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Poultry House Hygiene

Poultry House Hygiene in Perth, Western Australia

 

Food safety has been a major concern throughout human history, but advances in the modern understanding of animal disease has made the issue even more critical. Australians who operate poultry houses in and around Perth in Western Australia understand this all too well. After all, whole flocks have had to be destroyed in recent years, from Japan to the heartland of the United States, as government watchdog agencies diagnosed the birds with one avian disease or another. Because these threats are ongoing and serious, it is important to develop even greater awareness of the issue and a stronger effort to focus on poultry house hygiene.

Why Poultry Farm Hygiene Management is Important

For a variety of reasons, hygiene management is an important part of maintaining any poultry house. While farmers from previous generations often relied on providing medical services to sick animals, time and experience have demonstrated that strategy to be among the most ineffective means for preventing widespread disease in a farm setting. Moreover, the cost associated with such doctoring can outweigh the cost of simply destroying the animals. Worse, such efforts often failed to prevent the spread of disease, since there were no more comprehensive prevention strategies in place.

By contrast, a focus on prevention of disease is not only more effective at protecting flocks from spreading illness to one another, but is more cost-effective as well. Disease almost always translates into loss, regardless of whether the outcome involves recovery from illness or death. By focusing time, money, and energy on poultry house hygiene, flocks can be better managed and protected from disease even as the poultry houses are freed from the cost of doctoring techniques that often prove ineffective at arresting the most common poultry diseases.

How Diseases and Bacteria Impact Poultry Houses

Like other animals, poultry can take ill quite suddenly, and from a variety of different causes. Typically, poultry ailments fall into several main categories of illness and disease that include:

  • Parasites, both internal and external
  • Respiratory ailments
  • Marek’s Disease
  • Fowl Pox
  • Exotic diseases of foreign origin

While illness or disease in a single bird might not be a major cause for concern, the real issue where disease and bacteria are concerned is the speed with which a single case of disease can rapidly spread throughout the entire flock. That can lead to an entire poultry house filled with diseased birds. And when those diseases cannot be cured – or when the cost of curing the poultry exceeds the cost of simply replacing the flock, the birds end up being destroyed.

Parasites are among the most critical concerns when dealing with poultry hygiene issues. Poultry are subject to a wide variety of internal and external parasites that can vary in size from microscopic to larger creatures up to a centimeter in length. External parasites have a twofold effect on these birds. First, the parasite itself has a physical impact on the animal’s wellbeing, often damaging feathers, irritating the skin, or causing nutritional disorders such as anemia. As bad as those symptoms are, however, they can pale in comparison to the threat posed by parasites that carry with them diseases that can threaten the bird’s life.

Internal parasites are no source of joy either. These creatures also range in size from microscopic parasites to large roundworms. They all do their damage internally, attacking intestinal lining and leaching nutrients that the birds need for good health, egg-laying, and survival. These parasites are typically spread throughout a flock when other birds come into contact with an infected animal’s feces. Symptoms of parasitic activity can include everything from diarrhea to weight loss and pale combs.

Some of these parasites are easier to deal with than others. However, it usually requires an actual veterinarian examination to determine which type of parasite is at work. Because of that, poultry should be regularly examined to ensure that the flock is healthy, and prompt action should be taken when a problem is identified.

Common Poultry Diseases

Parasitic Disease

Parasite-related problems are far too common in flock bird populations, and often result in respiratory ailments like coughing, sneezing, and other flu-like symptoms. Parasites can include everything from the large roundworm to the blood parasite Borrelia anserina, lice, and the common mite. Some cause external irritation, while others produce violent internal reactions that can disrupt production, damage the bird’s body, or even kill the animal. Many of the worm parasites are passed on as a result of their direct life cycle, resulting in entire flocks becoming infected through the eggs contained in the poultry droppings. Lice and mites can also quickly spread throughout a poultry house, with the latter often proving fatal to the affected birds.

Marek’s Disease

Affecting only poultry flocks, Mare’s disease is a viral infection that is spread via dust and dander from one bird to another. It can be particularly difficult to contain, since it can survive in the environment and even on equipment or human clothing. As a result, an outbreak at one farm can be spread to other flocks at other sites by people who become unknowing carriers of the virus. Worse, the virus lays dormant for months, so a flock can be infected well before any disease symptoms manifest.

The disease itself occurs as a result of the virus assaulting the bird’s white blood cells. This results in a cancerous condition that attacks the nerves, with tumors growing throughout the legs, neck, and wings, and eventually ending in paralysis. Symptoms typically include a dramatic loss in weight, respiratory problems, and diarrhea.

Fortunately, there is a vaccine that can prevent the disease, but it must be administered early in a bird’s life. The official recommendation is that poultry houses vaccinate all of their chicks on their first day of life to maximize protection. While the vaccine has lost some of its effectiveness due to viral mutations, it is still the best option for minimizing the risk of this dread disease.

Avian leucosis

This viral disease can cause cancer as well, with tumors in the spleen and liver. Unlike Marek’s. it primarily attacks older poultry – usually at six months of age or older. Birds suffer a drop in activity, lose weight, and then eventually die. Unlike many other viral infections, there is little to be done with affected birds other than destroy them to spare them the discomfort.

Fowl Pox

Mosquito bites can be the cause of this viral disease, allowing the pox virus to enter into the bird’s body though the bird’s wounds. Sometimes birds also contract the ailment after they have been in a pecking fight with other poultry. It is typified by symptoms that include scabs that form on combs, wattles, and around the entry point – as well as in the throat and mouth of infected birds. The symptoms are less severe than many viral diseases, with appetite loss, drops in body weight, and reduced egg production common. After several weeks, however, individual birds typically recover, gaining immunity to the disease in the process. Flocks can take longer, since the disease seldom begins at the same time for every bird.

Fowl Cholera

This disease causes birds to become depressed, lose appetite, and suffer from a marked decrease in their rate of egg production. It is caused by a variety of bacteria known as Pasteurella multocida, and has been known to occur rapidly in areas with high levels of rodent activity. In the poultry house setting, it remains within the flock, with certain birds acting as carriers that cause the disease to continually re-emerge until the affected animals are effectively culled by disposing of them or successful application of antibiotics. Untreated, the disease can be fatal.

Avian encephalomyelitis

This viral disease attacks the central nervous system of susceptible bird populations, with a fatality rate that can reach sixty percent in young birds due to lower immunity. Affected birds suffer from lack of balance, tremors, signs of nervousness, lowered egg production rates, and paralysis. Vaccination can help to protect flocks, and should be administered to all birds within 9 to fifteen weeks after birth.

Newcastle’s Disease

Newcastle disease is another viral infection that infects farm and wild birds, though the domestic creatures seem to be more susceptible to its effects. The disease causes problems with avian digestive and respiratory function, and can range in effect from mild symptoms to accelerated deterioration and death. The disease has not been observed in Australia since 2002, but regulatory agencies remain vigilant for any sign that it might again be introduced into the country.

Avian Influenza

While there are no instances of avian influenza – otherwise known as “bird flu” – in Australia at the present time, officials are always on the lookout for signs of its presence during any reported outbreak anywhere in the world. The disease appears with no warning and immediately spreads through flocks killing birds wherever it goes. Common signs of an outbreak include decreased production of eggs, swollen wattles, diarrhea, listlessness and depression, and respiratory issues. The disease is typically spread by wild birds to domesticated populations, so limiting interaction between the two groups is an important way to prevent the introduction of the disease into any poultry house.

A Look at Poultry Bacteria

Bacteria that infest poultry can cause sickness in the birds, but can often cause illness like food poisoning in humans as well. Here are some of the more common bacterial types found in poultry houses.

  • This bacterium can get inside poultry while the birds are alive, or during processing once the bird is killed. In living birds, it remains in the intestines where it continues to grow. It can contaminate meat during processing if the intestines are in any way split open to release the bacteria. For humans who consume poultry that has been undercooked, the bacteria can cause gastroenteritis that results in everything from stomach cramps to diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. Official estimates suggest that these bacteria cause around 180,000 instances of food poisoning throughout Australia each year, with more than 90% of cases going unreported.
  • This bacterium is the second of the most prevalent types of poultry bacteria found in the country, and can cause serious illness in people who consume contaminated food. Poultry are particularly susceptible to carrying this bacterium in their intestines, and contaminated birds can carry the bacteria around with them for life. That can result in meat becoming contaminated during the food processing stage, and humans can get ill when they fail to properly handle and cook contaminated meat.

The bacteria cause salmonellosis in humans, which results in a variety of symptoms that include cramps, fever, and diarrhea that begins anywhere from twelve hours to three days after the patient becomes infected. Typically, the ailment resolves itself within a week – often without any medical treatment. Sometimes, however, more severe symptoms require medical intervention, particularly in high-risk populations.

Bacterial infections in poultry typically pose little risk to those who take care with the handling and cooking of the contaminated birds. Proper cooking can kill the bacteria involved and prevent infection, while careful handling can reduce the risk of cross-contamination that might result in poultry bacteria being spread to other food items.

It is also important to remember that bacteria are present in one form or another in almost all food. The difference is that most types of bacteria are harmless, and many are even crucial to the production of certain food types – cheese, for example. Proper storage, careful handling, and thorough cooking are the solution for anyone who wants to avoid becoming one of the more than five million Australians who suffer from food poisoning each and every year.

Common Poultry Pests and the Diseases They Cause

There are a variety of different poultry pests, and many of them are responsible for diseases that can negatively impact the life cycles of the birds contained within infested poultry houses. The most common of these are:

Lesser mealworm beetle (Little beetle)

The lesser mealworm beetle is common throughout the world, and is considered a pest almost everywhere it is seen – primarily as a result of its propensity for infesting grain areas and poultry farms, and its status as a carrier and transmitter of various infectious pathogens that affect animals. The species favors warmer climates, and is attracted to the nests of rodents and birds alike. As a pest, however, its most damaging impact is keenly felt throughout the poultry industry.

This beetle is routinely found in domestic bird litters, which it eats. Its diet also includes everything from mold to feathers, eggs, and bird waste. It eats other insects, its own kind, and has no qualms about consuming weak and sick animals and birds. Within poultry habitats, it is particularly prone to feeding on chicks. These beetles will also eat the birds’ feed, and make them uncomfortable by biting them as well.

The pest also damages bird housings by chewing on wood and fiberglass, and even insulation. Along with the damage they do to the flocks, this property damage can result in extremely high costs for poultry house operators due to higher energy usage and the need for expensive structural repairs. It also upsets the natural ecological balance within the nesting area, by making it more difficult for fly-killing beetles to survive in the same area.

The most damaging effect to flocks, however, is the beetle’s pathogen-transmitting capabilities. The lesser mealworm beetle can transmit dozens of different bird viruses, including rotavirus, and the viral organisms responsible for diseases like Newcastle, fowl pox, Marek’s, and infectious bursal disease. It also can carry and transmit bacteria including Salmonella and Campylobacter. Finally, this beetle carries tapeworms and other pests that can make life miserable for domestic fowl populations.

To make matters worse, this pest is notoriously difficult to control, and there are few compounds that have been demonstrated effective at managing an infestation. Carbaryl insecticide has been shown to have some results, and other compounds like boric acid are sometimes used as well. For the most part, however, the species has proven remarkably resilient to most of the defenses used against it. Plus, most operators are leery about using insecticides since that can have an adverse effect on the very poultry they are trying to protect.

Because of the beetle’s damaging impact on poultry populations, and its resistance to most forms of pest control, prevention is seen as the best defense. That typically involves a firm commitment to properly maintaining the birds’ ecosystem through regular control of the litter and thorough cleaning of all droppings to ensure that the environment is not providing the conditions needed for an infestation to take root.

Rodents (Rats and mice)

For anyone operating a poultry house, it is important to remember that human habitations are not the only places that attract mice and rats. Poultry farms are veritable magnets for the creatures, since they possess all of the three main qualifications rodents look for when nesting – nesting and hiding places, abundant water, and ample supplies of food. Because those three elements are also critical to the survival of poultry flocks, it can be difficult to defend against rodent invasion.

Once established within the poultry housing, these creatures breed continually and devastate the flock’s habitat. They chew wood, litter, and just about anything they can find – and have even been known to attack chickens, particularly young chicks. They also consume the birds’ feed, and contaminate the food that they don’t consume. These rodents produce between 40 and 80 droppings each day, and urinate everywhere they can. Those contaminants contain bacteria and other agents that can cause a variety of human diseases: brucellosis, cryptosporidiosis, salmonellosis, and more.

It can sometimes be difficult to determine when problems exist, since these creatures are nocturnal in nature and unlikely to be spotted throughout the day. Rodent droppings, chewed wood or wires, and other signs of damage are often the easiest way to identify the presence of these creatures – though occasionally someone venturing into the area at night might be able to catch sight of a mouse or rat. When signs are present, you can generally assume that the infestation is limited to a handful of rodents, with no more than one hundred in the building. If, however, you start seeing a few out during the day as well, then chances are that your infestation could involve thousands of the creatures.

These rodents must be dealt with due to their potential for harming both humans and livestock. That process typically begins with proper sanitation and effective barriers to eliminate access to the housing area. You should also actively work to eliminate the population through the use of traps and professional rodent control services. It is never recommended to use rodenticides yourself, given the potential harm that could be done to the flocks. A professional evaluation and action plan from a qualified pest control expert is always the best option.

Weevils

A weevil infestation in your poultry house takes on a somewhat different characteristic than most pests. Their most dangerous attribute is their propensity for destroying food sources with their infestation habits. Adults lay eggs in grain, and then the new weevil spends almost all of its life within that kernel, feeding on it. The most obvious concern here is that these creatures destroy bird feed, robbing it of its nutrients and any usefulness. Poultry house operators often have trouble identifying infestations, and even the milling process cannot effectively prevent these insects from taking root in the grain supply.

It should be noted as well that weevils can sometimes be responsible for respiratory ailments in people who are extremely sensitive to them. That can place workers at poultry houses at risk, since they can breathe in contaminates from the grain dust and contract what is known as Miller’s lung – a condition that can cause breathing difficulties, fever, chills, and a severe cough. The ailment usually clears up within a few days or weeks after initial exposure.

There are several steps involved in removing this infestation, beginning with the removal of the infested food source and a thorough cleaning of the poultry habitat. The best option for completing the process is to then contact a professional control service so that the entire area can be fumigated to ensure that all larvae and adults are killed. This fumigation will reach even the cracks in wood, and provide the best guarantee that the problem is completely resolved.

Flies

Like rodents and other insects, flies only need the bare essentials to entice them into a given area. Since those elements can all be found in abundance within a poultry house, flies tend to congregate and infest the area when they can. Their presence in small numbers is typically easy to ignore, but when a major infestation occurs, they go from nuisance to major pest in rapid fashion.

The main concern with flies has to do with the way that they irritate the animals and those who work on the farms. In addition, a fly-infested poultry house can quickly take a hit to its reputation, and may even receive complaints from neighbors. More importantly, fly infestations are almost always a sure sign that something is dreadfully wrong with the operation’s hygiene management process.

This problem can usually be resolved by increased focus on waste control, keeping grass low around the habitat, eliminating water run-off that might attract them, and emphasizing animal health. For resilient populations that create a persistent problem in spite of your best efforts, it can also be helpful to contact professional pest control services to get advice and assistance.

Common Chemicals Used to Fight these Problems

There are a number of chemicals commonly used to cope with poultry house pests. They include:

Formaldehyde

This chemical is a powerful disinfectant that can help to control the spread of mold, viruses, and bacteria in poultry habitats. However, it can come with some risks if the process is used by an inexperienced operator, including potential risk to hatchability for birds that come into contact with the agent. As a result, farm house owners should rely on professional experts to administer these types of chemical agents.

Glutaraldehyde

This disinfectant agent is useful for cleansing hatcheries, egg sort stations, and entire poultry houses of everything from bacteria and viruses to fungi, algae, and mold. It can be used to thoroughly disinfect surface materials ranging from stone to concrete, and cleans sawdust and cages effectively. Like other chemical agents, it should be administered only after the birds have been removed from the premises.

Cyfluthrin

This insecticide is effective for the removal of various insect infestations in your poultry house, including beetles, flies, mosquitos, and many others. Like all such poisons, it should only be used by those with the expertise to do so safely.

Fenitrothion

This insecticide is used around the world to control populations of a variety of insect pests. It is useful for getting rid of weevils, a variety of beetles, and other insects that chew, bore, and suck. It is considered unsafe for birds, and flocks should always be moved prior to use. It is also recommended that experts handle dispersal, since it is somewhat toxic to humans as well.

Best Poultry House Hygiene Management Practices

Obviously, the best way to deal with pests and disease is to work to prevent their introduction into the farm’s ecosystem. To improve those prevention efforts, there are a variety of poultry house management practices that should be implemented to ensure biosecurity of the habitat. These are roughly divided into three stages that involve preventing disease, early identification of disease when prevention fails, and rapid treatment to prevent its spread.

Prevent Disease. To prevent infectious disease from breaking out in the poultry habitats, it is important to create a system that actively works to reduce the introduction of pathogens and pests into the environment. That begins with good hygiene practices that emphasize a clean environment at all times. Litter and waste should be regularly and routinely dealt with to ensure that the birds’ living conditions are not enticing other creatures to take up residence there as well.

Physical security matters too. Poultry habitats should be secured to ensure that pests that might be carrying pathogens are denied access to the birds and their homes. Barriers and proper sealing can effectively reduce rodent access, and deny many insects the opportunity to enter the area.

Human access to the farms should also be controlled, to prevent foreign organisms from being introduced. That means that barriers should be constructed around the property, with signs notifying curious visitors that the area is a controlled environment. This will also help to reduce the stress level of the flock, which in turn increases individual bird resistance to certain diseases.

Finally, all vaccinations should be administered according to the recommended schedule. This can help to ensure that many common diseases never have an opportunity to gain a foothold within your poultry house. That means that both initial vaccinations and any necessary boosters must be delivered in a timely manner.

Early Detection of Disease

Effective treatment can only be administered when disease is recognized early. To do that, you have to routinely screen flocks for the presence of various ailments. Regular veterinary checkups can help to ensure that none of the most common ailments are afflicting your flock. Between examinations, workers should be trained to be vigilant to the signs of pest or disease infiltration into the ecosystem so that even the slightest indication of a problem can be addressed without delay.

Early Treatment

As is true with humans, early and effective treatment is the best way to stave off an epidemic. When sick birds are identified, they should be removed from the flock to ensure that they do not pass on the illness to others. In addition, the identification of any disease within the flock should prompt further investigation and tests, as well as additional cleansing efforts.

The Future of Chemical Use in Poultry Farms

With environmental sustainability becoming an even larger concern at home and around the world, many are worried about the impact of pesticides, insecticides, and other chemicals on human and animal populations, the soil, and the planet’s water. Where poultry farms are concerned, those worries are also grounded in a recognition that the use of chemicals around vulnerable bird populations always comes with some risk.

The good news is that new chemicals are routinely being developed, and scientists are always working toward the creation of effective solutions that take these concerns into consideration. Many experts today are convinced that through a combination of better hygiene management systems, a more organic approach to disease prevention and animal husbandry, and newly developed and safer chemical agents, the poultry populations of the future can be made even healthier.

One thing is certain: poultry house hygiene is the single most important factor in ensuring the health of domestic bird populations, and the best way to ensure that pest populations don’t take root and infest any flock. With the right level of awareness about the different pest problems that can affect any poultry house, those who operate these farms can be better equipped to deal with infestations and prevent outbreaks of disease that might otherwise indirectly impact public health.

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