Fine tuning timing and management helped Pilgrim's Pride master the art of coccidiosis vaccination.

McIntyre: 'We achieved good success with our new schedule.'

Managing coccidiosis has always been a high priority for Pilgrim's Pride, a Texasbased poultry producer that last year marketed some 2.5 billion pounds of chicken in the United States and Mexico.

In January 2001, the company acquired the Harrisonburg, Va.-based Wampler Foods, including a broiler and turkey operation in Marshville, N.C. Since then, management objectives at the Marshville site have included implementing more alternatives to in-feed anticoccidials and finding a cost advantage in doing so. "Of all the diseases associated with broiler production, coccidiosis has the biggest impact on performance," says Dr. Beth Krushinskie, corporate veterinarian for the Pilgrim's Pride Eastern Division, based in Harrisonburg, Va. "Therefore, controlling coccidiosis is a producer's biggest opportunity to increase profitability."

Room for improvement

Controlling coccidiosis might also be a producer's greatest opportunity to improve flock health.

"Coccidiosis is not completely under control in the poultry industry and there is still a lot of room for improvement," Krushinskie says, "but our coccidiosis- vaccination program works great for us, and we believe vaccination is an effective tool for large bird growout operations."

The veterinarian reports seeing no major reaction problems following the use of Coccivac®-B, a live-oocyst coccidiosis vaccine. In fact, while Pilgrim's Pride does not release production figures, the Marshville operation has seen excellent bird performance while using Coccivac-B in its anticoccidial program, according to Don McIntyre, live operations manager.

"Coccidiosis is a burden that hangs over us all the time, and we are limited in the number of options available to control the disease," Krushinskie adds. "The vaccine is one 'step-out-of-thebox' tool that really helps to alleviate the problem."

Commitment to health

Pilgrim's Pride's North Carolina complex processes some 650,000 birds a week. Because of its commitment to a total health program, the operation now ranks in the top 25% for low condemnation and typically experiences 96% livability per week. The company's North Carolina coccidiosis-vaccination program didn't always run that smoothly, however.

Back in December 1999, when the operation was still owned by Wampler, it started vaccinating for coccidiosis instead of using in-feed anticoccidials.

But the results weren't pretty.

"Houses became wet and birds experienced enteritis between 2 and 3 weeks of age," McIntyre relates.

The problem was traced not to the vaccine, but to several management issues, according to Dr. John McCarty, Plantation, Fla., a consulting veterinarian for Schering-Plough Animal Health Corporation who worked closely with Wampler and now Pilgrim's Pride

The biggest problem, McIntyre says, focused on which day chicks were released from the brood area. The company had been turning birds into the full house around day 14 during winter months and about day 11 during warm weather.

At the advice of McCarty and other Schering-Plough Animal Health veterinarians, Pilgrim's tweaked their coccidiosis- vaccination schedule and changed to a summertime regime when birds entered the full house at a younger age.

In 2000, the North Carolina complex vaccinated for coccidiosis in August and September. In 2001 the vaccine was used from June through October, and this year from May through October. The vaccine, which contains live oocysts that are highly sensitive to the more traditional anticoccidials, helped to seed poultry houses with more manageable strains of Eimeria, and set the stage for more effective anticoccidial usage in fall and winter.

Humble Beginnings, Incredible Growth

The Pilgrim's Pride success story began in 1946 with two industrious brothers, $1,000 cash and a $2,500 bank note to be repaid in monthly installments.

That same year, Aubrey and Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim sold their first chicken from a pen behind their farm store in Pittsburg, Tex. The brothers occasionally gave away as many as 100 baby chicks with each 25-lb and 50-lb. bag of Burrus Texo Chicken Feed, milled in Fort Worth, at what was then the largest feed mill in the country.

Later, the Pilgrim brothers bought back some of the grown birds to sell at a profit. Demand for the chickens grew, creating the foundation for the international vertically integrated poultry company that thrives today.

While Aubrey Pilgrim died in 1966, Bo is still involved with Pilgrim's Pride and currently serves as chairman of the board.

Under the leadership of David Van Hoose, chief executive officer, chief operating officer and president, Pilgrim's Pride has become the third largest poultry firm in the United States and the second largest in Mexico.

The firm operates five administrative and sales offices, 13 feed mills, 13 hatcheries and grow-out operations, 15 processing and slaughter plants, five further prepared food facilities and 14 distribution centers in Arizona, Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas and Mexico.

A "give the customer what they want" marketing mindset has led to the development of more than 1,000 different Pilgrim's Pride products. The fresh retail line is sold regionally in the central, southwestern and western states, as well as in northern and central Mexico. Food service and industrial products are sold nationally, with 12% of sales being exported to some 73 countries worldwide.

"We produce 83.2 million dozen breeder eggs for our hatcheries per year and 41 million dozen commercial table eggs per year," says Bo Pilgrim.

"We place 16 million head of chickens with our contract growers each week," he continues. "We ship over 500 18-wheelers full of finished product per day, and we sell $10 million worth of chickens, turkeys and eggs per day to consumers and institutions."

Last year, thanks to the efforts of more than 2,500 contract growers and 24,500 employees on a $1 million per day payroll, Pilgrim's Pride processed 44 million pounds of chicken weekly in the United States, plus 11 million pounds weekly in Mexico, for a 2001 total of approximately 2.5 billion pounds. Pilgrim's Pride 2001 output also included 300 million pounds of turkey and 50 million dozen eggs. Not only did the Pilgrim brothers make good on that original $2,500 note, which was repaid within 5 years, the company they founded posted 2001 revenues of approximately $2.2 billion last year, up 32% from 2000.

Seasonal considerations

"That's not to say that coccidiosis vaccination is more effective in the warmer months," McCarty points out.

"Coccidiosis vaccine can be used in any season as long as moderately dry litter conditions can be maintained and stocking density can be managed to control the vaccination reaction. Some companies, however, find it difficult to use coccidiosis vaccine in winter because ventilation is reduced and birds are held in the partial house longer than 14 days."

"We achieved good success with our new schedule," McIntyre says. "The most important thing we learned was that in order for vaccination to be successful, birds have to be out of the brood chamber and into the whole house before 12 days of age."

"For vaccinated birds, we recommend making that transition to full house between 7 and 10 days of age during warm weather," McCarty says.

Right from the start

Tomberlin: '"�it's critical to vaccinate during a time period that's both good for the birds and good for the contract growers.'

Under the direction of hatchery manager Doug Jones, Pilgrim's Pride vaccinates for coccidiosis in the hatchery on day 1, using the Spraycox® cabinet "a specially designed applicator that showers birds with the vaccine. A red dye supplied with Coccivac-B helps to monitor vaccine coverage, while also encouraging preening among the chicks.

This process, McCarty explains, actually helps birds ingest the live vaccine's oocysts that help them build natural, lifelong immunity to the costly disease "an important consideration when feeding larger birds. At its Marshville complex, Pilgrim's Pride grows chickens to about 56 days, or an average live weight of 7 pounds per bird.

"The first vaccination dose cycle provides the greatest management challenges relative to coccidiosis control," McCarty points out. "However, the first cycle dose seeds the litter with live oocysts, and once the litter is seeded down, it becomes easier to manage the birds during later cycles."

Trouble-free transition

Broiler grow-out manager Terry Tomberlin helps to oversee Marshville's 80 to 85 grower operations that produce 80,000 to 222,000 birds each in a wide variety of building styles and sizes. He says the switch to Coccivac-B coccidiosis vaccine has been virtually trouble-free since changing the coccidiosis vaccination schedule and the day on which birds go into the full house.

"Our birds have experienced few adverse reactions and very little, if any, enteritis," he says. "Having to work through the initial problems and learning to use the vaccine to our best advantage has made us better managers. We now realize that, for our operation, it's critical to vaccinate during a time period that's both good for the birds and good for the contract growers."

Since implementing a warm-weather vaccination schedule into its coccidiosis control regime, the Marshville complex hasn't made any major management changes other than moving birds into full house by 12 days of age. "Our birds require very little medication, because we strive to manage our way out of problems," Tomberlin says.

Sanitation is also a major priority.

"We clean our buildings and change litter once a year," McIntyre reports. "Half of our growers clean in the spring, the other half during the fall. The down time generally runs 12 to 14 days."

Good communication essential

A team effort has been critical in the Pilgrim's Pride coccidiosis-control program, adds Tommy Long, feed mill manager in Marshville. He oversees ingredient purchasing, milling and delivery.

"Good communication with the feed mill is critical to the successful transition of a coccidiosis-vaccination program," Long emphasizes. "Accidentally feeding medicated feed to a vaccinated flock could kill the vaccinal organisms and interrupt the immunization process. Even worse, mistakenly giving unmedicated feed to a flock that hasn't been vaccinated could cause a full-blown coccidiosis outbreak."

"We're accustomed to dealing with a number of different feed formulas all the time, but there are logistics concerns we've had to work out regarding bin space for medicated and unmedicated feed," Long says.

"Communications are also important in making certain that flocks get feed with coccidiostats according to the designated schedule."

While Pilgrim's Pride won't comment on the exact savings associated with using a coccidiosis vaccine in its program, McIntyre says, "We find the vaccine very cost-effective compared to in-feed anticoccidials. I really believe in the product."

Source: CocciForum Issue No.5, Schering-Plough Animal Health.

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