Q&A: Inside the new world of poultry health

A new generation of poultry production is taking shape. With it comes a new era in poultry health services.

New expectations, new challenges and new opportunities all are coming together, particularly as demand shifts toward an emphasis on more judicious use of antibiotics including antibiotic-free production. A major advantage is emerging in the form of innovation-focused veterinary companies that are embracing a progressive mindset and expanded role to help producers and their industry meet the challenge.

Dr. Tom Inglis of Poultry Health Services is a leading poultry veterinarian who has a unique vantage point on the front line of an evolving industry. In addition to his role as founder and managing partner at Poultry Health Services, he is also one of the principals involved in Poultry Partners. Poultry Partners is an in innovative model started by Poultry Health Services, which provides veterinary and health management services, in collaboration with Nutrition Partners, which offers nutrition options and formulations. The combined initiative offers an integrated approach to animal health, nutrition, on-farm management and business development services.

In the following Q&A, Inglis provides insights on the keys to success in the emerging new landscape:

Q: What are the big factors driving change in the poultry industry?

The poultry industry is no different than other sectors of animal agriculture. There are new expectations from customers and consumers. New rules and standards, both from within and outside industry, area having an impact. Overall poultry production is being asked to continually improve transparency and sustainability in line with the new marketplace expectations.

The range of issues and opportunities coming together includes the need to address antimicrobial stewardship, animal care and sustainability excellence, along with overall profitability, while meeting the increasingly specific requirements of customers and consumers spanning a broadened range of diversified marketing opportunities.

The role of veterinarians in diagnosing and treating health issues has never been more important. However, we are increasingly asked do so with an eye to these additional requirements, pressures, demands and opportunities – aligning poultry health strategies within a broader game plan for success tailored to the specific needs and objectives of each operation.

Q: What in particular is behind the shift to reduced antibiotics including the rising trend toward antibiotic-free production?

This has been a market trend that has been developing for well over a decade now. There is pressure everywhere, not just in agriculture, to have more judicious use of antimicrobials. At the same time, consumers are more interested than ever in how their food is produced and they are challenging industry to raise the bar on everything we do. Part of that expectation is more judicious use of antimicrobials. We’re seeing this reflected in the rising demand for antibiotic-free meat products, including poultry.

Q: What will be expected from poultry farms?

Antibiotics still have a role when they are needed to treat sick animals. But today we are being asked to minimize that need. As much as possible, the objective is antibiotic-free production. If animals need antimicrobial treatment, they can be pulled from the antibiotic-free production stream.

With the new rules now implemented in the U.S. and those coming for Canada by December 2018, therapeutic use of antimicrobials and any use for non-health reasons – i.e. purely for growth promotion – will no longer be allowed.

Q: How can the industry meet these new expectations?

The good news is we are better equipped than ever to provide what the market is demanding. We can achieve a high level of production that is antibiotic-free, without compromising the health and welfare of the animals or the productivity and profitability of poultry farms.

The key to success is to take advantage of new knowledge and innovations in areas such as health, nutrition, animal care and bio-security. By focusing more on disease prevention, we can achieve optimal production while greatly reducing the usage of and need for antimicrobials.

Q: How can progress toward more judicious use help the image of the industry?

Our industry has already come a long way down this path and it gives us a good news story to tell. We have come a long way in judicious use and more targeted use. We are becoming more innovative and efficient. We have tested ourselves to see the opportunity to increase antibiotic-free production in flocks and conditions where that is viable, and to substantially reduce antimicrobial usage in conventional production systems. In doing so, we have helped to preserve the effectiveness and lifespan of valuable antimicrobial options.

All of this is good for our industry and good for our relationship with consumers. The rising demands to reduce antibiotics use have ultimately been a positive challenge that has driven a lot of positive change.

Q: What advantages does the poultry sector have to keep improving?

With our controlled environments and the natural evolution of poultry production, we have a lot of advantages that fit well with antibiotic-free production systems.

In recent years we have done a lot of work to build on these, by advancing disease prevention strategies and by implementing improved approaches to promote bird health and welfare. We have come a long way with ‘all in – all-out’ production, which has many advantages. All of this is now paying off at the right time.

Q: How can collaborative approaches help further raise the bar?

Continual improvement will always be the name of the game. We have to keep getting better. I think the next step is to improve the use of integrated strategies. There has been a lot of advancement in nutrition as well as in health and welfare. The more we can bring both areas together, the better.

When you start focusing more on prevention rather than treatment, the lines start to disappear and you want to work more with people with expertise on the feed and nutrition sides. We’ve taken a big step in that direction with Poultry Partners.

Q: What are the advantages of the Poultry Partners model?

Rather than simply a strict health focus, there is a rising need for veterinarians to adopt bigger picture viewpoints and to contribute to broader strategies involving collaboration and coordination with additional areas of expertise. Health approaches and considerations ultimately touch all aspects a poultry operation. We can have a stronger central role in overall strategy and helping producers reconcile and align various pressures and needs. This is an approach we have embraced with our own practice. We see it as the way of the future.

Poultry Partners is an in model that involves Poultry Health Services and Nutrition Partners. We work collaboratively under this banner. Poultry Health Services provides veterinary and health management services. Nutrition Partners offers nutrition options and formulations. The combined work of both companies under Poultry Partners allows to offer an integrated approach to animal health, nutrition, on-farm management and business development services.

We believe this model is an excellent fit with today’s needs. There’s no doubt we have entered an important period of evolution for commercial poultry production that involves much greater complexity to optimize production and align with the expectations of the marketplace. I believe we are up to the challenge, but the old ways will not do. We need to evolve.

At the farm level, it starts with better teamwork and integrated strategies across different areas of expertise. We can’t work or think in silos. We need a new level of integration to succeed.

Further insights about Poultry are available on the Poultry Partners website, www.poultrypartners.ca.