Shower On, Shower Off

“What’s this got to do with chickens?” I hear you say.

Well, in some parts of the chicken production business, quite a lot!

Why? Because it’s one of the many biosecurity measures that may be implemented by industry to protect flocks from infectious disease.

What’s biosecurity?

From a chicken industry perspective, biosecurity refers to a set of preventative measures designed to stop the introduction and subsequent spread of diseases, thereby protecting flocks, individual farms and the industry more broadly from the impacts of infectious diseases (see more at http://www.farmbiosecurity.com.au/). They also aim to prevent the spread of other pathogens that could potentially have human health consequences. Therefore, biosecurity is all about keeping the chickens, and people, free from disease or illness.

The chicken industry has had in place for many years a detailed set of procedures to manage biosecurity risks on farms (see National Farm Biosecurity Manual for Chicken Growers), and implementation of biosecurity practices is a part of everyday business for an Australian chicken farm.

What sorts of biosecurity measures does a chicken farm implement?

There are a range of measures that would typically apply on an Australian chicken farm. They include:

  • Limit contact with other animals (particularly other poultry and wild birds), for example by bird-proofing chicken barns with wire netting or, on farms which have access to an outside range, by ensuring the range, as far as possible, does not attract or provide habitat for wild birds or rodents, for example by keeping the range tidy, well drained, and the grass mown to prevent seeding…oh yes, and not leaving feed and water out on the range!
  • Make sure feed and water is clean and uncontaminated, for example by only using town water, or treating (eg by chlorination) any otherwise untreated surface water (such as from a dam or river) that might be used on the farm.
  • Limit vehicle/equipment movements onto and around the farm, and clean and disinfect equipment that has might have been on another farm prior to farm entry (and particularly entry into the areas where the chickens live).
  • Limit risks of people bringing disease and pathogens onto the farm and contaminating the chickens. That’s right – people present a significant biosecurity risk themselves; they can bring in disease on to farms on their hands, hair, skin, clothing and footwear…even potentially in the breath they exhale! Here’s some examples of what farmers can (and do) do to reduce this risk:
    • limit visitors, and control visitor movements;
    • make sure that staff, contractors and visitors have not had recent contact with other poultry farms or birds (including at home);
    • require any farm visitors to change into freshly laundered clothing and footwear on the farm, or to put on protective coveralls and over-boots prior to entering a barn or range area;
    • anyone entering a barn (including the farmer and staff) to use disinfectant foot baths and hand washes at the barn entry.

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And what about those showers?

Well, in those parts of the chicken production cycle where disease presents the greatest risks to the total operation – for example, breeder farms, which supply the fertile eggs which are hatched to produce the chickens that might ultimately go out onto many, many farms; or at hatcheries, where an infection could likewise be spread to very susceptible baby chicks with as yet incompletely developed immune systems, and which may also end up going out to many, many farms – even more stringent biosecurity measures need to be implemented.

One of these is usually that any staff and visitors to the facility can only enter through a shower facility where they must have a complete head to toe shower and change into a complete new set of freshly laundered clothing provided by the facility on the other side, with no personal items to be taken onto the facility, without prior decontamination. In the case of some extremely biosecure facilities, the process must be repeated again on the way out. A visit to one of these facilities can result in a very bad hair day for many visitors – I’ve done it, so I can speak from experience here!

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Is the system infallible?

No – chicken farms contain many live animals; they receive fresh air from the ambient area (which can also carry airborne microorganisms) and have many contacts with the world outside the farm; they are working farms, not containment facilities. So equally important in the industry’s health program are other preventative measures, such as vaccination and farm hygiene, and being able to recognise and immediately respond to signs or suspicion that something may have breached biosecurity barriers. Together, biosecurity, other preventative measures and actions (including vaccination), and the ability to recognise and preparedness to respond to a disease, are the most important tools the Australian chicken industry has to keep its flocks healthy and safe from diseases and pathogens.

For those interested in learning more about what biosecurity means for the chicken industry, and what practices are adopted, there will be a new biosecurity video available in the coming months…I’ll let ChookChat followers know when it’s released.

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