Reports from IPPE 2024

Poultry industry told to prioritize immune health for profitability boost

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Georgijevic
© GettyImages/Georgijevic

Related tags Boehringer Ingelheim Data analytics immune health

A seasoned expert has been shedding light on how critical an aspect immune health is in poultry production.

Dr Rick Phillips, director of key account veterinarians at Boehringer Ingelheim Poultry, is urging a paradigm shift within the industry towards prioritizing immunity as a means to boost profitability for producers.

He stresses the necessity of addressing root causes rather than treating symptoms, particularly in light of the numerous challenges facing poultry farmers, and he underscores the trifecta of genetics, environment, and pathogens as central factors influencing poultry immunity and, consequently, performance.

With diseases like Enterococcus, inclusion body hepatitis (IBH), and secondary E. coli plaguing the US poultry sector, Phillips warns against the knee-jerk reliance on conventional disease remedies such as vaccines. Instead, he advocates for a more holistic approach to production management and assessment.

An incident such as a cold snap can result in an immune shift, making the birds more susceptible to disease, and allowing an opportunistic pathogen to take hold, or there could be ventilation or humidity issues, or other weaknesses in the management programs, he outlines.

Recognizing the vulnerability of knowledge transfer within the industry, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic-induced labor turnover, he suggests forging stronger partnerships between poultry producers and breeding companies to capitalize on genetic advancements. “Producers should lean on breeding companies for additional knowledge on rearing, and on the optimal feeding and housing conditions required to maximize the genetical potential of the birds,” he tells FeedNavigator.

A part of Boehringer Ingelheim's poultry health strategy is a meticulous examination of primary immune organs – the thymus, where T lymphocytes are produced and mature, and the bursa of Fabricius, where B lymphocytes mature - to pinpoint and tackle challenges to poultry immunity head-on.

Those specialists also try to discern whether a bird's compromised immunity stems from environmental factors or disease challenges, scrutinizing every link in the chain, from breeding and hatchery to production processes, he explains.

Integration of data analytics

Phillips draws attention to what he sees as a gap between nutrition and performance, a lack of information on the return on investment (ROI) from feed as it relates to bird health and growth.

He calls for greater integration of data analytics into production practices to remedy that and other challenges.

"In this industry, we're inundated with data points, but we have lacked the means to translate them into actionable insights, a cornerstone of precision agriculture. Although it's not Boehringer’s primary focus, I believe it should be, as information holds immense power. To fully unlock the genetic potential of our birds, we must harness data to monitor feed formulation, environmental conditions like temperature and air quality, and litter standards in real time. By analyzing sound patterns and employing camera technology to track bird movements, we can detect issues like lameness and correlate them with welfare, food safety, and performance metrics—areas currently treated separately but ripe for integration through effective data management.

“Moreover, leveraging this technology can yield significant immune health benefits, enabling us to evaluate the health status of vital immune organs like the bursa and thymus throughout production. Even concerning pathogens like salmonella, we can identify patterns and develop algorithms to mitigate risks.”

Data analytics will play a crucial role in shaping Boehringer Ingelheim's offerings, capturing the effects of feed ingredients, ensuring that addressing sustainability and welfare does not compromise performance, and seamlessly integrating all of those aspects with health, explains Phillips.

By focusing on foundational health and embracing new technology, the poultry expert predicts a future where the industry can overcome obstacles and drive enhanced productivity.

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