A step in time saves nine
As backyard or small scale poultry production grows in popularity and producers look for more outlets to sell their poultry products, small flock owners need to be aware of the health of their flock and try to take the necessary steps to prevent the spread of disease to other poultry.
Unfortunately, many of poultry respiratory diseases have similar clinical signs. Sneezing, gurgling, laboured breathing, nasal discharge, swollen eyes and head all are symptoms that can be associated with respiratory disease. Laboratory analysis is often needed to differentiate one disease from another.
Of the respiratory diseases that can strike poultry, the three of the most worrying are Laryngotracheitis (LT), Infectious Bronchitis (IB) and Avian Influenza (AI).
LTis an acute, highly contagious chicken
disease. Typical signs include laboured breathing with extended neck, choking, sneezing and vigorous shaking of the head. Mortality is often high with this infection.
IB is a highly contagious, rapid spreading disease. Symptoms may include eye and nasal discharge, choking, and sneezing with very high mortality in young birds.
Now sadly very well known, AI has the potential to inflict serious damage in any flock. The impact of this disease can range from minor respiratory infection to 100% mortality, depending on the strain of virus. Symptoms that can present themselves include choking, sneezing, tearing, huddling, ruffled feathers, and swelling of the head and face. Proper quarantine or depopulation of AI positive flocks is essential in preventing the spread of this devastating disease.
An Ounce of Prevention
Many people know the saying ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’. This is true for the smallest backyard flock right through to the largest commercial enterprise. Minimising disease in small flocks is important since they can act as reservoirs of transmissible disease to the commercial poultry industry.
The first step in disease prevention is to know the enemy. In the case of colds and flu, viruses are the culprit. Viruses can infiltrate a flock by air, wild birds, insect and rodent pests, new additions to the flock, and human traffic. Antibiotic treatments will not rid your birds of these organisms.
With viral disease, there is no effective treatment once a flock has developed the disease. Prevention of viral disease is through effective husbandry and in some cases by vaccination. Thorough sanitation, disinfection, and reduced exposure to outside sources of birds, rodents, and insect pests can reduce the incidence of viral infection.
Early recognition of disease can reduce the spread of infection. Look for changes in eating, drinking and behavioural habits and for signs and sounds of respiratory distress. Look for swelling in the face and eyes as this→
can be another sign of the development of respiratory disease.
Buy your poultry stock from reputable dealers. Signs of disease usually appear 6-12 days after natural exposure. Therefore, before introduction into the flock, quarantine new birds from the existing flock for at least 3 weeks, watching for signs and symptoms of disease. Treat the new birds for internal and external parasites before mixing them with the existing flock.
Separate your flock by age, keeping young birds away from breeding stock to give them time to develop their immune systems. Separate the species where and when possible. Some species may not be affected by certain diseases and yet may serve as carriers of disease to another species that is susceptible. Waterfowl in particular serve as unaffected carriers of disease organisms.
Be mindful of animals, objects, and people that enter your premises. Respiratory discharge, faeces, and bird-to-bird contact are the main modes of viral transmission.
Minimise free ranging of the flock by maintaining some form of confinement to lessen the chance for exposure.
Maintain good air quality through ventilation while providing needed warmth. Block drafts to minimise chilling and huddling. Cold-stressed birds are more susceptible to disease than birds kept in a stable temperature environment.
Provide appropriate nutrition. Use properly formulated diets as found at commercial retailers. Nutrient requirements will increase during the winter months when birds have to compensate for low temperatures in their living quarters.
Implement wild bird and pest control measures. Wild birds, particularly waterfowl, can serve as reservoirs of respiratory disease. Rodents and insects have been shown to harbour pathogens that are transmissible to poultry.
When birds die from disease or unknown causes, rapid disposal of carcasses is important to prevent disease transfer. Mortality should be removed promptly to prevent scavenging by the remaining birds. Bury, burn, or compost your mortality away from the rest of the flock.
Do not sell diseased or suspect birds through local avenues such as flea markets or live animal sales, as this will only perpetuate the spread of disease to unprotected flocks.
Implementing these disease prevention practices can help promote health and well-being to your poultry enterprise and reduce the frustration and economic loss often associated with death loss due to preventable disease outbreak.¡