Assessment of biosecurity practices in broiler chicken farms in Gharbia Governorate, Egypt
The aim of this study was to assess biosecurity measurers and practices in broiler chicken farms in one of the highly populated areas of the Nile Delta, Egypt. A cross sectional study was conducted in which 267 broiler chicken farms were selected from Gharbia Governorate. In addition to data collected by individual interviews using structured questionnaires, interviewers' observations were also recorded. Descriptive statistics were obtained for the key variables from the questionnaire. A univariate binary logistic regression model, with yes/no outcomes as responses and farm size as a reference was used for comparing management practices across broiler chicken farms. About 60% of farms were small scale of less than 5,000 birds per production cycle. The main source of chicks was breeder companies and almost all farms sold broilers to live bird traders. The distances between farms and between farms and the residential areas were less than that specified by the Egyptian law for poultry farms. More than 70% of farms had no official veterinary supervision and in most farms, there were no hygienic handling and disposal of dead poultry and poultry manure.
In conclusion, most of broiler chicken farms in the study area were of small scale with low or no biosecurity measures, which increase the likelihood of disease transmission between farms and between farms and backyard poultry and increase the risk of human exposure to potential health hazards. Policy makers should take into account the perception and attitudes of producers in order to implement effective and applicable biosecurity measures. They should also collaborate with private sectors such as breeder companies and veterinarians to spread the awareness and to motivate actors along the poultry value chain to implement biosecurity measures to protect wealth and health. Further studies for identifying knowledge, attitudes and practices of different actors involved in poultry production in Egypt toward biosecurity measures are required.
Poultry industry represents an important sector in agricultural industry, particularly in developing countries where small commercial and backyard systems are often extensive and dominating the industry (Conan et al., 2012). In Egypt, about 70% of broilers are produced by medium to large-scale commercial farms with the remaining 30% produced by small-scale village farms (Kaoud, 2007, El Nagar and Ibrahim, 2007). In addition to its importance for the livelihoods, agricultural economy and food security, poultry meat is an important source of protein for the Egyptian population and it represents about 40% of protein consumption (Meleigy, 2007, El Nagar and Ibrahim, 2007). The growth rate of poultry production was increasing fast and the local production of poultry meat was sufficient to satisfy home consumption and about two million birds were exported annually before the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 outbreak in 2006 (Hosny, 2006, Taha, 2004, El Nagar and Ibrahim, 2007). However, this increase in production and the number of poultry farms and other associated establishments was not according to a well-defined long term plan (Abdelwhab and Hafez, 2011). This resulted in high proportion of medium to small scale farms were not under the supervision of the official authorities and consequently monitoring and early detection of poultry diseases are not possible. In addition to lack of planning, supervision and effective notification system, there are insufficient biosecurity measures in most of small to medium scale poultry farms. In poultry farms, biosecurity comprises of a comprehensive range of measures to minimise or prevent the introduction of potential infection into poultry premises. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), poultry production systems are classified into four sectors based on the production scale and the level of biosecurity. Sector 1 consists of integrated broiler and breeder farms with clear production goals and clearly defined and implemented standard operating procedures for biosecurity. It is an industrial integrated system with high-level biosecurity where birds/products are marketed commercially. Sector 2 is commercial poultry production system with moderate to high biosecurity, birds/products are usually marketed commercially, and strict prevention of contact with other poultry or wildlife exists. Sector 3 is commercial poultry production system with low to minimal biosecurity, and birds/products usually enter the live bird markets. Sector 4 consists of village, household or backyard production with minimal biosecurity, and birds/products consumed locally or may be sold at the live bird markets (FAO, 2004). In Egypt, poultry production system doesn't seem to have this clear classification particularly in sectors 3 and 4 in which many farms don't apply strict biosecurity measures and not registered with the official authorities and consequently disease outbreaks cannot be monitored and early detected (Abdelwhab and Hafez, 2011). It was reported that, low or inadequate biosecurity measures in addition to poor disease control strategies would result in high levels of baseline mortality due to infectious diseases (Abdelqader et al., 2007). The analysis of the H7N2 avian influenza outbreak in Virginia in 2002, indicated that the probability of farm infection was positively associated with the movement of farm personnel (McQuiston et al., 2005). Improvement and implementation of biosecurity measures in all poultry production stages was recognised by the FAO and OIE as an indispensable step for the prevention and control of HPAI, particularly in the long term (FAO, 2008). The implementation of biosecurity measures requires training, awareness, resources and the perception of higher risk and loss of profit (Conan et al., 2012). In Egypt, a significant proportion of commercial poultry system consists of small-scale poultry producers operating with low to minimal biosecurity measures (Negro-Calduch et al., 2013). Therefore, it was very important to understand the structure of this production sector and to assess the biosecurity measures in place to order to understand why diseases such as HPAI H5N1 become endemic in Egypt. The specific objectives of this study were to understand the production characteristics, biosecurity measures and practices of broiler chicken farms in one of the highly populated areas of the Nile Delta, Egypt. The outcomes of this study would help producers and policy makers to understand the reasons of disease transmission within and between poultry farms.
2. MATERIALS AND METHODS
2.1. Study population
This study was conducted in Gharbia Governorate located in the middle of the Nile Delta, between Damietta and Rosetta branches, Figure 1. In the North, it is bordered by Kafr Elshiekh, in the South by Monufia, in the East by Dakahlia, and in the West by El-Beheira Governorate. According to the 2014 censuses, it is one of the highly populated areas in Egypt with human population of 4,648,408 and density of 2,400/Km2, Egypt State Information Service (ESIS). This Governorate is also characterised by high density of poultry population and traditional hatcheries. About 17% of the total broiler production in Egypt is produced in Gharbia, Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation (MALR, 2006). There were 643 registered farms operating in 2012 according to the General Veterinary Services (GOVS), Gharbia Directorate, Table 1. These farms were for different poultry species and different types of production. Informal discussion with veterinarians at the GOVS Gharbia Directorate indicated that this list of farms did not include all farms. Therefore, our study population was not restricted to this list.
2.2. Study design and interviews
A cross sectional study was conducted in which 267 broiler chicken farms were randomly selected from the eight districts of Gharbia Governorate. A standardized questionnaire was used to collect data on the production characteristics of broiler chicken farms. In addition, data were collected for hygienic measures within the farms and the interaction with other poultry producers. The questionnaire was piloted and necessary changes were taken to avoid any misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the questions.
Table 1: Number of poultry farms per district in Gharbia Governorate in 2012 (General Veterinary Services, Gharbia Directorate)
Figure 1: Study site, Gharbia Governorate, Egypt
Poultry farm owners and/or workers available at the time of the visit were interviewed. In addition to interviews, interviewers were asked to register their views and take photos when possible. Questionnaire is available upon request from the corresponding author.
2.3. Data management and statistical analysis
Collected data were stored in Microsoft Office Access 2007 and analysed using Microsoft Office Excel 2007 and IBM SPSS Statistics for Windows, Version 22.0 Armonk, NY: IBM Corp. Descriptive statistics were obtained for the key variables from the questionnaire. Variations in farm management according to farm size were statistically evaluated using (crosstabs) Chi-square test. Chi-square (X 2 ) test was used to determine whether there was a significant difference between the expected frequencies and the observed frequencies. A univariate binary logistic regression model, with yes/no outcomes as responses and farm size as a reference was used for comparing management practices across broiler chicken farms.
In this study 267 broiler chicken farms were visited. The number of birds per cycle was ranged from less than 5,000 to more than 20,000 birds per cycle, (Figure 2). The capacity of about 60% of farms was less than 5,000 birds. The number of production cycles per year was ranged from one to seven, most commonly six cycles per year. Sources of chicks and marketing options for broilers were summarised in Figure 3. The most common source for chicks was breeder companies (more than 90%). On the other hand, about 90% of farms sold broilers to poultry middle-men. Very few farms sold broilers to live poultry shops and directly to consumers at the farm gate. More than 63% of farmers reported that, there were no official veterinary checks before selling poultry.
Figure 2: Number of birds per production cycle in broiler chicken farms
Figure 3: Sources of chicks and to whom broiler chicken farmers sell poultry
Figure 4: Presence of other poultry farms within 500 metre radius of broiler chicken farms
The density of poultry farms in the study area was very high. Broiler chicken farms were found to be surrounded by other poultry farms within 500-metre radius, (Figure 4). About 70% were surrounded by other broiler chicken farms and about 19% were nearby laying chicken farms. Few proportions of farms were nearby duck farms, turkey farms and or hatcheries. Workers in 8.6% and 5.6% of farms reported visiting other poultry farms and sharing equipment such as feeders and waterers, respectively. Automatic feeders and automatic waterers were found to be used in 67% and 15% of farms, respectively. More than half (53.9%) of broiler chicken farm owners and workers reported having backyard poultry at their households. Handling of birds and self-protection were summarised in Figure 5. More than 85% never wear protective gloves or protective masks. Methods of disposal of dead poultry and poultry manure were summarised in Figure 6. Poultry manure was mostly (78%) used as fertilizers while 36% of farms disposed dead poultry in water canals. Dead poultry were also disposed in domestic rubbish and fed to pets by 6% and 9.4%, respectively. About 75% of farms had no special designated area for dead poultry disposal More than 72% of farmers reported that they do not have official veterinary supervisions however more than 72% reported having private veterinary supervision for their farms. Management of poultry with different health status were summarised in figure 7. The results indicated that, in all different health statues more than 80% of farmers call the veterinarian. More than 10% threw diseased birds away from the farm without any hygienic disposal. Very few proportions reported selling or slaughtering diseased poultry.
Figure 5: Handling of birds and the use of self-protecting equipment in broiler farms
Figure 6: Disposal of poultry manure and dead poultry in broiler poultry farms
Figure 7: Management of birds with different health status in Broilers chicken farms
Analysis of variations in farm management associated with farm size were summarised in Table 2 and 3. The results indicated that, there were significant variations between broiler chicken farms of different size in some management practices. It was found that, a significant proportion of farms buy one-day old chick from poultry middle men particularly by farms of 5000-20000 birds size (85.7%, P<0.031). The use of automatic feeders and waterers was significantly (p <0.001) increased with the increase of farm size.
Table 2: Comparing management practices in broiler chicken farms based on farm size
Table 3: Farm size and different management practices
Figure 8: Interviewers' observations for broiler chicken farms
Interviewers' observations for the broiler chicken farms were summarised in Figure 8. Interviewers' observations indicated that protective gloves and masks were used in less than 1% of farms. Special cloths/uniforms for work were used in about 50% of farms and there was special area for dead poultry disposal in 4.1% of farms. However the area specified for disposal of dead poultry were not properly designed, in most cases it was a place inside or outside the farm for burning of dead birds.
The aim of this study was to understand the characteristics of production system and the level of biosecurity practices in broiler chicken farms in one of the main poultry producing governorates in Egypt. The capacity of more than 60% of broiler chicken farms was less than 5,000 birds per production cycle. This indicated that, small-scale producers had an important role in broiler production. However, most of these farms were not registered and had no official veterinary supervision and consequently not under the supervision of the authorities. Establishing disease control programmes and/or early notification of outbreaks would not be possible under this type of production. The number of production cycles per year in most farms seems to be high which means that there was no enough time for proper cleaning and disinfection of the farm premises between production cycles. The previous practice would increase the likelihood of disease occurrence especially those caused by high environmental resistant pathogens. It seems that farmers would like to have the maximum benefit of farms especially those who rented these farms. Similar findings were found in Fayoum Governorate, Egypt (Negro-Calduch et al., 2013). Although, farmers understood the importance of downtime between production cycles to reduce virus persistence in the environment, the length of the downtime was depending on the market price of the day-old-chicks. If the price was attractive, farmers would start a new production cycle regardless of the need for downtime (Negro-Calduch et al., 2013).
Although the Egyptian law (Law number 906 for 2008) defined the distance between poultry farms and residential areas should be at least one km, we have noticed that most of small-scale poultry farms were located within or near the residential area. Small-scale broiler farms of less than 5,000 birds per cycle in a rooftop flat or temporary unused flat were used as source of income for many unemployed graduates. In addition, rapid extension of residential areas made old poultry farms, which were licensed a long time ago, to be within the territory of the residential areas. This could increase the risk of transmission and spread of poultry diseases from backyard poultry to poultry farms and vice versa. The law also defined the minimum distance between broiler chicken farms and between broiler chicken farms and hatcheries to be one km and between broiler chicken farms and laying farms to be two km (Ministry of Agriculture). The results of our survey indicated that almost all broiler chicken farms in the study area had other farms within less than 500 m radius. This density of poultry farms could be a reason for high spread of disease outbreaks. Investigation of HPAI H5N1 outbreaks in Egypt indicated that, most of the outbreaks in poultry and humans were in the highly populated Nile Delta (Abdelwhab and Hafez, 2011). An investigation of transmission rate of HPAI H5N1 in Egypt in 2006 indicated that, the virus was transmitted from district to another in a shorter period in Governorates with high density of poultry farms. Also there was a significant correlation between the number of infected districts and the activity of the transporting traffic of poultry between the districts of the same governorate and to other governorates (Kaoud, 2007). Therefore, we suggested that, the current law for establishing and running poultry farms should be reviewed and modified as necessary to reduce spread of poultry diseases between farms and between farms and household/backyard poultry. Registration and licenses that have been given to poultry farms established long time ago should be reviewed. In addition to the distance between farms and between farms and residential areas, other practices such as visiting other poultry farms, sharing equipment and rearing poultry at home could be potential risks for disease transmission. It was found that, poultry farm workers played an important role in transmitting infection from backyard poultry to poultry farms and vice versa (Hafez et al., 2010). Personnel movement between farms and between farms and households and vehicles without biosecurity measures as indicated by the results of our survey could be a potential risk of disease transmission. Analysis of risk factors for the transmission of HPA H5N1 in commercial farms in Egypt revealed that, the risk associated with the movement of people (vaccinators, farm workers, drivers of feed delivery, and egg and litter collection vehicles) was highly significant due to weak farm gate control and decontamination activities (Ali et al., 2013). The risk of vehicles, medical representatives and drug suppliers was considered medium. There was a high risk from sharing equipment, such as egg cartons, vaccine atomizers and bird crates (Ali et al., 2013).
Unhygienic disposal of dead poultry and poultry manure would increase the probability of maintenance of infectious agents in the environment and consequently the risk of disease transmission. More than 78% of broiler chicken farms sold poultry manure as fertilizers without any treatment. Poultry manure could be a source for many pathogens that can be transmitted to other poultry and/or with potential public health issues. It can also transmit pathogens from endemic areas such as the Nile Delta to the new reclaimed lands. Movement of poultry manure from areas where outbreaks have been reported to other areas and its use as fertilizers should be regulated (Kandun et al., 2010). Although, the risk of transmission of HPAI H5N1 from litter collection points and feed mills was estimated to be very low both could act as disease pathways to and from different commercial farms because of the high frequency of movement of vehicle and drivers, and the poor application of cleaning and disinfection measures by either commercial farms or stakeholders working at litter collection points or feed mills (Ali et al., 2013). Therefore, we suggest banning transporting of untreated poultry manure from the Nile Delta to the new reclaimed lands. Untreated poultry manure is also a public health hazard, in Indonesia, it was reported that some HPAI H5N1 human cases occurred after exposure to HPAI H5N1 contaminated poultry manure in the garden fertilizer (Kandun et al., 2010). Therefore, it is important to educate poultry farm workers and others involved in handling poultry manure how to protect themselves and the environment from hazards. A considerable proportion of broiler chicken farms (more than 36%) threw dead poultry manure into water canals. This could be a potential source of water contamination with poultry pathogens and consequently transmission of these pathogens to other places if water not efficiently treated before its use. Some farmers reported throwing dead poultry and poultry manure into domestic rubbish. Stray dogs and cats, commonly eat from domestic rubbish, and can mechanically and/or biologically transmit pathogens between poultry farms and between farms and backyard poultry. In addition, unhygienic handling of poultry manure and dead poultry by farm workers and domestic rubbish collectors could be a risk for potential exposure to zoonotic pathogens. About 75% of farms had no special designated area for dead or sick birds. Most producers indicated that they call the veterinarian when there was a health problem with birds. However, some producers indicated that sick birds were sold, slaughtered or thrown away. These practices would expose other farms to infection and human to potential health hazards. The results showed that, the main supply of chicks for most of broiler chicken farms was breeder companies, which indicated the importance of these companies in implementing potential disease control programmes via supplying healthy vaccinated chicks and spread of knowledge to the farm owners and/or workers. In addition, a preliminary data-base for poultry farms can be obtained from breeder companies. All farmers reported selling broilers to the live bird markets (LBMs), about 90% to poultry middle-men. It was found that LBMs have an important role in diseases transmission such as HPAI H5N1. In Bangladesh and some other countries in South Asia, LBMs were believed to play an important role in the maintenance and transmission of HPAI H5N1 virus and others due to its central location as a hub of the poultry trading (Biswas et al., 2015). Even in LBMs with some biosecurity interventions, HPAI H5N1 was detected and the relative risk for HPAI H5N1 in the intervened and non-intervened LBMs was 1.1 (P =0.413, 95% CI= 0.44–2.76). The authors concluded that, the virus was circulating in poultry farms and consequently in LBMs (Biswas et al., 2015). Although, the Egyptian law after HPAI H5N1 outbreak in 2006, live birds have to be tested for HPAI H5N1 before marketing, more than 63% of farmers reported that, there were no official veterinary checks before selling poultry. This behaviour increases the risk of contamination of LBMs with the virus and the risk of human exposure and recirculation of the virus. Farmers might do so due to the lack of compensation for the expected losses. The authorities should investigate different incentives for farmers to do so. Some farmers reported selling broilers directly to live poultry shops and to consumers at the farm gate. This would expose human to potential zoonotic diseases via contact with live birds and/or via slaughtering and processing at LBMs or at home. Most of HPAI H5N1 human cases were due to exposure to infected birds. It has been found that live poultry markets were major points for contact between live birds and human and potential sources for viral amplification and spread of infection (Kung et al., 2003, Kung et al., 2007, Fielding et al., 2005). In Egypt this risk would be higher given that, almost all types of LBMs operated with minimal to no biosecurity standards, and veterinary inspections are rarely implemented (Abdelwhab, 2010). It was concluded that, LBMs will continue to play a role in the dynamics of poultry diseases in Egypt, and promoting regional markets would be beneficial to reduce inter-governorate and inter-regional movements associated with poultry trade (ElMasry et al., 2015). Policy formulation, design and enforcement must be pro-poor, and consideration of the sociocultural and economic realities in Egypt is important (ElMasry et al., 2015). Some farmers also reported selling diseased or unhealthy broilers without notifying the authorities. This could be a potential risk for disease transmission and maintenance of pathogens in the environment. It was reported that, most commercial small-scale producers buy feed and other production inputs on credit and pay back at the end of the production cycle. Therefore, they were not willing to notify any cases of infection due to the fear of economic losses, and consequently illegally sell infected birds and improperly dispose dead birds (Ali et al., 2013). Infected birds usually sold at very low prices to specialized traders who sell these birds via door-to-door peddlers or to the slaughterhouse, which in turn sells frozen birds to fast food outlets (Ali et al., 2013). In general, our findings indicated the lack of biosecurity practices in broiler chicken farms in Gharbia Governorate and there were many risky practices. These findings were in agreement with a survey results in Fayoum Governorate, Egypt. In which the level of adoption of standard biosecurity measures by the small-scale commercial chicken growers, farm and household commercial production, input suppliers and other actors along the meat chicken value chain was assessed (Negro-Calduch et al., 2013). It was found that, biosecurity measures were rarely implemented; compliance with recommended biosecurity practices was not significantly varied from household to farm-based commercial production. Risky practices such as unhygienic disposal of poultry carcasses and potential disease spread posed by poor biosecurity measures implemented during vaccination were identified. The authors claimed that, HPAI H5N1 control measures have been ineffective due to limited cooperation between public and private sector and the lack of compensation for incurred losses (Negro-Calduch et al., 2013). It was recommended that, raising biosecurity awareness initiatives should be specifically developed for small-scale producers in order to improving general poultry management and thus preventing poultry diseases (Negro-Calduch et al., 2013). It was found that, the application of biosecurity measures is the cheapest and most effective means of disease prevention with significant financial benefits (Fasina et al., 2007, Gifford, 1987. , Sen, 1998). The benefit-cost ratio for the application of necessary biosecurity measures for HPAI in household poultry in Egypt was 8.45 (Fasina et al., 2012). Therefore, the cost-benefit analysis of biosecurity measures should be explained to all actors along the poultry value chain in Egypt.
It seems that in most of broiler chicken farms in the study area regardless of the size there was a lack of biosecurity measures and the use of technology for production. The results also indicated that, there were discrepancies between the responses of study participants and the observational data, (e.g. presence of special area for poultry disposal, use of protective gloves and masks and the use of special work cloths). This indicated the gap between farmers' knowledge and practices. The same discrepancies were identified by previous studies (Radwan et al., 2011, Negro-Calduch et al., 2013). This indicated the importance of validation and triangulation of data collection methods. In conclusion, most of broiler chicken farms in the study area were of small scale with low or no biosecurity measures, which increase the likelihood of disease transmission between farms and between farms and backyard poultry. Policy makers should take into account the perception and attitudes of producers in order to implement effective and applicable biosecurity measures. Policy makers should also collaborate with private sectors such as breeder companies and veterinarians working in the field to spread the awareness and motivate actors along the poultry value chain to implement biosecurity measures to protect wealth and health. Further studies for identifying knowledge, attitudes and practices of different actors involved in poultry production in Egypt toward biosecurity measures are required.
The authors would like to thank all study participants and veterinarians who helped in accessing poultry farms.
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Article made possible through the contribution of Mahmoud M. Eltholth et al.