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Footpad dermatitis has a negative economic impact in the poultry industry. Technical management as a key factor

Footpad dermatitis corresponds to skin lesions affecting the plantar region and ranging from skin discoloration to ulcers in the most severe cases. Footpad dermatitis and other foot lesions become one of the parameters used as an animal welfare indicator.  In addition to these considerations, the impact of footpad dermatitis on economic performance in the poultry industry is often overlooked despite being very real!

Example of the evolution of footpad dermatitis over time in a broiler flock on bedding - chopped straw

Timeline footpad dermatitis lesion day 1 at day 32

Different scoring and monitoring methods exist; one of them is presented above. At any point during rearing or at slaughter, around one hundred birds (randomly chosen) are scored. An overall score assessing the whole flock is then calculated using the following formula FPS or Footpad dermatis formula:

Formula FPS or Footpad dermatis formula

A final score ranging from 0 to 200 is thus obtained: this score is 0 when 100% of the birds have received a score of 0 (optimal situation) and 200 when 100% of the birds have received a score of 2 (situation to be avoided).

Environmental factors play a major role in the emergence, severity and management of footpad dermatitis. Among all the environmental factors that need to be monitored, the most noteworthy are the quality and type of bedding used, management of the drinking system and management of ventilation and atmosphere parameters. It is also possible to limit the incidence via nutrition.

1. The type and quality of bedding used

Litter straw poultry

Different bedding materials lead to different results. Farmers must make their choice on the basis of the qualities and deficiencies of each type of bedding (or litter) as well as price.

The type of bedding, its presentation and the size of the particles composing it play a key role in its capacity to absorb and retain water. Litter composed of wood shavings can contain up to 450% water (i.e., 4.5 times its weight in water). Generally speaking, the finer the particles of a bedding material, the greater the available surface area in contact with the environment and hence the quicker and longer it will retain water. For example, water absorption is better with fiber-free and short-chopped straw (250% absorption) than with whole straw (100%). Straw granules also have interesting qualities since the components are finely ground (400% absorption). However, the finer the particle size of the litter, the more it tends to cake and form “crusts”/”slabs” of litter, particularly around drinking and feeding areas.

Bedding moisture level is the main factor associated with the development and severity of footpad dermatitis. In 2009, Bilgili et al. demonstrated that at low moisture levels, the associated footpad dermatitis scores were low. The way bedding material is stored has a significant influence on its moisture content: chopped straw generally has a 13% moisture level, but this can increase to 20% if it is stored in a field and it has rained.

* Tips & Tricks:

  • Prefer clean, dry, soft bedding materials, with a particle size < 4 cm, that is low compacting.
  • Work the bedding as soon as possible to ventilate it and help optimise the initial investment.
  • Store bedding materials in a dedicated indoor area, protected from moisture and water sources.

2. Drinking system management and water quality

The design and management of the drinking water system plays a major role in the moisture content of bedding. The height of nipple drinker lines or drinkers as well as the waterline height must be managed correctly: a line height that is too low or a pressure that is too high causes water to be wasted and, consequently, wetter bedding, but a water height that is too high or a low water pressure reduces intake and therefore adversely affects performance; the right compromise needs to be found. 

The physical, chemical and bacteriological quality of the water plays an important role in bedding moisture levels. Water contains numerous minerals (Manganese, Iron, Iodine, Calcium, Sodium, Chlorine, etc.); if there are excessive amounts of one or more of these minerals in the water, this can affect the animals’ Gut health. The water quality also needs to be monitored: too many bacteria or the presence of biofilms can also affect gut health. If the Gut health of poultry is impaired, water retention is limited and litter becomes wet more quickly, thereby promoting the development of footpad dermatitis.

* Tips & Tricks:

  • Adjust the height of the water lines regularly based on the height of the animals.
  • Adjust the amount of water available, with an appropriate flow rate and equipment.
  • Analyse and monitor drinking water quality.
  • Distribute equipment evenly over the building’s floor area.
  • Relocate certain equipment where possible (cup drinkers for turkeys, for example) in order to manage “dirty” and “clean” zones.

 3. Management of ventilation and atmosphere parameters

Adequate ventilation supplies fresh air, limits the build-up of gases that are harmful to poultry (ammonia, carbon monoxide) and eliminates excess moisture from the animals’ breath, their droppings, the bedding or heating equipment. It is therefore preferable to use a heating system in which combustion takes place outside the building and to use air exchangers during heating periods. For good ventilation, the relative humidity is a good indicator: it is important to ensure it does not exceed 70% in the first week of rearing, to avoid the dehydration of one day-old poultry and excess water, and then 50 to 60% thereafter. 

*Trucs et Astuces :

  • Monitor atmosphere parameters such as the CO2 level (max. threshold of 3,000 ppm for broiler chickens and 2,500 ppm for broiler turkeys).
  •  If “crusts” or “slabs” appear, this is an indicator of non-optimal ventilation.

footpad dermatitis broiler poultry birds

 

You now have all the technical keys to limit footpad dermatitis in poultry flocks ! for more information contact our experts.

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