Health Recommendations for Poultry
In recent years, Avian Influenza and other infectious diseases, like Exotic Newcastle Disease, have threatened flocks and made transportation of birds difficult. Poultry raisers can protect their valuable flocks by establishing biosecurity procedures and promoting flock health. Here are some suggestions for keeping your poultry healthy and preventing the introduction of disease into your flock.

  1. Observe your flock. Disease Prevention starts by noticing changes in the behavior or health of poultry. Signs of ill health may include: watery eyes; nasal discharge; paleness of face, comb and wattles; swelling around eyes; odor; runny or off-colored manure; lack of normal activity; slowness of movement; walking backwards; shivering or hunching; irregular shape or color of iris; and loss of appetite and weight.
  2. Provide an environment conducive to supporting the health of poultry. Dust and ammonia from old manure can damage the lungs, making poultry prone to infection. The rule of thumb is if you find the smell offensive or it burns your eyes, or the dust makes you sneeze, then it is past time to clean the facilities.
  3. Encourage healthy levels of activity. Exercise is important for muscle tone, good circulation and health, particularly in active breeds. Providing poultry room to move around, as well as an environment tailored to their needs (i.e. roosts, nest boxes or pools, etc.), will greatly increase their level of activity.
  4. Provide adequate quality feed. Proper nutrition is essential to the health of poultry and helps stave off diseases. A bird that has been poorly fed is under stress and will be more prone to infection. Feed should be nutritionally balanced, fresh, free from molds or fungi, and in sufficient quantities to satisfy their needs.
  5. Provide clean, fresh water. Water should be changed daily for optimum flock health, and the containers cleaned weekly or more often, if necessary. Allowing a film to form on the water container exposes your poultry to small doses of toxins released from this algae-like material. While this exposure rarely affects healthy stock, individuals whose immune systems are already challenged may be at greater risk of becoming ill. Chicks that drink from water containers with slime buildup, and that have infrequent water changes, show a greater mortality from coccidiosis.
  6. Prevent parasite infestations. Common infestations, such as lice, mites, and worms, should be treated before they affect the health of poultry. Parasites not only make poultry uncomfortable, but they also reduce vitality by robbing them of blood nutrients – leading to anemia, malnutrition, and even death.
  7. Reduce stress. Stress opens the doors to disease outbreak. While it is true that some exposure to unclean environments can help develop the immune system, this type of exposure challenges it. Poor feeding habits, lack of fresh water, and lack of exercise also cause stress. An already challenged immune system is less effective at warding off disease, so it is advisable to enhance your husbandry practices during times of potential exposure to disease outbreaks.
  8. Vaccinate to help prevent disease. Vaccination is an excellent tool for protecting your flock. Vaccines cause the natural development of antibodies. Consult with your veterinarian about vaccination recommendations for small flocks to protect against diseases that are prevalent in your part of the country. (It is important to consider how vaccination will affect selection for natural immunity in your flock.)
  9. Build the health of poultry by feeding them more than just the necessities. Supplements can be used to build the health of poultry. Vitamin-mineral supplements, probiotics, greens (such as kale), access to growing plants, and even yogurt and whey can be used to build the health of poultry.
  10. Participate in the National Poultry Improvement Program (NPIP). For a very small fee, your flock can be certified annually to be free of several avian diseases. Participation shows your customers that you care about the health of your flock. NPIP participation is required to ship chicks or birds across state borders, and for participating in poultry exhibitions.

AI Considerations
Avian influenza (AI) is a significant disease of poultry that has received a lot of press since high pathogenicity (high path) AI became established in Asia in the late 1990s. Some pertinent facts about this disease help to explain management practices that aid in the prevention of such diseases.

  • High path avian influenza causes high mortality and can be characterized by rapid losses of a large percentage of poultry flocks.
  • The incubation period from exposure to high path avian influenza is 3-7 days. Death from infection can occur as soon as 2-5 days from exposure.
  • Wild waterfowl are considered reservoirs of this disease. Avoid mixing species, as mixed-species flocks can act as catalysts for virus mutation and increase the risks of outbreaks.
  • A healthy wild bird can land amongst an infected flock and then carry virus on their feathers to healthy flocks.
  • Italian researchers have found that infected turkeys shed 10,000 times more avian influenza virus in their feces than infected chickens.
  • The virus is primarily excreted through feces and is not significantly transmitted by aerosol (such as sneezing), except in the case of transfer between birds living together in single house.
  • Avian influenza virus survives longest at cooler temperatures. For example, the virus survives for 35 days at 39.2 degrees F and 7 days at 68 degrees F. Avian influenza virus is easily destroyed by detergent, disinfectants, sunlight, drying, and heat. The FAO Animal Health Special Report states, “The avian influenza virus is more simple to destroy than many other viruses since it is very sensitive to detergents which destroy the fat-containing outer layer of the virus. This layer is needed to enter cells of animals and therefore destroys the infectivity. The virus survives well in water, and simple washing may assist the virus to enter into areas where it is picked up by other birds. Therefore any washing to remove contamination should always be with detergents (soapy water) or specific disinfectants.”

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