In poultry houses, animal density, dust and heat permanently expose birds to various forms of respiratory issues. Poultry animals are endowed with effective mechanisms to expel irritants, microorganisms and spores, but these defenses are fragile. How can we improve the air quality of chicken, turkey and layer farms in order to prevent respiratory issues?
The respiratory tract of poultry plays a very important role for chicken, turkeys and layers, duck: it provides oxygen from the air to the various cells of the body.
The organs involved in the respiratory system are constantly exposed to the external environment and they are therefore subject to infections.
Poultry breathing organs: a vulnerable system
Poultry have air sacs outside their lungs. Air sacs provide the lungs with air continuously, yet they do not participate in gas exchanges.
They can be compared to a bellow. Though certainly useful for flying birds, they can be a serious problem in poultry production.These organs have a thin membrane that is only slightly vascularized, which makes them difficult to treat in cases of infection.
They are closely connected to many organs other than the lungs - including bones! - and are subject to infections. A localized infection of the respiratory system can easily spread to the digestive system or the oviduct and vice versa through pathogen migrations, such as septicemia due to colibacillary superinfection in poultry.
How do the respiratory systems of poultry react when air quality is degraded?
The trachea and bronchi walls are covered with cilia. By contracting, these cilia cause the mucus and all the particles sticking inside to move towards the upper parts of the respiratory tree where they are expectorated (sneezed out) or swallowed. This is named the "mucociliary escalator".
Now it sometimes happens that this system cannot effectively play its defense role, if it is saturated with too much dust, paralyzed by an excess of ammonia concentration, or destroyed by a viral infection. It should be noted that an excess of ammonia concentration in the air will paralyze the cilia of the respiratory system, and that this paralysis starts from 10 ppm for poultry, while humans only smell this molecule starting from concentrations of 15 ppm.
Any such attack on the defenses of the respiratory system will affect the quality and quantity of mucus in chickens, turkeys and layers. If mucus is too viscous or too abundant it can cause a blockage in the trachea. This may result in a bacterial infection or animal death by asphyxiation.
Dust: vectors for transmission of microbial, viral and fungal agents in poultry houses
Dust consists of tiny particles light enough to stay suspended in the air. Breathing congestion is caused by particles of feed debris, droppings and straw which provoke breathing difficulties.
These particles are trapped in and released into the environment by nasal secretions and sneezes.
Dust is an important vector for the transmission of various microbial, viral and fungal agents.
In a very dusty environment, 1 m3 of air can contain more than 10 million microorganisms!
How can we manage air quality for better performance in poultry houses?
Adequately managed ventilation is essential for good performances and correct sanitary conditions throughout the production phase.
Ventilation refreshes the ambient air, bringing in oxygen (O2), while removing excess unwanted and harmful gases stemming from breathing (CO2, H2O), combustion of heating resources (CO2, CO, H2O), and various fermentations in litter (H2O, NH3).
Ventilation also expels humidity that has accumulated in the air from droppings, water waste and breathing and removes the dust which can sometimes be a vector for respiratory issues and diseases. It also allows the farmer to better manage the heat level inside the poultry house by temperature through probe reading and by “perceived” temperature by the animals.
A healthy respiratory system eliminates 80% of germs inhaled within 1 to 3 hours when the air is slightly polluted. In the event of heavy or persistent pollution, the animal’s defenses are worn down by overuse and infectious agents can penetrate deeply into the respiratory tree, from which it is very difficult to remove them. As a result, animals are struck by various infections that have a negative impact on performance: colibacillosis, aspergillosis, mycoplasmosis.
The respiratory system is key and fragile organs, essential to the animal's well-being and performance. It is extremely important to protect it in order to guarantee good animal performance and health. Therefore, it is necessary to pay attention to the following factors:
- The quality and regulation of the ventilation system
- Overall air quality in the poultry house
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