Reducing antibiotics: 4-Phase Farm Management Blueprint

Combination of good feed programs, animal health protocols, and farm management assist producer in consistently achieving successful flocks with reduced antimicrobial use. Poultry World recently published an article by Harmen Jan Platvoet & Barbara Brutsaert of Trouw Nutrition discussing farm management phases for removing antimicrobials without compromising performance or profitability.

1. Pre-arrival phase

Preparing the farm to receive birds is crucial in successfully producing health chicks. This can start with a clean house where all-in all-out is essential. Barn structure should be sound and should not contain any openings for pathogens to enter. For example, cracks on floor can be housing bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli.

Brooding environment should be ready prior to chick arrival. Waterlines and drinkers should be cleaned to remove biofilm. Fill the lines with fresh water and periodically check the water quality with lab analysis. Feed and water lines should be adjusted to bird height so they can access feed and water immediately upon arrival. The optimum brooding air temperature is about 30-34°C – if walls and floor are warm, the barn will heat quickly. Air inlets and mesh wire should be clean and dust free. Monitoring air exchange throughout the barn will assist in figuring out weak areas for ventilation in the barn.

2. Brooding phase

Chicks are vulnerable with immature digestive and immune systems. They depend on their environment to maintain and regulate body temperatures. Checking body temperatures and observing their behaviours is insightful in determining bird health and welfare. Bird behaviour should be monitored continuously and adjustments to the environment should be made accordingly to provide comfort.

Some other management practices that can be implemented during the brooding phase include flushing water lines (especially during hot summer days), manual and minute adjustments to ventilation, adding more feed to chick paper 24-36 hours after arrival if necessary, and removing chick paper on day 4/5 before mold appears.

3. Growth phase

Monitoring metrics and observing bird behaviours should continue during grow out period. Feeder and drinker heights should be maintained to match bird growth. Interventions that can be implemented during growth phase include:

  • Lowering water pH to improve the microbial balance in the water line and the bird, ultimately improving the broiler performance. Lower pH results in beneficial in microbial balance in the pipelines while lowering the stomach pH supports protein digestion.
  • Monitoring bird droppings to assess bird health. Normal droppings should look brown, well-digested and clay like dry. Caeca droppings from the caecum are dark brown to black and sticky like think paint. Droppings that are foamy and yellow or visibly undigested suggested poor protein digestion.
  • Appropriate ventilation and air flow. Adequate climate control is essential during grow out. Broilers can overheat easily near the end of production; spray cooling or pad cooling can help manage this challenge. Check ventilators regularly to ensure they are moving sufficient air over the birds.
  • In cool climates, reducing heat or ventilation to cut costs may inadvertently result in gut health problems and the need for antimicrobial interventions.

4. Thinning phase

Thinning presents biosecurity challenges therefor management practices must be in place to reduce the stress placed on birds during this time. Keep doors closed as much as possible to minimize in-barn climate change and keep out pathogens. Along the same lines, restrict the number of people entering the facility and follow strict biosecurity protocols regarding hygiene, clothing, etc.

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