Salmonella sampling over the New Year holidays

All Salmonella testing is now carried out at the Edinburgh lab.

We wanted to make all our clients aware that that Tuesday, 2 January 2019 is a public holiday in Scotland.  Whilst the lab will be processing samples, Royal Mail does not deliver north of the border on that day.

The last delivery to the lab in 2018 will be on Monday, 31 December and the first delivery in 2019 will be on Thursday, 3 January.  You will need to take this into account when planning sampling and sending.

If this makes time-frames tight/difficult, we can help arrange a courier to ensure delivery within time if you call our Sheriff Hutton practice on 0134 782 0366.  For your information, testing must start within 4 days of sampling to be valid for compliance, so it is essential to bear this public holiday in mind.

Environmental Enrichment Overview

After years as a poultry practitioner, I have witnessed a gradual shift in the way intensive farming is understood. Concepts like welfare, biosecurity and environmental enrichment have moved from the scientific papers, to the day-to-day routine on every farm.

Some of these changes have been driven by consumer demand, by farm assurance scheme requirements and by legislation. However, some change has come from farmers own motivation and increased awareness.

I would like to think that we are on a journey away from the “desensitized” animal production system and leading to a place where improving the quality of life for stock in a meaningful way is as important as our attempts to improve performance.

To achieve this, we need to implement the welfare ideal portrayed by the concept of the Five Freedoms at a deeper level:

FREEDOM FROM HUNGER AND THIRST.
FREEDOM FROM DISCOMFORT.
FREEDOM FROM PAIN, INJURY OR DISEASE.
FREEDOM FROM FEAR AND DISTRESS.
FREEDOM TO EXPRESS NORMAL BEHAVIOUR.

We can see how all of them interlink to each other in a basal way and the aim of this exercise is not prioritizing one over the others in any way. However, for the scope of this article, we are going to focus on what “Freedom to express normal behaviour” entails and how it relates to the idea of “enrichment” in a general way. This is potentially the more abstract and complex freedom on its contents but essential in the thought process of realizing how important the bird’s “perception” of its quality of life is and how this is linked to its ability to fulfil normal behaviour.

In successive articles, we will explain how the different species of production animals can benefit from it in their daily lives.

In part, this concept lends itself to assessment of the environment, and what is present within it, to allow the birds to express a range of positive behaviours. Where behaviours or opportunities might be seen as lacking, the environment may need to be “enriched”, to allow a greater behavioural repertoire, consistent with a better quality of life (and a move towards a “Good Life”).

Our starting point is always going to be the same for each one of them: understanding poultry species at their most basic level.

We might have domesticated, selected and bred a bird through the years to produce an individual that can cope with life in captivity, tolerate humans and is full of genetic capabilities that we are exploring for production benefits. However, we cannot move away from the reality that we are working with an animal with a brain motivated to follow a complex “hard-wired” pattern of behaviours expressed through a daily routine.

For example, by observing a jungle fowl (our chicken predecessor) in the wild over 24 hours, we will see the bird expressing certain behaviours and getting involved a series of activities. A domestic hen returned to “feral” conditions will display the majority of these behaviours too!

This reinforces the fact that there are behaviours that are “hardwired”; not taught or learned. Research has found that hens are highly motivated to perform certain activities to the extent of them being regarded as welfare needs. This means that depriving birds from the opportunity to perform these behaviours may have marked welfare consequences, such as frustration and abnormal behaviour patterns.

The way to organize and describe this group of expected behavioural traits in any given species is called an Ethogram. If we collate all that data into a pie chart it might resemble something like this:

Each slice of the pie represents the proportion of time an animal spends performing each behaviour. The bigger the slice, the more time a bird spends performing that activity and the more important that activity may be regarded to be.

How might the Ethogram relate to environmental enrichment?

If we critically compare the wild and farm environments we can see that farmed birds are certainly provided with food (which is nutritionally balanced but perhaps lacking in variety), water and shelter but, more often than not, they live in a relatively confined space with a large group of other similarly sexed or aged birds

Owing to group size, the opportunity for socially interacting socially in a constructive manner is probably reduced and their ability to establish a suitable hierarchy is definitely more challenging.

Suddenly, with all this information in our hands, some of the differences between the time “budgets” of wild and farmed animals become apparent.  Our birds have fulfilled their basic needs in a fraction of the time and may occupy the “spare” time with whatever resources are at their disposal. This might include the appearance of undesirable/abnormal behaviours that not only have an economic impact for the owner but a component of frustration for the bird that we should be able to address.

To help us understand the areas where management techniques can have an impact on the animal wellbeing, Bloom-Smith et al (1991) provided a categorization of the different enrichment types:

–              Social Enrichment: Such as frequent walks and human interaction (remembering birds will equally appreciate solitude when performing some activities such as laying)

–              Occupational enrichment: Such as adding ramps, bales, balls, hanging objects

–              Physical Enrichment: Such as changing the layout within the house

–              Sensory Enrichment: Such as music, smells, different bedding

–              Nutritional Enrichment: Such as alfalfa, oyster shell, meal worms

Nowadays, the construction of modern poultry houses encompasses not only the physical welfare needs of our birds but also provides some of the necessary enrichment to fulfil their “other” emotional/mental needs (i.e. complexity of a multi-tier frame in layer production, perching in broiler houses, pecking objects in turkey houses… etc). Additional enrichment methods will have a cost, and it is possible that some of our efforts to mimic the wild bird’s ethogram will have unanticipated negative effects (e.g. Dawn-dusk dimming may lead to smothers; feeding on the floor to encourage foraging may promote disease and/or unevenness).

However, given the persistent presence of undesirable behaviours among farmed animals, there is an intuitive consensus that perhaps more needs to be done.

We are gradually learning where it is worth putting our effort, time and resources to synchronize our productivity needs to their specific physiological and behavioural needs even more for maximum performance.

Outwardly, occupational enrichment appears easy and appealing.  Most people can relate to the enriching and pleasurable effects of “toys” from childhood but, it is important to bear in mind that this is not a simple exercise of adding up “furniture”.

The widespread usage of random objects in the house (such as CD’s or balls) as a pecking distraction adds up a risk of fear reaction to the novel object too. 

Just remember we are dealing with a prey species. Fear in nature will be linked to avoidance and ultimately to survival, but in farmed animals is linked to stress and this, ultimately, to imbalance, disease and poor performance.

It is possible for us to teach birds coping strategies though, by using targeted enrichment efforts early in life. This means involving all the stages of production when the model includes more than one; rearing-laying or brooding- grow out.

Birds will benefit from early socialization and exposure to novel stimuli. This will help them become more tolerant to changes in their environment later in life and the fear responses will be reduced.

Simplistically, utilisation of this kind of enrichment needs to be assessed as there is an element of futility if we fail to see what the animal requires.

If interacting with the “toy” is not rewarding or suitably constructed and does not obviously have a parallel in the ethogram, the birds often rapidly lose interest in the object.  At such a point, it is no longer enriching but is merely occupying space and should be removed or replaced.

Other common efforts seen include the social enrichment where free range birds are mixed in some areas with other species. Whilst it poses a risk of disease, it is worth mentioning however, that some producers have used other species – such as Alpacas – to improve ranging behaviour in hens.  This may be by reducing fear reaction in birds to the risk of predators. Owing to the large size of this Alpacas, foxes for example do not venture in the range.

There are also opportunities for sensory/nutritional enrichment, but this can be a slow process of trial and error to find what works for each species. Further progress may well require collaborative efforts between industry, academia and appropriately motivated investors to help drive the research and provide the evidence for different types of enrichment in a commercial setting.

We could even go further by saying that sometimes adding something new is not necessary, but reassessing what it is already in the house and optimizing its use could equally be successful in accommodating the birds’ requirement for a specific need (such as more appealing substrate within the nest boxes, different lighting, different means of administration for grit or oyster shell, different material for perches, etc)

It might be my point of view, but I think that there is a tangible positive impact from working with the bird and adopting a holistic approach into its well-being.

There could be a long debate into how much of what we do on farms is really perceived by the bird and what “happy” means to a bird; however, what cannot be disputed is that animals are sentient beings and that, the quicker we learn about enrichment and bird behaviour, the quicker other concepts as sustainability, efficiency and profitability will join the equation.

Carol Lopez DVM MRCVS – Poultry Health Services Sutton Bonington

British Poultry Awards 2018

This year, Poultry Health Services sponsored the best Poultry Foodservice Product at the British Poultry Awards which took place on the 20th September at the Sheraton Grand hotel in London.

The announcement of the winners was made in front of over 250 industry VIPs including retail buyers, manufacturers, producers and farmers.

The winner was Green Gourmet Ltd Red Tractor Raw Chicken Breast. Sara Perez (Veterinary Director at PHS) together with John Reed (British Poultry Council Chairman) and celebrity Helen Skelton from Country File delivered the award.

How to get the most from a poultry flock health plan

Sara Perez, was interviewed by Poultry World to explain the benefits of a documented health plan and its potential to improve production and performance.

Flock health plans have evolved from assurance scheme checklists to the foundations of an active partnership between farmer and vet.

You can read the full article, and how health plans are increasingly being used to underpin and formalise a working relationship with the farm vet on the Poultry World website.

PHS open a new, state of the art, specialist poultry veterinary practice and laboratory in Sheriff Hutton, Yorkshire

Owing to the demands of our rapidly expanding poultry business our practice buildings in York and Dalton are now no longer fit for purpose and due to their location unable to easily adapt. To ensure that we can meet the ever changing demands of our clients in this fast paced sector we have decided to relocate both practices into a single location. We have invested in a state of the art veterinary practice in Sherriff Hutton. The veterinary team from both practices will be based in this prime location and will be supported by their colleagues from the old practices. This will mean a more efficient and enhanced service for our clients and additional support available 24/7 from our experienced team of veterinary technicians and administrators.

We are also relocating our specialist diagnostics laboratory from York. We provide a full range of veterinary and food safety related testing including; serology, water analysis, feed analysis, litter quality testing, environmental/hygiene analysis, bacteriology: Post mortem, Salmonella, Campylobacter, fungal isolation and parasitology. Our new facility will enable us to improve and develop services even further offering the industry an unparalleled serology, virology and diagnostics service.

Combining both practice’ teams and the laboratory service in one location will enable us to offer industry leading, high quality veterinary service provision to the UK poultry industry.

For further information please contact the team on 01347 878931.

Relocation of Salmonella testing Service

IMPORTANT NOTICE:

We opened a new state of the art poultry laboratory in the Pentlands Science Park (Penicuick) in February 2018. Since then, the laboratory has gone from strength to strength and we are now relocating all the testing currently performed at Crowshall laboratories to the new laboratory from Monday 2nd July 2018.

From that date, please ensure that all the samples for salmonella testing are sent to:

Poultry Health Services
The Milton Building
Pentlands Science Park
Bush Loan
Penicuik
EH26 0PZ

Please, destroy any old submission forms with the Crowshall address and replace them with this one.

Your point of contact to order sampling kits and for general lab enquiries remains the York lab which can be contacted on 01904 620968 or email yorklab@biobest.co.uk

The new laboratory operates 7 days a week and it is UKAS and DEFRA accredited. In addition to salmonella testing it performs a number of other tests for hatcheries, farms, egg packing stations and food processing plants in addition to diagnostic tests for veterinary practices.

If you would like to know more about the range of tests that we perform and our discounted prices for routine or bulk work, please contact Stuart Marshall on 0131 440 2628 or email Stuart.marshall@biobest.co.uk

Once you start using the new laboratory services, all your results will be securely stored in our new IT system Digiflock together with your post mortems, visit reports, flock health plans and prescription records. We will continue emailing you these reports as usual. You will benefit from being able to access to your own records 24/7 with your unique client secure access code and to some exclusive data analysis that we will be offering to our clients.

I am sure that you will be delighted with the service from the new laboratory and I look forward to continuing working with you in these exciting times.

Sara Perez, DVM, MSc, CertPMP, MRCVS
Poultry Veterinary Director

 

A Career in Poultry Medicine

The field of veterinary medicine is incredibly diverse with many possible career paths once you are finally enrolled as an MRCVS. I have chosen to enter the poultry industry through a veterinary internship with Poultry Health Services (PHS).

“Why poultry?” is the first question I get asked by most people on learning of my career choice and, being the only person to pursue poultry medicine from my university year group, I can understand why the choice seems unusual. My interest stems firstly from my family keeping chickens and then from having my own flock of bantams that travelled up and down the M1 with me throughout my years at university. For my third year dissertation I surveyed owners’ opinions on the provision of veterinary care for backyard chickens, and the results highlighted the market potential for providing a valuable service for pet hens. I also particularly enjoyed the population medicine approach learned in my Herd Health rotation, analysing trends in data to improve animal welfare. During my clinical years I spent time in a commercial poultry practice and found the work they do fascinating; subsequently learning more about the diversity and the progression of the poultry industry while at PHS has only cemented these interests further.

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