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Biosecurity is Key to Antibiotic–Free Turkey Production

5 June 2012, at 12:00am

Tips on rearing turkeys without the routine use of antibiotics were offered by William Alexander, speaking at a recent turkey conference in the UK. Key to success lies in prevention of diseases, rather than cure, reports senior editor, Jackie Linden.

“There are many stressors involved in turkey production,” said William Alexander of Hybrid Turkeys in Canada, “and our aim is to reduce them.” He was speaking at the 6th Turkey Science and Production Conference in Macclesfield in March 2012.

Biosecurity: The Best Defence

The best means of offence against diseases is defence, he said, referring to beetles, flies, rodents, wild birds and people. He stressed the need to form and implement a biosecurity programme and to modify it, if necessary. For effective rodent control, it is important that the bait is fresh.

He also stressed the need to wash and disinfect poultry houses thoroughly between flocks, paying particular attention to the feed pans.

For farm visitors, there should be a protocol, and boot dips need to be kept free of organic material and kept fresh.

The flock should be checked at least twice a day if they are healthy and up to four times a day in case of disease outbreaks so that any dead birds are removed quickly. Mr Alexander recommended that special protective clothing and boots are worn for this procedure to prevent the spread of any undiagnosed disease to other houses.

Water Sanitation: Key for Flock Health

Water sanitation is vital, he said, recommending a peroxide cleaner is used as soon as the house is depopulated in order to remove any biofilm that may have built up in the water system, and then repeating the process 24 to 48 hours before restocking the house.

Drinker line sanitation is most commonly achieved using chlorine. The pH of the water should be between 5.5 and 6.5 for the chlorine to be effective and so pH should be checked to see if an acidifier is required, said Mr Alexander. A good way to measure the effectiveness of an oxidising sanitiser is by measuring Oxidative Reductive Potential (ORP), which should exceed 700 to 750mV. He recommended weekly checks, at the front of the line and at the end. Chlorine dioxide is another good sanitiser but the ORP is not a suitable test for its efficacy, he said.

Developing a Healthy Gut

Mr Alexander said he values regular post–mortem examinations between one and six weeks of age – even on apparently healthy birds – to give early warning of possible health problems, particularly of enteric disease. Villus development, gut fill and caecal health are key areas to check.

He believes in the ‘Seed, feed, weed’ concept for developing and maintaining a healthy gut flora. That means:

  • seeding the GI tract with probiotic at the hatchery and as the poults arrive on-farm
  • feeding with organic acid at the farm to develop the beneficial flora and check the bad ones, and
  • weeding with what he calls an ‘attachment blocker’ such as mannan–oligosacchiaride product to prevent the ‘bad’ ones attaching themselves to the GI tract.

Good gut health promotes strong immunity, including good caecal development by seven days of age, according to Mr Alexander.

“A compromised digestive system is an open door to disease,” he said.

The Right Environment

Turning his attention to environmental conditions in the house, Mr Alexander stressed the need for the correct ventilation rate to keep humidity under 60 per cent and prevent the build-up of carbon dioxide, which can cause damage to the respiratory system. Draughts must be eliminated, he said.

Air quality is important, he stressed. Minimum ventilation rates needs to be set, with timers and thermostats because Mr Alexander stressed the need to control air moisture, carbon dioxide and pathogens in the litter.

Gases can affect bird behaviour and may lead to raised early mortality. Carbon monoxide, on the other hand, has been linked to waterbelly, roundheart and aortic rupture as well as poor uniformity and reduced weight gain. The goal should be to keep carbon monoxide below 25 to 30ppm, and data loggers are important to make sure these levels are not exceeded, he recommended.

Coccidiosis Control without Antibiotics

Alternatives for coccidiosis control are ionophores, chemicals and vaccination. Mr Alexander says the same equipment can be used for the application of the vaccine as for the probiotic. He offered the tip that a proper cover to the vaccination box will keep the birds warm and active so that they consume the vaccine more quickly. It is important to check that they have consumed the vaccine by checking the tongue for the temporary stain.

Building immunity is important, he said. Vaccination at day–old gives about 30 per cent immunity in the first cycle, which builds up to around 80 per cent for the second cycle, 90 per cent for the third cycle and 100 per cent for the fourth cycle.

Mr Alexander suggests not giving anticoccidials before two weeks of age to ensure that a successful successive vaccination has taken place.

His top tip for brooder management is that if the birds stop eating, it may be an early sign of coccidiosis. He suggests using a probiotic, adding the organic acid and paying particular attention to keeping the young birds warm.

Summing up his key points to achieving good results rearing turkeys without antibiotics, Mr Alexander mentioned:

  • biosecurity: planned, monitored and updated
  • water sanitation: ORP consistently over 700 to 750mV
  • gut health: establish ‘good’ microflora
  • ventilation: control temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide
  • litter management: regular tilling helps control pathogens, and finally
  • attention to detail will keep you ahead of any problems.

“And above all, keep it simple,” Mr Alexander told the audience.

June 2012