To Treat or not To Treat... that seems to be the question. This is my first of probably many attempts to show my side of the 'anti-everything-farming-related' story. I saw a CBC special interview the other day, and it (pardon the expression) ruffled my feathers. So, here is my rebuttal.
I am a chicken farmer. I see lots of chickens, everyday. Broiler Breeders. These are the loving parents of the baby chicks that go to our well run broiler farms in Ontario. I work my butt off in trying to keep barns repaired, feeders working, drinkers at proper levels, ventilation adjustments (all the time!), and observing thousands of chickens in their environment. I do not leave the barn to fend for itself, it takes my entire being to keep stuff running.
The thing I can't control beyond anything physical (feed, light, water and management) is bird health. We have stringent biosecurity... changing coveralls and footwear before entering each barn. We have a contracted rodent manangement company to keep our bait stations clean and functional with a rotating rodenticide program. (Yes, we do try to KILL the rodents that like to spread disease, sorry animal lovers, but I protect my own animals!!) We clean the barns after each flock goes out, (takes 4-6 weeks of intense power washing and slugging) and fog a disinfectant to kill anything that may infect our new flock. So, with all these and some intense management, how do our birds still once in a while get sick?
Our barns house roosters and hens in a free-range pen. There are slats for the nests to sit on as well as female drinkers and feeders. The raised slats are a good way to ensure the manure is isolated underneath so the birds don't have to sit in it. We do have a 'scratch' area down the centre of the pen, so males and females can breed on a solid floor. The males drink and eat here. Shavings bed this floor for bird comfort.
Birds are animals. There is a definate pecking order in every pen... in fact, in quite a few areas within these pens. There are dominant animals, and submissive animals (hmmm, not too different than humans eh??). The dominant animals can cause strife. They can cause injury if not kept under check. The weaker birds will eventually be culled out by their own kind. Not always pretty. This is nature. What happens when birds get injured? Do I cull out every bird that gets knocked around a bit? Doesn't THAT sound a bit inhumane? If these birds go down, they will develop a secondary infection. That is when I prefer treatment.
Our hatchery is Cargill. Kudos to them for being one of the first hatcheries to instill antibiotic protocol with all their producers. In this, every time we think a flock is to a point of medication, we must get a veterinarians OK and a prescription for usage and withdrawl dates. This to me sounds like we 'Farmers' DO know and record when we treat our animals, unlike what the CBC broadcast stated. I have treatments written down in a quality assurance program binder we are required to keep in our facilities. The Ontario Hatching Egg producers are a small, but mindful group. We follow rules because they benefit us. We need to sustain our flocks, our farms and our future. We do not WANT to treat birds. Its an expensive and exhausting road to go down.
Whoooh, that feels better...