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COCCI Profile: Top Dog

Vision, innovation and an aversion to anything routine keep Dr. Rae Fischer well ahead of the pack.

Dr. Rae Fischer says that competing effectively in the poultry industry is a lot like pulling a dog sled across Canada’s frigid Northwest Territories. “If you’re not the lead dog,” the veterinarian insists, “the view is always the same.”

With that picture in mind, the owner and CEO of Fisher Feeds, Listowel, Ontario, says he loathes complacency and is always ready to embrace new products and technologies that will help his family’s poultry operation and feed customers operate more efficiently, profitably and responsibly.

“I practiced veterinary medicine for 17 years and, in that time, I worked with some very good practitioners — the kind that always wanted to be upto- date on everything,” he recalls. “They were clear thinkers, and very aggressive in utilizing new technology and being the best they could be. For me, that was the fun part. Routine things tend to be routine.”

Fischer admits that raising birds and making feed are activities that require attention to detail and dependence on routine procedures. “But, trying to improve and discover new ways of doing things are what get me out of bed in the morning,” he explains. “It doesn’t cost any more to feed a good horse. Likewise, it doesn’t take a whole lot more to be the best producer, or at least as good as you can be. I believe that has to be our goal.”

‘Nimble and quick’

Fischer’s business, which he runs with son Matthew, is based about 100 miles northwest of Toronto. Fisher Feeds produces approximately 100,000 tons of feed per year; 65% is for poultry and the rest is for swine. Half of the poultry feed is sold to area producers. The rest is used by his family’s poultry operation and its associated contract farms, which together place about 1 million broilers every 9 weeks. Fischer’s birds are separated by sex. Cockerels are grown to 2.6 kg (5.73 lbs) in 41 days, and pullets reach 2.4 kg (5.30 lbs) in 42 days.

Fischer thinks it’s important for his operation to be “nimble and quick” with decision-making so it can take advantage of new things that come along.

Editor’s note: Dr. Rae Fischer and his company, Fisher Feeds, have similar names, but they are spelled differently.

“If we see something that we think is really good — a new additive or health product, for example — we move on it quickly without a lot of bureaucracy. We’re constantly trying new and better ways of doing things, sometimes to the frustration of our feed mill manager. We can find out what works in our own facilities and then share it with our customers.”

The latest example of that commitment is Fisher Feeds’ approach to coccidiosis management. For years the company relied on in-feed products, a natural complement to its feed business. But Fischer, drawing on his veterinary background, was not convinced that medicated feed was the best way to keep the persistent disease in check and decided to introduce vaccination into the coccidiosis control program.

For one thing, there have been reports from around the globe that the Eimeria organisms that cause coccidiosis have developed resistance due to prolonged use of in-feed anticoccidials.

“We’ve done some sensitivity studies, and I don’t believe we have seen resistance in our facilities, but we have seen some feed medications and chemicals lose their effectiveness over time. I have also seen farms where there is resistance, and I know it’s a very real problem,” he says.

Meeting consumer demand

There were also regulatory and consumer issues to consider. While Canada shares a 3,000-mile border with the United States, the world’s largest broiler producer, poultry-production practices and consumer attitudes in Canada are much closer to those in Europe, Fisher says.

“We’ve got a tremendous European influence in this country, so in terms of production trends, I think we need to look at the ban on antibiotic growth promoters in Europe [effective January 1, 2006].

“As a veterinarian, I want to see these decisions made on science, not emotion or propaganda. But either way, if that’s what the consumer wants, somebody’s going to have to produce it. We need to be ready for drug-free production, and that’s one of the reasons we wanted to start vaccinating.”

Initially, Fischer didn’t see any big financial incentives for initiating vaccination, which stimulates immunity against coccidiosis by delivering a controlled dose of live Eimeria oocysts to birds. He knew from published reports that vaccinated broilers performed as well or better than medicated birds. At the feed mill, he was told there was some concern about lost revenues from the sales of coccidiosis medications. Still, Fischer wanted to move ahead with his plan.

Seeing Red

Virtually everyone in the poultry industry knows that young chicks are attracted to red. It’s one of the reasons that Schering-Plough Animal Health recommends adding red dye to the coccidiosis vaccine solution. The red encourages preening among vaccinated chicks and facilitates the ingestion and spread of live oocysts that stimulate natural immunity.

Now, Dr. Rae Fischer of Fisher Feeds is taking that idea a step further.

To maximize feed intake during the first 4 to 5 days of development and optimize bursa and gut development, Fischer is now using a patent-pending process to add red to the feed. The result is a feed product called REDvantage, which looks like crumbles of red licorice that are quickly finding their way into the intestinal tracts of young chicks.

“In trials with 350,000 chicks, we’ve seen an increase in body weight of 4.81 grams (0.17 oz or 0.01 lb) in cockerels and 4.20 grams (0.15 oz or 0.01 lb) in pullets during the first 7 days, which should translate to increased performance as well as increased bird health due to better gut and immune system development,” he explains.

“Rapid growth of a healthy bird is the ultimate goal,” Fischer adds. “Unless the gastrointestinal system can quickly mature and provide the necessary substrates, demand organs such as muscle never catch up, leaving money on the table.”

Research and development manager Derek Detzler notes that market weight is generally 7 times the birds’ weight at 7 days old, so a loss of only 5 grams (0.18 oz or 0.01 lb) during the first week of life ultimately adds up to 35 grams (1.23 oz or 0.08 lb) of weight loss. “In other words, every gram you put on that first week has the potential to be an extra 7 grams at market weight,” he says. “We want to give ourselves every opportunity to get that.”

Detzler notes that their “impulse” strategy is consistent with the IDEA concept — Impulse, Digestibility, Economical and Advantage — a nutritional strategy that promotes good intestinal health early in the chick’s life as a means of reducing enteric infections and optimizing the performance of birds vaccinated for coccidiosis. (See www.IntestinalHealthPoultry.com.)

The red-colored starter feed, adds Fischer, will help attain the best weight and be an excellent complement to the coccidiosis vaccination program. “Any time you use a vaccine, you’re relying on the bird’s immune system to be competent and respond well to the vaccine,” he says. “When you have a healthy gut, you win on all fronts because it can stand up to enteric challenges while allowing the vaccine to perform more effectively. Science tells us that if we can increase feed intake, gut development and bursa development in the young bird, we’re going to get a better response to the vaccine, as well as a better response to necrotic enteritis or other disease challenges that might be in the gut.”

“If you lose that first week,” concludes Fischer, “you’re not going to get it back. When you get good feed intake, you’re starting with a full tank and have more potential to maximize the genetics of the flock.”

“This may sound funny coming from someone who owns and operates a feed mill, but I just hate putting chemicals and antibiotics in the feed,” he says. “I want the emphasis to be on good nutrition programs, with quality raw materials, ingredients and processing. When you add drugs to the mix, you have to flush the lines after every batch, keep track of shuttle programs, worry about medicating the wrong feed and so on. Salinomycin, for example, can kill turkeys. If we could take every medication out of this mill, it would be a dream come true — even though I still think they can do a lot of good in the right situations and may be required for therapeutic use.”

Sensible option

Fischer was also concerned that excessive use of medications was becoming a substitute for good management and was making producers complacent. “Our problem is that production has become very comfortable,” Fischer says. “Producers need motivation for change, and the trend toward raising drug-free birds provides one. Vaccination just seemed like a sensible thing for us to try.”

Fisher Feeds’ contract hatchery, which supplies chicks to Fischer’s own farm and to Fisher Feeds’ customers, started immunizing day-old chicks with Coccivac-B live coccidiosis vaccine in the spring of 2004. This practice continued for 24 weeks before rotating back to a chemical and eventually to ionophore antibiotics in the feed.

“We thought spring was a good time to start with vaccination because there was more air movement through the barns and less of an Eimeria organism buildup in the drier litter, which in Canada is changed with each flock,” he explains. “But based on our experience so far, I don’t see why we couldn’t vaccinate year-round.”

Fischer says he had expected to see a drop in performance in the first vaccinated flock, particularly in smaller birds. This is because birds raised to 38 to 42 days have less time to bounce back from an initial setback that might occur as vaccination stimulates the bird’s immune system.

Good intestinal health

“We never saw the dramatic drop in performance that we were looking for,” Fischer reports, “probably because our nutrition program helped to condition the gut and help it tolerate the challenge from the vaccine.”

After returning to chemicals and ionophores, Fischer also did not see a big jump in production. In some cases, he adds, performance actually went down after vaccination stopped.

“In the end, I think a lot of this comes back to the quality of the feed program,” he says. “Whether you’re vaccinating or medicating for coccidiosis, it’s important to promote good intestinal health through nutrition.”

Since 1997, Fisher Feeds has used a feed expander before pelleting to optimize nutrient availability and eliminate or significantly reduce pathogens.

“We get far more absorption high in the gut than we do with normal, unexpanded feed,” Fischer says. “There’s less residue in the lower gut. I think our gut health has improved with the expanded feed, and we have fewer challenges in the lower gut because there’s less substrate. The expanding process does an excellent job of reducing the bacterial load in the feed, which is really important.”

Nothing to fear

Vaccinating for coccidiosis wasn’t a new practice for Fischer. He had 8 years’ experience with it in turkeys, which obviously are grown to heavier weights and can take full advantage of the vaccine’s lifelong protection.

“Vaccinating broiler chicks does require good management and you need to make sure things are done properly, but the SprayCox spray cabinet technology is good and definitely not something to be afraid of,” Fischer insists. “The more you work with it, the more you understand it. There just has to be a motivation to change. For me, it’s controlling a very prevalent disease without drugs in the feed. I really like that idea.”

Derek Detzler, manager of research and development for Fisher Feeds, says that coccidiosis vaccination has been well received on the grow-out farms so far. “If the vaccinated birds weren’t sprayed red, I don’t think most producers would have known the difference,” he says, referring to the red dye in the vaccine that promotes the preening and distribution of the Eimeria oocysts that stimulate immunity.

“Production is as good or better than what we had before,” concurs Eric Martin, who manages 60,000 square feet of finishing space at one of Fisher Feeds’ farms. “Vaccinated birds tend to flush a little more around day 17 and you may see some wetter litter.”

High-rise barns

Most of Fisher Feeds’ birds are grown out in two- and three-story barns stretching 40 to 46 feet (wide) with up to 30,000 square feet of space.

Fischer Feeds’ operation broods chicks on one whole side of the house for the first 5 days to help regulate the young birds’ exposure to the Eimeria organisms in the vaccine, which are passed and re-ingested to promote natural immunity. “You don’t want the chicks to get too far away from the area that’s been seeded by the live vaccine,” he says.

Detzler says this practice also keeps the chicks close to the feeder to ensure good intake. “We don’t want the chicks to have to look for feed,” he explains. “That 24 to 48 hours of fasting that can occur in some flocks is a tremendous detriment to gut development and the immune system, so we make every effort to get them off to a fast start and build a healthy intestinal tract.”

Looking ahead, Fischer thinks they will eventually vaccinate for coccidiosis all year round. “I don’t see any scientific reason why we couldn’t vaccinate all the way through — and that’s something we’ll be looking at for the near future,” he says.

Ten Reasons to ‘Impulse’ Chicks

Dr. Rae Fischer presents these arguments for getting chicks off to a fast start with a good intestinal health program:

1. Under optimum conditions, chicks can grow to 5 times their initial body weight in their first 7 days of life.

2. Broilers achieve maximum relative weight of the gastrointestinal organs between 3 and 8 days of age (Dror, Nir, Nitsan, 1977).

3. The highest increase in the volume of villi in the duodenum occurs at 4 days of age (Noy and Skylan, 1997).

4. Faster utilization of yolk in early fed birds could possibly be due to increased intestinal mechanical activity (Noy et al, 1996).

5. Weight in 6- and 7-week-old broilers has a direct linear relationship to the first week of rearing. This is not due to breeder age or day-old chick weight (Pezeshkian, 2002).

6. 1 extra gram of weight at 7 days means an extra 5 to 7 grams at market. (Aviagen and Cobb Vantress).

7. Broilers that fast for 24 to 48 hours have lower bursa weights and a lower bursa/body-weight ratio (Dibner et al, http://www.novusint. com/Public/Products/OasisNeonatalFeeding.asp).

8. Lower bursa weight leads to lower proliferation of lymphocytes (Dibner et al, 1998).

9. Delays in water and feed consumption depress immune response (Casteel et al, 1994).

10. Functional maturity of the gut is linked to maturation of the local immune system (Bar-Shira. Israel Journal of Veterinary Medicine. 2005; 60:No. 2.)



Source: CocciForum Issue No.11, Schering-Plough Animal Health.

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