Ask the Vet
Ask the Vet – Getting poultry health right
By Tom Inglis
As a new poultry farmer, I have little room for error. Do you have any tips for getting poultry health right and quickly fixing any problems that arise?
By Tom Inglis
The best time to develop a relationship with all the professionals you need for the operation is when you start planning a facility or expansion. While every producer will develop a relationship with lawyers, bankers, accountants, contractors, processors and equipment suppliers, they often wait to get to know their nutritionist until the first feed order and their veterinarian after their first mortality or production event.
Situations generally work out the best when veterinarians, along with service representatives and nutritionists, have been invited into the operation from the beginning. We can help review plans for the barn, equipment selection and even zoning meetings with neighbours.
It is fair to say that every operation will eventually see a bird health or disease crisis, so investing in the team you will need and building an effective relationship has a big impact on performance under pressure. Not surprisingly, the farms with the least problems have the least experience diagnosing and treating disease or production problems and can perform slowly and poorly when it does happen. The only way to get good at things that are important and time sensitive is to invest in coaching, make a plan and practice the process.
Learn from the experienced
Another important part of the team that often gets forgotten is leaning on the support of experienced farmers. The instinctual nature of these farmers is uncanny and can bring tremendous support to a young business and farm. Not only do they understand the intricacies of running a farm but acknowledge the financial burden associated with it. They have seen market volatility and can sympathize when times are tight. But, the one of the most valuable aspects that a farming mentor brings to the table is their ability to read a flock and offer advice along the way.
Experienced poultry farmers often run trials on their flocks, using different techniques of brooding, ventilation, supplements, sanitizers and production practices. These trials aren’t set up in a scientific arena but give direction to what can subjectively work at the farm level. Additionally, most experienced farmers have staff working for them and can shed light on how to be a successful manager and boss.
Don’t skip checkups
Health problems usually sneak up on producers, and while most come on slowly over time, related to multiple risk factors and stresses, they usually feel like they strike out of the blue. Just like our own health, the regular check up and routine testing is the only way to avoid major break downs in health and is far more cost effective and much less painful.
By the time symptoms are obvious, most preventative tools are no longer effective and more drastic therapies and interventions are required. Just like we can’t buy insurance after a fire, the time to invest in flock and farm health planning is at the very beginning.
In the initial stages of farming, when cash flow is tight, making the decision to hire or request veterinary support may seem premature but because the cash flow depends on the birds’ health and performance it is also the best time to manage that risk and benefit from identifying and correcting weaknesses.
Veterinary support can help mitigate some of those uncomfortable first flocks where everything is new and unknown. Helping design flock health plans with new producers can help give direction and guidance to allow for increased profitability in the early years. In summary, for new poultry producers it is invaluable to organize a team that will allow for the highest chance of success and provide the necessary support in the early years as you develop your business.
Tom Inglis is managing partner and founder of Poultry Health Services, which provides diagnostic and flock health consulting for producers and allied industry. Please send questions for the Ask the Vet column to firstname.lastname@example.org.