The Sunday News
THIS week we will discuss a disease which is often discussed with reference to cattle but seldom with regards to poultry. This is botulism, a disease in cattle which is characterised by paralysis of the hind quarter.
In poultry botulism results in paralysis of the neck and limbs. Usually affected birds will succumb quickly such that those that last beyond 48 hours after onset of the disease usually recover from the disease. Botulism affects all domestic poultry which includes turkeys and guinea fowls. Botulism is caused by ingestion of toxins by the birds.
The toxins are produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. This bacterium lives on decaying matter such as vegetables and feed. It is also found on decaying animals and bones of decaying animals. The botulism toxin can also be found in maggots and litter beetles that feed on infected carcasses. Botulism is usually more common in the warmer months.
Cattle usually pick botulism bacterium from decaying bones on the veld. In poultry botulism will occur especially under conditions of poor hygiene and chickens have access to rotting matter such as vegetables and also when they drink in dirty stagnant watering holes. The clinical signs of botulism are that the symptoms will start to appear after 12 to 48 hours of ingesting the toxins from the bacteria.
Affected birds will first appear weak, drowsy and reluctant to move. The bird’s head will droop, later resting it on the ground, with their eyes closed and wings drooped. They may then lapse into a coma and die. Their neck may be coiled over or lie straight on the ground due to flaccid paralysis. Feathers may be easily plucked.
Botulism is best prevented by removing dead birds daily, removing the source of the toxin, supplying clean feed and water, keeping birds away from stagnant or pooled water, providing feed in containers and not on the ground. Sick birds should be isolated and provided with food and water.
It is also important to clean up feed that has fallen on the ground so that your chickens do not pick feed from the flow and inadvertently pick on the botulism toxins in the process.
Also do not expose your birds to rotting matter like compost material as there are chances of birds ingesting the toxins there.
Supportive therapy with antibiotics and vitamins has can be helpful in some cases. However, it should be noted that botulism is not contagious which means that it cannot be transmitted from one bird to another but only those birds that ingest the toxins when there are feeding will be affected.
This does not mean that sick birds will be just left within the healthy ones. They have to be separated so that they can get proper care without being trampled upon by other birds especially in big flock enterprises. What is very clear and should be upheld by every poultry producer is that a clean environment as well as clean feed and water sources are important in preventing occurrence of botulism.
This disease has no treatment and hence it is better prevented. It is even more stressful in cattle because your animal will appear lively and can even feed well but from a recumbent position, it wont rise because of the paralysis of the hind quarter. (This article borrows significantly from www.business.qld.gov.au).
Uyabonga umntaka MaKhumalo. Mhlupheki Dube is a livestock specialist and farmer. He writes in his own capacity. Feedback [email protected]/ cell 0772851275