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Managing Risk In Poultry Production

Managing Risk In Poultry Production - Don't Overlook The Biggest Risk Of All

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

The potential spread of infectious disease must be constantly on the mind of those who run concentrated animal feeding operations. Every effort must be made to prevent the introduction of disease carrying agents to poultry stock - as there can be many unwanted consequences, ranging from a reduction in productivity to complete failure of the operation.

The concept of bio-security has been developed in order to help managers understand risk and put in place measures to safeguard their operations. Each enterprise must determine how much risk they face across every facet of the operation, in order to identify and maintain appropriate control measures.

What Are The Primary Risk Areas?

The poultry stock itself represents a controllable, yet risk laden threat for pathogen and disease transmission. Management should take great care when dealing with the disposal of dead birds, as a primary means of disease control. This is also important when transferring birds from one area of the operation to another, especially in order to control the spread of any agents that may be evident.

People can be another major biohazard. This includes not only random visitors, contractors or workers who visit from outside the site, but also the personnel who actually live on the site itself. Diseases can be transmitted from point to point on the boots of individuals, attached to clothing, within uncovered hair or on unwashed hands.

Vehicles and equipment can be used to unknowingly transmit disease carrying pathogens on a widespread basis. In addition, disease can be carried through the air due to adjacent crop dusting or treatment.

Water is a primary conduit for disease and contamination due to its coming into contact with feces that has in turn been contaminated by various animal species or birds.

Finally, efforts should be made to ensure that only properly prepared and monitored feedstock is used, as this can become contaminated during production or transport. In addition, feedstock that's left exposed can be contaminated by many different methods, including infiltration by rodents or wild birds.

The Facility

When the facility is designed, due attention must be paid to bio-security issues. If this isn't the case within an existing facility, effort should be made to ensure that the production area itself has a clearly defined boundary, separating it from nearby areas. If other livestock is in proximity to the production area then this must also be the subject of a clear delineation. A barrier must be erected to ensure that the livestock are kept entirely separate from the poultry area. In addition, the area where livestock graze should not be part of a transit path to parts of the poultry production area. Effort must also be made to ensure that rainwater drainage is away from the livestock pastures and not toward the poultry enclosures.

No vehicles should be allowed to enter the production area. The primary entrance should be protected by a locked gate, warning visitors that there's no unauthorized entry due to bio-security risk. Visitors must also be prohibited from entering the production area on foot unless they've been provided with protective clothing and footwear. It's also advisable to have an area containing a disinfectant solution, so that visitors can disinfect their boots before proceeding. Hand sanitization machines should be erected at all points of entry.

Any landscaping operations conducted around the production operation should be carefully managed in order to choose appropriate vegetation that doesn't attract the attention of wild or migrating birds. No areas should be allowed to collect debris, weeds or unkempt vegetation.

No bodies of water should be situated near the production area, as ponds and other areas of stagnating water are attractive to migratory waterfowl, principal carriers of avian flu and other agents. Low-lying areas that are prone to collecting storm water run-off must be drained, so that water doesn't accumulate during the wet season.

Managers shouldn't be tempted to use surface water sources to provide drinking water for poultry, without taking further measures first. All drinking water must meet stringent standards, or be treated with appropriate agents such as chlorine or iodine. Whatever the source of the water, it must be kept within a closed system subsequent to treatment and before it reaches the poultry drinking stations.

Stringent standards also must apply to feeding systems. The feed must be kept within an entirely closed system of silos, or commercial delivery systems, so that it cannot be contaminated by rats or wild birds. Where any spills may occur they should be cleaned up immediately, so that disease carrying wild birds or rodents, or other foraging animals aren't attracted to the area.

The People

A very clear and unequivocal policy must be maintained with regard to the behavior of personnel involved in production. For example, they must not be allowed to come into contact with any other birds or livestock unless they have changed into a totally new set of clothing and footwear, and showered completely before entering the production area. Clothing must never be allowed to be worn in the production area if it has been contaminated in any way. Boots used in daily production operations should never be worn in any areas outside of the production area.

For other people not directly in control of the operation's management, a policy must nevertheless be in place and adhered to. Contractors who may have come into contact with other birds or poultry at other locations must not be allowed to enter sheds unless they have a complete clothing and footwear change, an all-over shower and appropriate hair coverings. All tools used must be thoroughly cleaned and free of any contamination. It is recommended that the facility carries a clearly detailed set of rules, which each visitor, supplier or contractor must sign, on each occasion, before entering the production facility.

Drinking Supply

Get expert advice to determine the safety and standard of the water supply. Chlorination alone may not be sufficient.


Perhaps one of the biggest areas of risk is in an area that's all too often given little afterthought by facility management. Much attention may be paid to the set up of the facility and control of personnel, both local and visitors, however the composting shed may be one of the biggest risk areas altogether.

Even when this is managed properly, these sheds are often open food sources for a huge variety of scavengers. These can include rats, wild cats, foxes, buzzards, etc. The abundance of the decomposing stock is so attractive to local scavengers, that they can often "set up shop" in, or near to the farm itself. They can then commute on a regular basis, transferring potential disease and infection to nearby water sources, which can in turn cross-contaminate waterfowl.

Open air composting, or even composting that's been managed to relatively stringent standards, can be a big risk for fly infestation. While they have a more limited range, they can still carry serious pathogens, including the avian influenza virus.

Poultry Mortality Disposal - Freezers

Those who really want to sleep well at night are considering the introduction of custom-made freezer storage units and collection services for poultry mortality. These freezer units are designed to be simple, clean, safer for bio-security overall and they keep poultry compost from adding to the overall nutrient load in local areas too.

"Those who really want to sleep well at night are considering the introduction of custom-made freezer storage units" - @poultryservices - Click to Tweet

To begin with, the dead livestock is placed within a specially designed freezer unit with an airtight lid. At appropriate intervals - generally during layout, collection vehicles designed specifically for these units will empty them, handle routine maintenance and replace them accordingly, so there's never a risk of overloading and on-site personnel don't have to manage dead livestock again.

While traditional composting can be effective, it takes a long time to go through the entire process. This time period must be in turn managed by skilled individuals, which can also be labor-intensive. By using on-farm storage and collection services, this burden is drastically reduced. No longer is there a need for management to employ operators to monitor the composition of the composting material; to turn, layer or further manage the process.

Primarily due to the airtight design of the freezer units - no scavengers, or indeed flies can get a free food source and become a serious threat. As an added benefit, there aren't any smells associated with decomposition either. In short, the scavengers are locked out, while the potential disease causing pathogens are locked in. This is at the essence of bio-security.

In summary, there's no silver bullet to guarantee you won't get Avian Influenza on your farm, but there are undoubtedly practices and procedures you can implement to mitigate the risks. For more recommendations on how to reduce the risk in your specific region of the country or world, contact your State Department of Agriculture or corresponding government organization for further information.

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