By Johnny Roberts
By Johnny Roberts
Researchers are looking into how to improve management practices on Ontario broiler farms.
Prof. Michele Guerin, Department of Population Medicine at the University of Guelph, is working with six poultry processing plants in Ontario (which together represent approximately 70 per cent of Ontario’s broiler processing) and 240 chicken farmers to help them detect pathogens of significance to poultry health.
She believes that surveillance for viral and bacterial pathogens in commercial broiler chickens in Ontario is needed for the sector to gain a better understanding of baseline levels of pathogens in the province, what factors are associated with the presence of those pathogens, and how they impact chicken producers.
“I’m looking into how on-farm management practices and biosecurity protocols impact the prevalence of infectious diseases,” she says. These are diseases that have an impact on illness, death, premature removal and processing plant rejections, which affect producers financially.
Guerin and her team are testing broiler flocks for nine viral pathogens: avian adeno-associated viruses, avian encephalomyelitis virus, chicken anemia virus, fowl adenovirus, infectious bursal disease virus, infectious bronchitis virus, infectious laryngotracheitis virus, Newcastle disease virus, and reovirus.
Flocks are also tested for bacterial pathogens, which include Brachyspira spp., Clostridium spp., and Enterococcus cecorum.
After samples are collected at the processing plant, Guerin goes to the farm where the flock was raised and interviews the farmer.
She asks questions regarding flock-specific management practices – for example, how the barn was cleaned and disinfected before the chicks arrived, how water lines were disinfected, what types of materials were used to construct the barn where the chickens were raised, and how pests were managed on the farm.
This is where Guerin investigates the association between management practices on the farm with organisms that were detected in that flock.
She and her research team are also looking at molecular aspects of several of the pathogens, to better understand if more than one strain is present in the population, and if some are more pathogenic than others. “If we find there are certain management practices that either increase or decrease the risk of a particular pathogen being present, then, we hope to be able to identify interventions that could have a highly beneficial outcome to individual farmers and the broiler chicken population in general,” says Guerin.
Guerin is working with graduate students Michael Eregae, Hind Kasab-Bachi and Eric Nham.
Funding for this research is provided by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs, Poultry Industry Council, and the Animal Health Laboratory. Johnny Roberts is a student writer with the Students Promoting Academic Research Knowledge (SPARK) program at the University of Guelph.