flocks grown without antibiotics. Access to the farm should be restricted to essential visitors at all times, and a visitor book should be used to document all personnel and equipment movement onto the farm. Site visitors must comply with visit farm protocols and, where possible, shower in and change into freshly laundered farm clothing. Good stockmen will keep a close eye on farm activity when preparing for chick arrival, and throughout the life of the flock, so that they are aware of, and can limit, potential bio-security risks.

Thorough cleaning and disinfection of the house, as well as appropriate downtime between cycles (not less than 7 days) is necessary to prevent the carry-over of pathogens from the previous flock. Hot water and effective detergents should be used to ensure any grease or organic material that may be present is completely removed from all surfaces and equipment. After cleaning, disinfection should take place. It is important to ensure that the correct dilution rates for any cleaning and disinfection products are used. Where local legislation permits, formaldehyde treatment can be applied as the final step in the farm hygiene programme. To determine the effectiveness of the cleaning and disinfection procedure, it is good practice to check all internal surfaces and equipment for Total Viable Count (TVC), Salmonella and E. coli, after cleaning and disinfection is complete. Water systems must also be cleaned and sanitised with approved products to remove biofilms. The stockman should walk through the house after cleaning and disinfection to ensure that the correct procedures have been followed and that the house is ready for chick placement.

Bedding material can be a source of pathogens in a newly cleaned broiler house. If possible, heat-treated material should be used to eliminate the possibility of introducing health problems to a new flock. Only litter that has been tested or is certified to have a TVC< 10cfu/g should be used in an ABF broiler house.

Exterior house areas and concrete walkways should also be cleaned and disinfected. Vegetation around the broiler houses should be cut back and any waste material removed from the site. A good rodent baiting plan (Figure 2) should be in place prior to the arrival of chicks, and rodent bait stations should be checked for activity and re-baited throughout the life of the flock. Walking around the exterior of the broiler house and the larger farm grounds will give the stockman a good idea of where and how potential bio-security hazards could cause issues for flock welfare.

Bio security, good stockmanship and attention to detail will ensure high levels of bird health and welfare. For the chick, during brooding this involves creating the correct, bio secure environment at placement with regular monitoring of chick behaviour and development. However, it is important that a good start is built upon with best practice management techniques and stockmanship throughout the life of a broiler flock. Part 2 of this article will focus on best practice management techniques after brooding to maintain flock health, welfare and performance.

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