Traditional poultry production systems face many challenges, but one of the main ones is associated with the introduction and propagation of infection. Infectious "agents" can cause a variety of diseases, whether clinical or subclinical, which can have a significant effect on the productivity and ultimate viability of the entire business.
Bio-security is the process of managing those risks wherever possible, in order to keep the risk of infection to an absolute minimum and to prevent the spreading of various diseases from one area to another. Each business must assess its own level of risk throughout all phases of the operation and needs to implement an ongoing plan to properly manage those risks.
What Are the Bio-Security Risks?
There are many different factors involved. For example, the type of bird in the production system, the way that the property is laid out, the overlying infection rate in the surrounding area, presence of different types of wildlife, as well as human interaction.
It's quite sobering to realize that virtually anything that moves onto or off your facility can be a dangerous source of diseases and pests and a risk to your livestock. It's very important therefore not only to ensure that your facility infrastructure is established from a bio-security perspective, but that you control the traffic and activity of humans, plants and animals in the vicinity as well.
Basic Good Practices, from Quarantine to People Management
For example, when introducing a new species of animal for commercial purposes, it's important that these animals be placed into quarantine for at least 21 days before they're allowed to be in the proximity of your existing stock. This risk applies to the introduction of new plants as well, as they can harbor pests and diseases when introduced.
The type of food that you present to your livestock must be managed very carefully too. Check with the supplier of your animal feed, to ensure that they have a recognized system in place to manage risk and in turn have signed a declaration with the regulators, before they supply it to you. Food should be stored in carefully managed areas, so that diseases and pests cannot contaminate it. The storage areas should always be watertight, clean, dry and regulated for humidity variances. Too much moisture can create mold which is a potent source of poisoning and disease.
It's not uncommon to see ponds and lakes adjacent to concentrated animal feeding operations today. Sometimes these can be natural features, while at other times they may be introduced for utility or aesthetic purposes or as water sources themselves. However, still water like this can prove to be a stagnant breeding ground for a variety of pests and organisms that cause disease. Such contamination can be introduced by wild animals in the vicinity and these organisms can survive for quite a considerable period of time before finding a host to infect. Also, algae can develop in these water areas, which should be prevented through appropriate water treatment.
Furthermore, it's very important to restrict the movement of people in and around the property to only areas where their presence is necessary. It's crucial to educate people with correct signage to remind them that you take bio-security very seriously at your facility. Use clear, unequivocal language to instruct visitors what to do, and what not to do. Production sheds, feeding areas and other process points must be restricted to authorized workers only. This is because visitors can often unknowingly bring diseases and other pests into critical areas on footwear and clothing. The risk of cross contamination is high and is even higher if such visitors have recently been in contact with other livestock, especially in less regulated areas.
"It's crucial to educate people with correct signage to remind them that you take bio-security very seriously." - @poultryservices - Click to Tweet
The Waste Disposal Threat
One of the biggest risks involves production practices associated with waste disposal. Animal manure and waste must not be treated as an afterthought, but must be carefully managed throughout the decomposition phases. Many different and dangerous organisms can be present in effluent and waste, and in decomposing chickens. These agents of disease can contaminate many different areas including sources of water, feedstock and production areas.
There must be a clear process when disposing of chicken carcasses and associated waste. This waste must be segregated in an area that cannot be accessed by any animals, whether livestock, birds or roaming wild animals.
Wild animals can be a threat to all facilities and are attracted by poor or inadequate composting and waste management processes. They in turn introduce disease-causing organisms which they carry. Therefore, it's essential to identify all the different types of wild animals in the vicinity of the operation, their various behavioral characteristics and potential for causing disease. Once you've assessed the situation, a system should be implemented to control their access. Ensure that the entire operation does not become a magnet for wild animals due to poor or inadequate management or production practices. The roving animals are less likely to be attracted if they cannot detect spilled food, rotting carcasses, or other waste sources within the property. This approach applies to birds and insects as well as vermin, wild or feral animals and thus of course solid boundary fences are not at all a complete defense!
Many disease carrying animals, insects or birds are attracted to the facility by composting activities. Composting, in and of itself, isn't a significant risk to bio-security when handled correctly, or engaged in association with modern-day methods. But what are the risks of traditional methods?
The Biggest Risks
Inherently, composting bins should never be left to the open environment, uncovered, nor should they sit directly on the ground. They should be covered by a roof which prevents rain reaching within, and also should have an impervious floor.
Composting in high-risk environments is often left to be managed by employees who don't have relevant training in the composting of dead birds. Compounding this, the facility may also be unregulated by local government.
In order for the composting process to work correctly, the appropriate recipe must be followed. This includes the amount and type of ingredients, the order in which these materials should be placed and the storage recommendations for the active ingredients. Composting can only be expected to work correctly if the appropriate microorganisms are present in the material being composted and the process is properly managed throughout the composting cycles.
One of the biggest risks is mishandling bird carcasses when they're introduced. As an example, no attempts may be made to keep the carcasses away from the perimeters of the composting bin, where temperatures aren't conducive to proper decomposition. Furthermore, carcasses must always be covered completely by the correct amount of litter "cake."
Potential problems can also be exacerbated by poor environmental control. Efforts should always be made to monitor the moisture level of the content, together with its ambient temperature. The internal temperature should never be allowed to rise beyond recommended levels and when the temperature drops below certain levels action must be taken start the next cycle.
For composting on site to be truly effective, all birds have to be completely decomposed by the end of the process. There must be virtually no risk for transmission of diseases, nearby water resources must be completely protected and there must never be a discernible presence of flies in the area.
How Threats are Transmitted
When composting facilities aren't handled properly and especially when left open to the environment and other pests, the risk to the poultry flock is significant. When some or all of these processes are ignored, vermin, insects and other disease carrying pests will never be far away.
Wild birds can come into contact with the composting material or infection carried by other animals and can in turn contract and transmit diseases while not showing signs of being infected. When the chickens come into contact with places where the infected birds may have been, they can pick up internal parasites. If a composting operation isn't adequately regulated, diseases can be carried on the clothing or footwear of personnel, or can be carried on equipment that's used in various areas of the facility (an example being the boots on the feet of the workers). Often, such equipment is not adequately cleaned and disinfected in between various processes. Also, if chickens come into contact with any soil that may have been contaminated by pests or may have come into contact with the composting material, they can pick up viruses, parasitical eggs or bacteria. When there are large populations of flies or other insects due to poor composting procedures and practices, then parasites and other diseases can be readily transmitted by touch or bite.
It's very important to control the source of food for scavengers on site. There are many different potential carriers including migratory birds and regional and local wildlife and many different contamination sources outside of your control. However, how the carcasses of routine mortality are handled is definitely within your control.
By eliminating access this will naturally reduce the number of unwanted, "transmission risk" visitors to the farm, which will expeditiously reduce the risk to the health of the poultry stock in-house.