by guest blogger, Luke Baldwin, DVM, MAM
Great advancements have been made in poultry production, including the molecular understanding of bronchitis, interventions like antibiotics, and realizing Salmonella and coccidia are not the same disease. However, when looking back at poultry disease textbooks from 1917, it becomes clear that the industry is facing many of the same problems as it did in the first half of the 20th century. The difference lies in common-sense management of poultry disease in 1917 as compared to today’s literature, which tends to focus on interventions such as vaccinations or antibiotics.
As a whole, the industry has been focused on increasing efficiency and performance by working directly on the bird through genetics, enteric health, vaccinology, probiotics, and other elements, rather than managing the big picture of bird health.
“Disease challenges need to be looked at with three factors in mind: host, pathogen, and environment.”
Instead, disease challenges need to be looked at with three factors in mind: host, pathogen, and environment, an idea commonly referred to as the disease triad. In epidemiology, the phrase is commonly used to better understand the spread and cause of diseases.
For example, after weeks of working fourteen-hour days with little sleep, imagine driving to a distant farm in the middle of winter with a trainee who is coughing and sneezing. Two days later, you’re sick. The perfect storm of host, pathogen, and environment was able to successfully infect your immunosuppressed body.
As an industry that has come to rely on quick fixes, the majority of interventions focus on treating the bird and pathogen, but rarely the environment, failing to take the environmental aspect of poultry health into account. For example, challenges with pathogens like Salmonella or Clostridium require environmental management plans to help decrease pathogen load of litter and bedding materials to help birds be more successful short- and long-term.
To improve the environment, growers and technicians should focus on:
Husbandry and maintaining an environment that give birds a better chance to survive pathogenic insults
Making the birds more comfortable
Making the environment less hospitable for pathogens
At the end of the day, remember that attacking pathogens through antibiotics is not the only available intervention. Great gains can be made through a focus on helping the host and improving the environment.