Free bird

For as long as I can remember, the word freedom has been associated with birds.

There's the old expression "free as a bird." The bald eagle is, of course, a symbol of freedom. And who didn't spend time in college dancing to Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird"?

In today's poultry industry, the words "free" and "bird" are also being heard more often, but they're usually preceded by the word "antibiotic."

The practice of producing antibiotic-free birds used to be limited to niche marketers that were more concerned about meeting the needs of a certain consumer than feeding the masses with a low-cost, nutritious, healthy product that virtually everyone could afford.

But today's consumer is changing - and the statistics are difficult to ignore:

  • Organic poultry in the United States, which must be raised without antibiotics to carry an "organic" label, saw an explosive 1,000% increase in production between 1997 and 2003.

  • Poultry is the fastest growing meat product in the U.S. organic market, with a market size estimated to be around $46 million and annual growth estimated to be 33% through 2008.

  • Whole Foods Market, one of the world's largest organic foods retailers, found in a 2004 survey that more people are eating organic products primarily because organic foods are considered to be better for their health and for the environment.

Whether you support this trend or agree with consumers is not the issue. The fact is, this is the direction of the new poultry industry - and it's not only for niche marketers.

Draper Valley Farms is Washington State - a company that places 600,000 birds a week - recently decided to pull all in-feed antibiotics, including ionophores, from its commercial broilers after having outstanding success with a similar program in its "antibiotic-free" line. (See their story beginning on page 2.) They didn't do it overnight, but they say they learned valuable lessons about poultry production from their antibiotic-free line. As Draper Valley's production veterinarian, Dr. Mueez Ahmad tells us, "When you go antibiotic-free, you can't use drugs and Band-Aids to cover up our mistakes. That experience, I think, has had a profound effect on the management of our commercial birds as well."

Draper Valley's nutritionists are also enjoying their newfound freedom. Now they "can make changes in the needs of the birds, without having to work around the medication program," Ahmad says. Having fewer medications to track and flush from the system has also made life easier at the feed mill.

In the world of politics, we're frequently reminded that "freedom has its cost." In the world of poultry, freedom can also be good for business. We hope this issue of CocciForum will help you capitalize on this trend.

Charlie Broussard, DVM
Director, Global Technical Services
Poultry Business Unit
Schering-Plough Animal Health

Source: Cocciforum, isuue 13
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