The disease level of a poultry flock may determine the profitability of a business.

Diseases have both indirect and direct causes, whereas indirect are linked to conditions that create stress to the birds and lower disease resistance, direct causes are mainly due to pathogens in the environment like bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi.

Among the various poultry diseases encountered in our poultry farms, respiratory diseases are more rampant and widespread.

Chicken mycoplasmas is one of the major diseases associated with difficulty in breathing and poor performance in affected flocks.

  1. What is mycoplasma disease and what causes it?

Mycoplasmas are bacterial-like organisms that do not have a cell wall, live within their host, and are likely to die outside due to dry environment and heat. In their host, they prefer the mucosal linings in the respiratory tracts.

They can stay in the hair of a poultry worker for three days, in the nose for a day, in feathers for two to four days, and in the egg material for six to 18 weeks. Although there are about 24 species that affect poultry, the most devastating one is M. gallisepticum which we will discuss today.

  1. What are the signs of Mycoplasma disease in chickens?

Depending on the immune status of the birds affected, signs can vary from mild to severe. Birds will sneeze and exhibit tracheal rales (small clicking, bubbling, or rattling sounds from the lungs). If this continues for long, there will be swelling around the nose (sinuses), nasal discharges and the eyes will appear inflamed (red, swollen, painful).

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In most cases it gets complicated with other pathogens like E. coli and presents as a chronic respiratory disease (CRD). If you walk into a house at night, you might think the birds are snoring. It is common to hear the farm hand saying “kuku zang’orota” the chickens are snoring.

  1. What are the economic impacts of this disease?

In both breeding stock and commercial layers, one can achieve a drop in egg production of 5-20 per cent, in reproductive flocks, a hatchability loss due to embryo mortality of 5-10 per cent.

Some farmers who decide to treat this condition will incur more losses in antibiotic therapy which rarely work and will eventually loose due to flock depopulation. In broilers, the farmers will see retarded growth rates of 20-30 per cent, lowered feed efficiencies of 10-20 per cent, increased mortality of 5-10 per cent and increased condemnation of carcasses during slaughter.

  1. Prevention

You must start with a negative flock. Please note that this disease can be passed from mother hen to day-old chick at hatch.

Buy your chicks from Mycoplasma-free breeders. Practice an All-in, All-out programme, this essentially means keeping only one batch of flocks of the same age in the farm. Restrict visitors and avoid sharing fibre egg trays from unknown source. Hygiene standards must be well maintained.

Poor ventilation and stuffy dusty environment can also cause sudden increase in upper respiratory infection in chickens. Ensure that the chickens get fresh air into the poultry unit to remove any buildup of dangerous gases during the day and night.

  1. Does vaccination work?

Yes there are killed and live vaccines available in the market. These vaccines are safe and efficient in reducing respiratory infections and drop in egg production. However, vaccination must be supported with good hygiene practices, rodent control, restricted flock visits and keeping away backyard flocks.

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The disadvantage of vaccination is that they are expensive, give limited protection against colonisation and can only be administered during the growing period.

Note that there are other diseases with similar clinical signs like Newcastle disease, Infectious Bronchitis, Coryza, E. coli, Aspergillosis, the list is long. To be sure what you are dealing with, contact a veterinarian as soon as you notice any odd signs.

[The writer is Head Vet at Kenchic, [email protected]]

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