NAE production: Helping contract growers navigate maze of new challenges

Tom Tabler, PhD talkes to Poultry Health Today
calendar icon 30 July 2022
clock icon 3 minute read

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“No antibiotics ever” (NAE) production now accounts for nearly 50% of broiler production in the US. Although I personally have grave concerns about the sustainability of NAE production, its rise in popularity might be viewed as a testament to the poultry industry’s openness to consumer trends and willingness to try new production methods.

No one ever said NAE production would be easy, however. It’s created a host of new challenges for contract growers who’ve needed to make an awful lot of adjustments to accommodate NAE birds.

Ratcheting up

To make NAE production sustainable — in other words, to make it work while maintaining high standards for health, welfare and performance — it’s clear that management practices in an NAE production system must be ratcheted up several notches. What was considered “clean” before NAE is not “clean” under NAE. Sanitation to prevent contamination of birds with bacteria must be a top priority throughout the production system, from pullet flocks to broiler farms.

How do we make NAE work? Let’s start with hatching eggs. To reduce the bacterial load that thousands of eggs bring into hatcheries, we need to start by setting only clean eggs — whether it’s an NAE program or not. NAE just makes it more important to do so. If you are in an NAE program, give serious thought to refraining from setting floor/slat eggs. Unfortunately, most complexes need those eggs to make the numbers work so this may not be a realistic option in all cases, but floor/slat eggs are just not as clean as nest-box eggs and pose a risk to the cleanliness of the egg pack and the hatchery...

Focus on dry litter

Hatching eggs are at the mercy of the breeder-house environment. Litter, slats, nest pads and egg belts are all potential sources of contamination. I tell the broiler-breeder folks I work with that dry floors are key to any NAE program. If you lose control of your litter, you’ve lost control of the egg pack. Wet floors and clean eggs simply don’t go together. You can have one or the other — but you can’t have both.

It’s a similar situation in the broiler house. If you lose control of your litter, you’ve lost control of the flock. Coccidiosis and necrotic enteritis in broiler flocks are much worse under wet litter conditions.

Long before any of us ever heard of NAE production, I was telling growers that dry litter fixes lots of problems. That was true in 1979 when I first started servicing chickens, and it’s even truer today...

Lessons learned

I’m a live-production guy so I spend a lot of time walking through poultry houses and talking with poultry-complex personnel and growers. If I don’t drive away from someone’s farm thinking I learned more from them than they did from me today, I’m a little disappointed in myself. It’s better to listen than to talk. High points I’ve gleaned about NAE broiler production:

  • All-vegetable diets work better...
  • Litter management is critical...
  • Coccidiosis vaccination works...
  • The definition of “clean” ...
  • Ratchet up management in pullets...
  • Don’t run out of feed...
  • Don’t clean out ...
  • Water quality is important...
  • Consider reducing bird density ...
  • Give houses a rest...
  • Windrow litter ...
  • Consider alternative products ...
  • Too much light ...
  • Monitor temperatures closely ...
  • Reduce stress levels...

Tom Tabler

Extension Professor, Mississippi State University Extension Service, Poultry Science Department at Mississippi State, Mississippi

Poultry Health Today

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