The most economical and effective means of preventing non-viral diseases in your poultry farm is by improved management and nutrition, of which the most important aspects are hygiene, housing, flock structure, and young chick care and feeding.
I recommend the following hygiene measures, which help in disease prevention:
- Droppings, feathers and dead birds are sources of pathogens and should be removed from overnight housing and the free-range compound, and then properly disposed of. This will also reduce the incidence of external parasites.
- New arrivals to the flock should be isolated. Birds bought or received as gifts should be quarantined in a basket or cage for at least 15 days; if they remain healthy, they can then join the flock.
- All new arrivals should be treated for ectoparasites and endoparasites as well as vaccinated on arrival if possible.
- Sick birds should be isolated or slaughtered promptly, and dead birds buried.
- The litter in the poultry house should be turned frequently and changed if wet.
- Overnight security baskets should be put in the sun to dry properly or suspended near a fire during the rainy season.
- Feeders and drinkers should be cleaned frequently.
- Broken pots used as drinkers should be heated over a fire before refilling.
- The poultry house or basket should be regularly disinfected every two months.
Simple improvements and maintenance can be carried out when the poultry house is not in use. Important factors in good housing are:
Ventilation: if poultry baskets are used for overnight housing, they should not be covered with cloths or sacks. Huts, coops and baskets should not be placed near dunghills or pit latrines.
Proper spacing: overcrowding should be avoided, and numbers of poultry should be restricted to the space available. Weaned chicks and growers should be kept in separate overnight housing. Laying and brooding nests should be left undisturbed.
Separate species: it is better to keep only one species of poultry but if this is not possible, the species should be housed separately overnight to avoid the spread of disease.
Of all the common free-range poultry species, chickens are the most susceptible to disease. Ducks, geese and guinea fowl are often symptom-less carriers of chicken diseases, or have mild forms of them.
This represents a common source of infection in chickens, while the opposite is rare. Therefore in mixed flocks special attention should be paid to the health of chickens.
Separation into different species and age groups may not be possible, but simple devices such as creep cage-baskets may be used as a temporary measure for procedures such as vaccination of chicks or special feeding.
The importance of nutrition in flock health is well known. There is a need for further research into alternative feeds for rural poultry, which avoid the use of grain for human consumption so that the household don’t have to share their food with the flock giving them more to feed on while providing better feed to their chicken and poultry.