Massive investments and growth have been witnessed in the poultry sector in Kenya. From stable markets to improved breeds and highly advanced poultry systems, to go to the next level, the next big leap is to train our workforce on good poultry husbandry and equip our poultry attendants with better skills in stockmanship, healthcare and management. A good poultry attendant doesn’t necessarily need high level education or certificate in animal production. They must however know how to use their five senses to manage a flock efficiently and profitably. Here is how:
A good stockman must master the art of careful listening to abnormal sounds made by birds. If you keenly listen to breathing and respiratory sounds, you can identify any deviation from normal behaviour. Snoring, squawking, wheezing sounds are worth noting and inform the owner or attending vet. During brooding period, hot environment is associated with noisy and squawking chicks.
While in the unit, an attendant need to be extremely observant on behaviours of a group or individual birds in the coop. I have made it a habit of visiting units during feeding time, this allows me to see chick’s distribution, whether drinkers or feeders are adequate, sick chickens have low appetite and will be left behind or huddle together during feeding time. Check quality of air and litter, colour and consistency of feacal droppings. This can help diagnose an ailment within the flock. White watery diarrhoea is associated with Gumboro, green discharge with Newcastle while red droppings with Coccidiosis. Poor posture, aloofness of the birds can be an indicator of a problem in the flock.
You can pick up stuffy air or ammonia levels the moment you enter the unit. However, with prolonged stay in the units, this is unnoticeable. I recently got a call from a farmer who had lost 2,000 birds in two hours one early morning. I suspected carbon monoxide poisoning from the unburnt charcoal. The unit was stuffy and with poor ventilation.
What can you taste while inside the poultry unit? Feed and water are the most important intakes in a poultry unit and contribute to 95 per cent of the health, wellbeing and meat and egg production. Most farmers I have worked with do not trust their water and feed given to their birds and will not taste it. Fair enough, if you cannot do it then make it a habit to take samples for testing periodically in a veterinary lab or agricultural institutions like KARI or university. Birds prefer water with Ph of 5-6 which incidentally also make chlorination effective. Good water quality of low microbiological counts and acidic PH helps improve gut health and general health and performance of your flock.
This is the most important skill needed while in the flock unit. Hold individual bird and carefully check the skin cover, the fleshing of the chest, the limbs, eyes, wattles and comb. Check for any abnormality and report to your vet if you are unsure. The beak should be clean with no nasal discharges, the tongue should be continuous and moist. The eyes should be clear with no discharge or any abnormal swelling while the skin cover should be clean with no blisters or warts. The vents should be clean with no pasting and no sign of diarrhoea. The legs, feet and hocks should be well formed with no signs of blisters or scratches. These skills are learnt after a period and experience from several cycles of different flocks in different seasons.
[Writer is Head vet at Kenchic]