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Hospitals offer inspiration for next-generation poultry biosecurity tools

Researchers in Canada are looking to human hospitals as inspiration for developing next-generation techniques to improve biosecurity on poultry farms.

9 January 2020, at 1:00pm

Watch the full interview or each part separately

Full interview: Hospitals offer inspiration for next-generation poultry biosecurity tools

Hospitals offer inspiration for poultry biosecurity – Part 1: Two principles of biosecurity

Hospitals offer inspiration for poultry biosecurity – Part 2: Communication is key

Hospitals offer inspiration for poultry biosecurity – Part 3: Transportation biosecurity

Hospitals offer inspiration for poultry biosecurity – Part 4: Hospital technology to the rescue

Jean-Pierre Vaillancourt, DVM, a professor in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Montreal, Quebec, said biosecurity remains one of the biggest challenges for poultry producers.

But technology such as real-time warning systems, combined with measures being utilized in hospitals to reduce disease spread, could make significant strides in improving the poultry industry’s biosecurity record.

Speaking at the 2019 American Association of Avian Pathologists conference, Vaillancourt said the nature of poultry farming, including bird turnover and movement of people, means managing biosecurity requires new approaches.

“When it comes to biosecurity at the barn entrance, we’re actually looking at what’s being done in the human field, in hospitals,” he told Poultry Health Today.

One measure includes hospital-style alcohol gel dispensers at barn doors which make it easier for farm staff to clean their hands. To make them even more effective, however, Vaillancourt and his team are installing sensors to alert people when they have forgotten to use them.

“We have designed dispensers where, if you cross a line [without using the gel] you activate an alarm,” he says. “You can go back and correct the situation, so it acts as a reminder.”

Another smart system being trialed includes boot sensors, which set off an alarm when the person wearing them crosses into an area of the barn they shouldn’t be in.

“If someone does something wrong and they learn about it the next day, it’s not as powerful as [being immediately warned] they’re doing it,” Vaillancourt said.

“You can put a sign up saying ‘you need to do this’, but after a while it becomes part of the environment. This [alarm] is a reminder.”

While technology could certainly help improve poultry-farm biosecurity in the future, Vaillancourt said getting the basics right will always be key.

Two elements of biosecurity

“All biosecurity measures we do today are to do with two elements,” he said. “Reducing the potential source of contamination but also trying to maintain a distance between this source and healthy birds.”

Achieving this relies on biosecurity measures being followed correctly - such as ensuring boots are properly cleaned before they move between barns - and could even require a complete rethink of traditional protocols.

“Disinfectants are good; I’m not challenging that. But if you look at the contact time they need to operate, it’s minutes,” he said. “We spend fractions of seconds, sometimes, [in foot baths].”

What’s more, after only one or two people have used a foot bath, the solution is often so dirty that it will contaminate boots.

“Some people have an emotional attachment to foot baths because they’ve been using them for 30 years,” Vaillancourt said.

“To those people, I say if you really want to maintain something, then try a dry bleach. Just the contact with the dry bleach will coat your boot and will already have a bit of an impact on reducing contamination. And you don’t have to change those for a couple of weeks.”

Vaillancourt said the best solution is to create a line of separation by keeping boots for outside and others for inside the poultry house.

“These boots have to be easy to put on, because biosecurity has to be easy,” he adds. “If it’s difficult, we hate that.”

Communication is key

A final key element for improving biosecurity is through better communication and sharing of information - particularly in areas with high farm density where staff, equipment and even insects might move from farm to farm.

Producers need to look at these things and say ‘well in this region we have a history of this recurrent problem. Why don’t we sit together and look at what we can put in place?’

“The solution depends a lot on each site,” he added. “Nobody’s got a silver bullet when it comes to biosecurity and controlling diseases, [but we can] look at each situation and say what might work best.”