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Coccidiosis in poultry has historically been managed with chemical anticoccidials and ionophore antibiotics. However, concerns about decreasing sensitivity of Eimeria to current anticoccidials combined with the recent rise in antibiotic free (ABF) production has created a renewed industry-wide focus on identifying alternative strategies – like coccidiosis vaccination – to manage this ubiquitous poultry disease.
Coccidiosis vaccination programs offer producers multiple benefits, including positively influencing Eimeria populations in houses – allowing birds to develop immunity and “resting” anticoccidial chemicals to sustain their efficacy. Further, longer-term vaccination programs – six months or more – can provide strong protection from coccidiosis for future flocks. Despite these benefits, some producers remain wary of using coccidiosis vaccines in meat-producing birds due to risks of reduced performance and potential predisposition of birds to secondary enteric challenges. However, if implemented correctly, the pros of a coccidiosis vaccination program far outweigh the cons.
To help ensure a coccidiosis vaccination program is set up for success, producers should consider the following four key factors.
Effective vaccines help to change the Eimeria oocyst population in a house by reseeding the environment with the more anticoccidial sensitive, less pathogenic strains from the vaccine versus the less anticoccidial sensitive, more pathogenic strains that currently exist in the environment. For the greatest impact, a vaccine therefore must target the primary Eimeria species for the target application (i.e. E. acervulina, E. maxima and E. tenella for broilers or E. adenoides, E. meleagrimitis and E. gallopavnois for turkeys). For broilers, targeting E. maxima is especially important since damage to the intestine caused by this species is often associated with performance losses, as well as predisposing birds to Clostridium infections.
The reason vaccines are so effective is that birds can develop immunity due to vaccine oocyst cycling. But it typically takes two to four cycles of oocysts cycling through the bird’s intestinal system to build that immunity. Vaccines are usually administered via a dyed liquid spray or gel at the hatchery which young birds peck from one another then ingest. These oocysts received in the hatchery complete their life cycle in the birds’ intestines then are shed back into the poultry house environment.
In order to stimulate activity and natural bird pecking behavior, optimal brooding conditions during the first few days after placement are critical. Temperature, lighting, ventilation, feed and water availability are all important to ensure birds’ pick up the “right amount” of shed cocci oocysts from the litter. If a bird pecks the litter too much, they’ll get too much cocci, which may result in disease. Alternatively, if they don’t peck enough, they won’t get the second boost of Eimeria needed to support immunity development.
For producers that are still wary of the potential influence of coccidiosis vaccination on poultry performance, a bio-shuttle program could be considered. A traditional bio-shuttle program combines the administration of a vaccine with feeding of anticoccidial ionophores or chemicals in the grower feed, or grower and finisher feeds. Producers – especially those in ABF operations – may also choose to substitute a feed additive such as a phytogenic instead of using an anticoccidial in the bio-shuttle program.
The benefits of bio-shuttle vaccine programs are two-fold. They lower peak cycling of coccidiosis while still allowing birds to develop immunity. This reduction in peak oocyst cycling has multiple advantages including reducing risk of performance loss with vaccination and lowering the risk of secondary diseases, such as necrotic enteritis. Additionally, lower peak oocyst numbers can lead to less carryover coccidia in the house, so flocks tend to do better with each successive vaccination cycle.
Whether a producer uses a vaccine-only or bio-shuttle vaccine program, it’s critical to prioritize the natural cycling of coccidia to ensure immunity is developed. Adding certain products to the feed too early or at the wrong dosage may risk interfering with immunity development. For example, inclusion of a strong chemical anticoccidial in the starter ration of a vaccinated flock, may “kill” vaccine oocysts prior to cycling required for a flock to build immunity. Phytogenic products – essential oils, saponins, tannins, etc. – can also be extremely effective in a vaccine program. To ensure phytogenic benefits are maximized, producers should be diligent to ensure they use the right phytogenic at the right dose and at the right time. Reviewing existing data for any products a producer considers using in combination with a vaccine program is critical.
Vaccination has become a common management strategy for addressing coccidiosis in traditional and especially ABF poultry production. Vaccination can help improve birds’ immunity to disease as well as sustain efficacy of current anticoccidials. Importantly, for any vaccination program to be a success, early brooding management practices are key. In addition, producers must prioritize the natural cycling of coccidia to ensure immunity is developed, thereby protecting the flock from disease.
Use of a bio-shuttle vaccine program – with an anticoccidial or phytogenic – can help to lower peak cycling of coccidiosis, while still allowing birds to develop immunity. Research has shown that VANNIX™ C4 – a novel phytogenic and probiotic combination – can help minimize the effects of coccidiosis infection as well as reduce the opportunity for secondary bacterial challenges, thereby supporting optimal performance. Importantly, when used in combination with coccidiosis vaccination programs, VANNIX C4 has been shown to not interfere with birds’ immunity development.1,2
For more information on how VANNIX™ C4 may fit in your operation’s coccidiosis vaccination program, visit kemin.com/vannixc4.
1Tonda, R.M. et al. (2018). Effects of tannic acid extract on performance and intestinal health of broiler chickens following coccidiosis vaccination and/or a mixed-species Eimeria challenge. Poult. Sci., 97:3031-3042.
2Iseri, V, et al. (2020). Evaluation of VANNIX™ C4 on performance, oocyst shedding and lesion scoring of coccidia-vaccinated broilers. Abstract P207, International Poultry Scientific Forum. Atlanta, GA.
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