Four-Phase Farm Management Guideline to reduce antibiotic usage

Friday, July 2, 2021

Four-Phase Farm Management Guideline to reduce antibiotic usage

Dr. Randy Payawal, Regional Programme Manager – Gut Health, Trouw Nutrition; Dr. Barbara Brutsaert, Global Poultry Gut Health Programme Manager, Trouw Nutrition


Good farm management is required to reduce antibiotics in chicken production. Farm management, simply refers to the procedures, protocols, and environmental circumstances used in livestock production.

When antibiotics are removed from feed and water, the extent to which antibiotics mask farm management faults is frequently revealed. A farm management approach, when combined with appropriate feed and animal health practices; enables producers consistently maintain successful flocks while lowering antibiotic use. Here is a step-by-step guide in reducing antibiotics from your farm without sacrificing performance or profit.


Phase 1: Chick Pre-arrival

The outbreak of COVID-19 has raised biosecurity awareness. Biosecurity on farms requires practices such as keeping a visiting log.  A demarcation line should be established between the farm and the outside world, and every production cycle should begin with a clean slate, adapting and implementing all-in-all-out (AIAO) production.


Because the chick's first point of contact on the farm is the floor, hygiene begins there. Bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli can persist in cracks and infect the following cycle. It is better to start with a crack-free, clean and smooth concrete floor. Given the high cost of repairing a floor, it may be tempting to resurface or plug expansion joints with lute; nevertheless, this is a short-term solution. While disinfecting deep, narrow cavities is impossible, cracks should be filled with a hygiene aid. Effective and specific blends of   organic acids provide a barrier on the litter that prevents bacterial growth and proliferation.



Picture 1. Begin with a clean and smooth floor. Fill cracks in the floor with a hygiene aid, then cover with a layer of pine wood shavings/rice hulls.


Pre-heat the floor to a temperature of at least 28°C, but not warmer than 32°C. To absorb moisture from the chicks' first droppings, a layer of pine wood shavings or rice hulls about 1 to 1.5 kg/m2 deep is sufficient. Waterlines, nipples, and bell drinkers should all be clean, and drinker nipples should be at beak height. Hydrogen peroxide and flushing are used to eliminate biofilm from waterlines. Alternatively, treat and apply waterlines with a 30 % chlorine solution for 24 hours before flushing. Before starting a new flock, inspect the nipples for debris and fill lines with fresh water at 25°C or below. Check farm water quality samples with a lab analysis on a regular basis.


The floor, feeders, and feeding lines may all be cleaned with detergent and hot water. Heavy coarse raw materials like oat hulls can be treated with specific and effective blends of organic acids to eliminate biofilm and lower bacteria counts in feed lines.



Picture 2. Good hygiene in the poultry house is essential. Detergent and hot water will effectively clean walls, floors and equipment.

Examine the condition of the silo and clean any debris or obstructed feed from the walls. Mould inhibitors made up of organic acid blends can be blasted or sprayed into the silo to stick to the walls and prevent mould formation. Feed lines should be placed throughout the house in the litter. Add around 15g of feed per chick to one line of chick paper adjacent to each water line. A temperature of around 35°C is ideal for brooding. Clean and dust-free air inlets and mesh wire filters are essential. Ventilation can also be improved by performing an air exchange check throughout the house prior to the flock's arrival. The house will re-heat rapidly if the walls and floor are warmed already and done prior to chick's arrival. To avoid high amounts of carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide, make sure the burners are properly working.


Phase 2: Brooding

With underdeveloped digestive and immune systems, chicks are vulnerable to any form of stress. Examine and check Chick's body temperature, behavior, and feed intake. The ideal body temperature is around 40°C. Huddling behavior is an indicator of low temperature or cool condition, so gradually raise the housing temperature, then re-evaluate the chicks' behavior. Birds moving away from the heater source and from each other may indicate it is too warm. It is critical to keep the water temperature at 25°C or lower. In hot areas, flush water lines on the first day, even if it is costly.  If needed, add 10-15g more feed to the chick paper 24-36 hours after arrival. After 4-5 days if you observe dampness or mould appearance, remove all chick paper. A chick should have grown 4.5 times its hatching weight by the time it reaches seven days of age.


Ventilation should be managed with care throughout the brooding phase, which requires fine manual adjustments to vents. Although 3-4 cm opening is sufficient for ventilation, some vents may need to be closed to maintain proper airflow and temperature. House ceiling design should be designed based on the environment / climate where broilers are produced. A cathedral-style roof with a 35 or 45 degree angle aids air movement better in colder locations. In hot  climates, a flat low ceiling is not a problem in brooding but also beneficial for air circulation during the grow-out period.


Phase 3: Growing  

Feeders and drinkers should be adjusted to the broilers' growth stage condition. Slowing growth may be important to prevent the birds from becoming heavier than its skeleton to support. Growth can be slowed by dimming lights or limited period of darkness. Broilers are often stressed when their intestines are empty, generally, two or three one-hour dark periods of darkness are best. Take measure to health growth if a bird is 3-4 days ahead of normal intake based on growth charts.

Check droppings twice a day to evaluate proper digestion. Normal droppings are brown color, well digested, dry with white cap. Caecal droppings are dark brown to black color and sticky like paint. With yellow and foamy droppings, are mostly indicators of undigested proteins. Lowering pH in the pipeline creates a healthy microbial balance, producing a bacteriostatic effect in pathogenic bacteria when pH is below 4, while without hurting healthy bacteria like Lactobacillus. Using a blend of buffered organic acids can reduce stomach pH. . Lowering stomach pH, primarily during the first two weeks of a bird's life, supports protein digestion and broiler performance by improving microbial balance in the line and the bird. In the growing stage, proper climatic control is critical. During the growth-out phase, broilers might overheat, spray cooling or pad cooling can help in this problem. Ventilators are useful in all seasons, although they are especially crucial during hot weather and when relativehumidity levels are high. Ensure and check that ventilators are pulling enough air over the birds on a regular basis. Reduced heat or ventilation to save money in cool areas, may unintentionally result in gut health issues and the need for antibiotic treatment.


Phase 4: Finishing and Thinning

Flocks may be trimmed by 25% or 30% prior to final harvest. Climate and biosecurity issues arise when doors are left open. Closed doors as much as feasible to reduce in-house climate change and keep infections out. External heat is kept out by using heavy plastic sheets in the doors. During this time, limit the number of persons visiting and entering the farm and adhere to basic biosecurity standards. In terms of cleanliness, clothing, and other factors. Ensuring broiler flocks' consistent performance and healthy condition, through well-planned production strategy and strong farm management approach. The next paper from Trouw Nutrition in this series will explain how targeted health management might help to minimize antibiotics even more while preserving performance. For example, a Middle Eastern integrator was able to produce 98.8% of its birds without using antibiotics despite lowering its feed conversion ratio by more than 4%. "If you get birds started on the right track, all you have to do now is halt their growth,"one producer adds.



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Article made possible through the contribution of Dr. Randy Payawal, Dr. Barbara Brutsaert and Trouw Nutrition