Strategies for Prevention, Monitoring and Control of Avian Influenza at Farm Level

Dr Barbara Grabkowsky of Vechta University presented the results of a recent study into the implementation of biosecurity measures in European poultry farms at the International Egg Commission (IEC) London 2009 Conference. It is clear that some farmers are lax, even over the simplest biosecurity measures.
calendar icon 29 May 2009
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Avian influenza still represents a global risk. Barbara Grabkowsky, from Vechta University in Germany, believes prevention is better than cure, and that part of the solution lies in biosecurity. She urges farmers to use the University's latest research analysis and carry out their own biosecurity risk assessment.

At the IEC London 2009 Conference, Barbara Grabkowsky presented the results of a recent study into the implementation of biosecurity measures in European poultry farms. The study formed part of an EU project, and was carried out by researchers at the University.

The objective of the EU project was to develop new strategies for the prevention, control and monitoring of avian influenza in Europe. Avian Influenza still represents a global threat to the international poultry industry, and biosecurity is considered to be crucial for avoiding the virus occurring in poultry farms.

The task for Dr Grabkowsky and her team, led by Professor Windhorst, was to develop a qualitative risk assessment, both from a regional perspective and from the poultry farm level. The research focused on 343 farms in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.

Objectives of the Study

The three main objectives of the study carried out by Vechta University were:

  • To investigate the prevalent farm management practices
  • To check the risk factors at the poultry farm level, and
  • To evaluate the risk status of the farm, and communicate this risk to the farmers in an understandable way.

Methods Used

The research team used a questionnaire made up of 68 questions asking for information regarding: general farm management; feed; manure; employees; pest control; rendering and disease prevention. A log book was also given to each farmer involved in the study, and they were asked to keep a record for 30 days, detailing all the contact that took place at their farm. The research team believed that it was likely to show that the more birds, the more items and the more people that enter a farm, the higher its risk of a breach in its biosecurity.

Results from Layer Farms

Dr Grabkowsky summarised the research study's findings for the layer farms that were investigated.

The main risk factors that were identified by the study showed:

  • 27 to 65 per cent of the farms investigated sold either live poultry or poultry products from a farm shop.
  • 35 to 62 per cent of those questioned stored their litter in ways that made it vulnerable to contamination.
  • Between eight and 11 per cent of the farms also kept ducks or geese.
  • Between 7.7 and 30 per cent of the farms that took part in the study said that they shared machinery with other farms, and 25 to 50 per cent of the farms that shared equipment neither cleaned or disinfected the tools before returning them.
  • 17 to 38 per cent of the farmers do not wash their hands after entering and before leaving the poultry house.

These results generated two new questions for the research team: firstly, are these results general – is this scenario true everywhere, even in densely populated poultry areas?, and second, is this behaviour also true in larger professional layer farms?

To determine whether the results were in fact representative of everywhere, even in areas densely populated with poultry, the research team studied three locations; Noord Brabant in The Netherlands, Vechta in Germany and Oststeiermark in Austria. These three locations are all high density poultry areas, each with more than 500,000 layers.

The results of this study showed that for the majority of farms in these three densely populated poultry areas, protective clothing was not adequately used; a high percentage did not wash their hands before entering and leaving the poultry houses; disinfecting of housing equipment was not done and most farms only implemented their pest control programmes to address an existing problem, rather than as a matter of routine to prevent problems occurring.

The research team also assessed the risk factors in the professional layer farms and found that the risk did decrease in professional farms that had in excess of 50,000 birds. However, even large scale Austrian farmers stored their litter in such a way that it was easily susceptible to contamination.

When assessing the cleaning of equipment, the risk of this biosecurity in Oststeiermark and Noord Brabant was less for the larger farms but in Vechta, this was not the case and the risk remained high.

Traffic Light Results

The final results were shown using the traffic light system; red representing high risk; yellow, medium risk; and green, low risk.

Traffic light system to illustrate biosecurity risks on layer farms at three locations

Vechta University's study clearly showed that even in Europe there is potential to improve, and use better biosecurity to reduce the risk of avian influenza. Only a small percentage of participating farms achieved the Green, Risk Class 1, status. This shows that there is still a significant amount of work that can be done by individual farms to reduce their risk from avian influenza, as well as other infectious diseases such as salmonella and other diseases under the Zoonosis directive. This is particularly important for layer farms and the egg industry.

What Can Farmers do to Improve Biosecurity?

Dr Grabkowsky concluded her presentation, explaining that it is crucial that poultry farmers understand that disease prevention is the first line of defence. She explained that biosecurity should become an integral part of the daily work on the farm: simple procedures such as disinfection, separate overalls, a change of outdoor shoes before entering the poultry house, and the cleaning of hands before entering and after leaving.

She stressed to the IEC members at the conference that 'Prevention is better than cure'. Higher biosecurity levels will ultimately result in lower costs during the production cycle, as there will be less need for antibiotics, medical treatment and pathogenic agents, also in improved animal welfare.

Vechta University has now developed a web-based risk assessment for poultry farmers. Farmers are required to answer questions about their farm's location, and their individual practices and procedures. The system then calculates the farm's risk status, and provides suggestions as to how they can improve their biosecurity. This web-based system is currently available to farmers in the German language.

Further Reading

- You can view other papers presented at the IEC London Meeting 2009 by clicking here.

May 2009
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