COCCI Focus - Seizing the Opportunity

Townsends takes the Arkansas state motto to heart with innovative health program

Think tank: Helms (second from right) reviews health program with (left to right) Kohler, Rutledge, Hargis and Tulley.

If you travel to Batesville, Ark., in the northeast part of the state, you'll find yourself in scenic White River Valley near the foothills of the Ozark Mountains.

With a population of 11,000, the community holds the distinction of being the second oldest town in a state that calls itself the "Land of Opportunity."

The locals say teamwork, community spirit and pride thrive in Batesville. So, apparently, does innovative poultry production. Just ask Doug Helms, live production manager for Townsends, Inc.

Helms and his management team have achieved success in the broiler business in recent years. While production statistics are kept confidential, Helms says both chick quality and flock health remain high, with low mortality. According to industry tracking services that maintain producer anonymity, Townsends now ranks among the top U.S. companies based on ready-tocook pounds per week.

Key Player

Townsends has been a key player in the U.S. poultry industry since the late 1940s. Headquartered in Wilmington, Del., the firm maintains two production centers, one in Siler City, N.C., and the other in Batesville.

All of Townsends's Arkansas production is conducted by some 200 contract growers within 75 miles of the main office. Contract farms accommodate from 20,000 layers to 120,000 broilers. Typical broiler houses run 18,000 square feet.

"We place about 950,000 chicks with our contractors each week," says Helms. Other key Batesville employees include hatchery manager Dave Kohler, breeder manager Bill Tulley and broiler grow-out manager Bruce Rutledge. Dr. Spangler Klopp, based in Georgetown, Del., serves as corporate veterinarian.

Townsends' Arkansas operation includes a company-owned processing plant and 1,000 full-time employees. Broilers are raised to 8 weeks of age and processed at over 6 pounds of body weight. All of the meat is deboned and sold under various commercial labels throughout the United States and several foreign countries.

Like many poultry firms, Townsends utilizes outside consultants, including several veterinarians and local nutritionist Dr. Phillip Hargis.

"None of us has all the answers," Helms points out. "Our consultants provide another set of eyes and another opinion to help us continually finetune our production protocol."

Health Tools

For the past 7 years, under Helms's leadership, Townsends has also developed an effective disease-control program built around vaccination. For starters, the firm vaccinates for Newcastle disease, bronchitis, Marek's disease, reovirus and Gumboro.

"Not every company vaccinates for these diseases, but it has worked well for us to do so," says Helms.

"We have used (in-feed) coccidiostats to control coccidiosis for several years," Helms adds. "With the development of the commercial live oocyst vaccine, Coccivac-B, along with the spray cabinet for application, we acquired another tool to control the disease."

For the past 5 years Townsends has maintained five cycles of birds each year. During this time the firm has vaccinated for coccidiosis from late spring to early fall, while providing coccidiostats in the feed during the other months.

"In our particular operation, we derive the greatest benefit from that particular coccidiosis preventative schedule," Helms mentions.

Besides the feed budget, the cost to protect Townsends' birds against coccidiosis is one of the company's biggest expenses "about 0.8 cent per chick, Helms says.

"We consider the coccidiosis vaccine a cost-effective tool and we use it as such," Helms emphasizes.

Vaccine Cost Benefits

"We use coccidiosis vaccine for two primary reasons," says hatchery manager Kohler. "First, it's more economical to vaccinate than it is to add coccidiostats to the feed. Our economic benefits are so great due to feed cost savings, that I believe every poultry producer should be using a coccidiosis vaccine protocol to improve his or her bottom line."

Since there are as many different management and processing regimens as there are poultry producers, it would be difficult and inappropriate to say how much money a firm could save each year by using a live oocyst coccidiosis vaccine, says Townsends veterinarian, Dr. Klopp.

"But the use of Coccivac-B is definitely an economically viable concept," he says.

According to Klopp, Townsends also uses coccidiosis vaccine because it "seeds" the operation with Eimeria strains that are more susceptible to older ionophores and chemical treatments.

"After a 6-month cycle of using the vaccine, we usually experience a boost in performance from the ionophores," Kohler says. "That's because the ionophores are then better able to protect against cocci, because of less resistance.

"If we do get a coccidiosis outbreak, it is easier to treat and control because the oocysts we have been vaccinating with are more susceptible "less resistant "to treatment," he adds.

Management Notes

According to live production manager Helms, litter management also helps to ensure the success of a coccidiosis vaccination program. "We make that a top priority," he adds. "All of our broiler houses are cleaned out and disinfected twice a year, spring and fall."

"We really appreciate the ease of application the vaccine spray cabinet offers," Kohler mentions. "No other form of coccidiosis control is as userfriendly."

What about chick coverage with the vaccine?

"Nearly perfect," Kohler reports. "We normally get greater than 95% 'takes,' and we often get as high as 98%. Since no vaccine is 100% effective, we don't concern ourselves with the small percentage that doesn't get covered."

According to Dr. Rick Phillips, a Schering-Plough Animal Health veterinarian based in Louisiana, the red dye used in Coccivac-B helps hatcheries monitor vaccine coverage. "It is believed that the chicks preen and ingest the vaccine orally," Phillips says.

Adds Helms, "With the spray cabinet, chicks are exposed to coccidiosis at an early age, so I am confident that immunity is established uniformly."

Townsends vaccinates for coccidiosis 4 days a week, and the 6-hour process to handle some 237,500 birds normally begins at 4:30 am.

The spray cabinet is checked several times during each of these four vaccinating cycles to make sure the system is administering the vaccine at the proper rate, which is 21 ml per box of 100 chicks.

"With our nozzle tips, we maintain a spray pattern from side to side and end to end inside the crates to make sure that the birds are totally covered," Kohler says.

Moreover, the spray cabinet is checked thoroughly once a week for routine maintenance and air pressure calibration.

Right Tool, Wrong Approach

There are no negative results associated with a properly designed and implemented coccidiosis vaccine program, Kohler asserts. But he is quick to point out that mismanagement can have a major impact on the success of the program.

"It's critical to use the vaccine at full dose," Kohler explains. "I know some companies that have tried cutting the recommended dose, but that plan just won't work. You have to administer one full dose for each bird to get optimum results."

"If you use any less than a full dose for each bird, you won't get optimum results and you'll create problems that will come back and haunt you," Kohler emphasizes. "Cutting the dose results in hit-and-miss vaccine takes, and you'll get some coccidiosis breaks you would not have gotten if you had followed the manufacturer's recommended protocol."

Producer panic can be another major hurdle to vaccination program success, Kohler adds. Some companies will vaccinate chicks correctly, but as soon as they see the birds exhibit a reaction such as lesions, they hit them with an anticoccidial, he observes.

"That knocks out the immunity the vaccine provides," Kohler says. "If producers follow the manufacturer's directions and just let nature take its course, the vaccine works like a charm."

Source: CocciForum Issue No.4, Schering-Plough Animal Health.

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