Improving the health and welfare of poultry through an internship
Developing an interest in poultry
My interest in chickens began with the flock that we kept as a family when I was growing up. And, while many vet students keep a pet – mostly a dog – I had a small flock of bantams throughout my years at Nottingham vet school.
Poultry was also the basis for my third-year dissertation, which involved asking owners their opinions about the provision of veterinary care for backyard chickens. The result highlighted a potential market for providing a valuable service for the owners of pet hens.
I also particularly enjoyed learning about herd health on rotations and taking a population medicine approach to animal care – analysing trends in data to improve animal welfare.
During my clinical years, the time I spent in commercial poultry practice was fascinating. And now, learning more about the diversity and the progression of the poultry industry with Poultry Health Services (PHS) is cementing my interest further.
Just over halfway through my year-long internship, I have practised many of the skills I learned at vet school. For example, I regularly undertake in-house culture and sensitivity testing to ensure accurate diagnosis and appropriate antibiotic use.
"Learning more about the diversity and the progression of the poultry industry with Poultry Health Services (PHS) is cementing my interest further"
The practice laboratory processes all the tests generated by the vets, such as water analysis, faecal egg counts and serology, with the results sent directly to them for interpretation.
The assurance I gained during training in the small animal consulting room has easily transferred to discussions about flock health with farm managers and, although my site-visit experience was lacking, my confidence has grown quickly, helped by a supportive team and patient, understanding clients.
On poultry farms, postmortem examination of dead birds is often used as a diagnostic tool and is something I find very rewarding. It allows me to be sure of my diagnosis and choose an appropriate treatment based on the best clinical grounding.
Learning on the job
The vet school curriculum provides comparatively little teaching on poultry species, so one of the main challenges I faced was how much I had to learn on the job. Some of this pressure was relieved by the opportunity to shadow a senior vet.
The programme at PHS allows me plenty of time to reflect on what I have seen and to read up about things I’m unsure of. Just like other disciplines within veterinary medicine, poultry has its own list of common conditions and presentations that I quickly became familiar with.
On poultry farms, postmortem examination of dead birds is often used as a diagnostic tool
Gaining confidence in dealing with routine cases has allowed me to develop a methodical approach that I can then apply to more unusual cases, knowing I’m selecting appropriate further testing.
With 14 vets working from six different practices across the UK, the PHS team is widespread. Each practice has a slightly different caseload and approach, so the need for efficient and detailed communication is paramount, particularly when cases carry over the weekend.
On those occasions when I have a case that needs the on-call vet’s attention, I make sure I have updated the online clinical record and e-mail them a detailed case history.
I also ensure the client knows that it will be another vet from our team who will contact them with all the necessary information about the results and potential treatment.
Having gained official veterinarian status, I am now involved in the export of hatching eggs and day-old poultry around the world. This is a completely new area for me, but I am finding it interesting.
The practice I work in, is also involved in the delivery of poultry teaching at Nottingham vet school. It has been rewarding (and amusing) to be back at my alma mater, as well as being a useful way of reinforcing my own knowledge as I pass it on to others.
"I am really enjoying my internship so far and the opportunity to improve the health and welfare of poultry"
Working for a number of pigeon-owning clients has presented an unexpected new challenge. I am learning the common conditions and treatments for these birds.
Much of the work is lab-based testing, so it is important to master the appropriate tests and interpretation of results.
What is proving more taxing, however, is managing the clients and their expectations as regards the time it takes for test results to be processed.
Over the next few months, I will be involved in a broad range of CPD, such as attending the British Poultry Veterinary Association’s spring meeting, a seminar on intestinal health in Belgium and an online poultry health course run by Nottingham vet school.
The more I learn, the more responsibility I can take on, while continuing to develop my clinical skills and practical knowledge.
The poultry industry is increasingly innovative and progressive, with many decisions based on evidence.
The push towards antibiotic reduction has led to an increase in the use of supportive nutraceutical products such as probiotics and essential oils, alongside a focus on good management practices such as clean water and air, which leads to healthier birds.
I am really enjoying my internship so far and the opportunity to improve the health and welfare of poultry.