Ostrich Veterinary Health Plan

Newsletter No 55 - Item 3 & 4

An important element of any assurance scheme is the Veterinary Health Plan.

The Veterinary Health Plan (VHP) is a requirement of most Farm Assurance Schemes and retailers “codes of practice”.

The VHP is a document agreed between the farm’s vet and the farm management working in partnership.  The plan involves regular visits by the farm’s own vet.  The recommendation is the same vet carries out these visits to maintain consistency.

VHPs need to address a number of areas to achieve those objectives, such as:

-  flock security/biosecurity
-  basic performance parameters
-  the monitoring of body condition
-  general ostrich welfare
-  basic disease control programmes
-  recording, monitoring and controlling disease on the farm
-  the use of medicines, vaccines, their safety and their recording

This newsletter focused on the veterinary health plan as it applies to ostrich, as most vets will admit that information on ostrich is limited.  (Note at 2013 this statement remains true).  The way to approach the development of an Ostrich specific plan is to look at the plans designed for other species and then adapt them to ostrich. Just like the Business Plan, the Veterinary Health Plan is a living document that will be under continual review to improve and update with experience and current market conditions.

Flock Security
The ability to supply markets on a consistent basis is paramount to success of any business. The most influential management area that controls consistent supply in livestock production is the control of disease.  Consistency of product quality is also extremely important, but only relevant once the security of supply is under management control.

The role of the VHP is to help identify weaknesses in farm production that influence the ability to limit the impact of disease.

Basic Performance Parameters
These are examples with ostrich of some of the basic performance parameters that provide an indication as to the success of the management systems to deliver good health and welfare as well as profit:

-  egg fertility

-  feed conversion

-  egg hatchability

-  deaths

-  hatching difficulties

-  injuries

-  breeder culling rates

-  incidence and type of lameness

-  percentage chick to slaughter/breeder

-  medicine use and reason

-  metabolic diseases

The WOA benchmark targets are very achievable performance parameters.

Monitoring Body Condition
Currently there are very few references on how to establish optimal body condition of ostrich.   Figure 1 below illustrate the extremes currently experienced in the industry.  The hen on the left is very thin with poor feather quality when compared to the hen on the right.  You will notice also, how little muscle this hen has across her back by comparison to the hen on the right.

The hen on the left had a ration that was mainly grain based, with limited vitamins and minerals.  The hen on the right received rations that are of high nutrient value with high levels of vitamins and minerals.

comparative hens

Figure 1 - Comparative Hens

Apart from visual inspection, the way to physically assess the body condition of ostrich:

Quote: When the backbone at the highest place on the bird's back is protruding above the surrounding flesh, the bird is too thin. When the backbone at the highest place on the bird's back is indented below the surrounding flesh, the bird is too fat and needs decreased feed—or a different feed formulation.  The optimum Body Condition is when the backbone at the highest point on their back is perfectly even with the surrounding flesh End Quote [1].

3.4.  General Ostrich Welfare
At the most basic level, this covers the internationally recognised five freedoms. These basic freedoms are:

-  Freedom from hunger and thirst
By ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour

- Freedom from discomfort
By providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area

- Freedom from pain, injury or disease
By prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment

- Freedom to express normal behaviour
By providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind

- Freedom from fear and distress
By ensuring conditions and care which avoid mental suffering

Top of that list is freedom from hunger.  The current poor production results – variable egg production and low conversion of eggs to slaughter/mature birds, is a key indicator that the industry in general is failing to achieve that first freedom through the inadequate supply of the right nutrients in the diet.

Basic Disease Control Programs
Strategies, procedures and the recording of general policies fall into this category.

- cleansing and hygiene policies including disinfectants used
§ Buildings
§ Pens
§ Water Troughs
§ Feed Troughs
- pest control (including rodents and birds)
- parasite controls (internal and external)
- hospital and isolation pens
- casualty slaughter

Recording, Monitoring and Controlling disease on farm
Good records are the key to not only monitoring disease issues but also performance trends as the two are closely linked.  A drop in production is a sign of possible disease problems.  Another cause for a drop in production, and/or more serious health problems, can be a feed problem.  Feed problems can be such things as a bad ingredient, sudden change of ingredient, poor mixing or insufficient water intake.

In addition to the normal farm production and feed data, the type of records required relating to disease are:

- Diseases identified
- Age of animal affected
- Method of Treatment
- Method of Control
- Review Periods
- Effectiveness of control programs

The movement records of any animals moved onto the farm or off the farm are also of importance in monitoring and controlling disease.

The use of medicines, vaccines, their safety and their recording
This section covers the recording of all medicines used in the unit.  The VHP should follow the legal requirements of the country in which the business is operating and include any additional requirements imposed by country the unit is exporting or buyer.  The type of information required is:

- the date treatment commenced
- the animal it is used on
- its identification and location
- the condition or disease treated
- the medicine used
- the batch number of the bottle
- the dose rate given
- the number of days that the medicine is used
- the withdrawal period in days
- the date at which the withdrawal period expires (the date of clearance)
- a note of who has administered the medicine
- details of all medicines purchased

Also included in this section are the procedures for:

-  the safe disposal of all clinical waste
-  storage of medicines
-  off-label use of medicines

Off-label use of medicines is the use of a product not licensed for the specie treated.  This is very common with ostrich as there are very few, if any, approved medicines for ostrich in most countries.  The laws will vary in different countries, but generally, this is allowed provided the medicine has a licence for food-producing species with an approved meat withdrawal period.  Check the law within your country and any country the unit exports meat to.

The role of Nutrition in Disease Control
The role of that nutrition in the control of disease is well documented and becoming increasingly important with governments eliminating the use of antibiotics in meat producing livestock.

This quote from a publication issued this month relates to human nutrition, but the same principles apply to livestock nutrition.  The article relates to Vitamin D.

Quote:  Meanwhile two other studies recently claimed that if we all got adequate amounts of this vitamin it would be possible to cut rates of breast, prostate and colon cancer by 50%.  And that’s not all – yet another research paper by researchers at the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta suggested that the reason we are all more likely to get colds and flu in the winter could be because that’s the time it’s hard to get enough Vitamin D.  Its role as an infection fighter could maybe used to tackle new enemies like bird flu, tuberculosis and MRSA. End quote[2]

When reading any discussion on the effect of a single nutrient, always remember that nutrients work in harmony with other essential nutrients.  The role of nutrition in human and animal health to fight disease and building a strong immune system is the foundation for disease control.  

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[1] Daryl Holle Body Condition is Most Important:  http://www.blue-mountain.net/feed/feedprogost.htm#BodyCondition

[2] Patrick Holford Special Report No. 18 – Vitamin D – you are almost certainly not getting enough

One comment

  1. […] The Veterinary Health Plan discussed earlier introduced the Five Freedoms as an important component of the plan.  As a reminder the Five Freedoms are the same across all species and are: […]

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