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Diary of a poultry intern
  1. William Garton


William Garton, poultry intern at Minster Vets, found that surveillance and education occupied much of his time in February.

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The poultry industry, in comparison with other sectors of British agriculture, boasts an ability to constantly survey and monitor; it thrives off data collection. Interpretation of these data, however, can be the industry's shortfall.

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This month I was asked to interpret a form of data when I visited a poultry processing plant to investigate the high number of carcase rejects. Data are recorded at each step of the industrialised process; from the number of birds dead on arrival, to the exact time of gassing, through to the number of each abnormality. My role was to determine whether the reason for rejection had occurred ante- or post-mortem and whether there was a processing issue or a welfare concern. The task carries a heavy load of responsibility with questions raised and questioners requiring answers.

I've come to acknowledge that surveillance occurs on numerous levels, including daily practice. I'm currently running a small study examining avian bursae pre- and post-vaccination using histology and PCR sampling to assess the effect of Gumboro disease vaccination on a particular flock. Our reliance on research doesn't always have to be through reaching for the latest journal – it may be more informative, and specific, to run a basic field trial.

My theme of surveillance continues into the APHA's changes to disease surveillance and postmortem services as announced in an evening discussion I attended this month. It is reassuring to think that the poultry veterinary sector may be one, if not several, steps ahead of the agency in that we monitor disease surveillance and perform postmortem examinations as routine practice. The future of surveillance and diagnostic testing is certain to fall into private practice – the question is whether the non-poultry sector can use it advantageously in the control of endemic and emerging disease.

My pursuit of further qualification has begun with application and enrolment for a postgraduate certificate in poultry health and production, fuelled by the apprehension of a profession demanding specialism. This subjective viewpoint, not yet a reality, is a message I have been trying to share with the veterinary students I have been instructing over the past few weeks. Through associations with two universities, Minster Veterinary Practice has engaged me in practical demonstrations and seminars with veterinary students in their early years of study. I have endeavoured not only to pass on basic knowledge of poultry husbandry, anatomy and physiology, but also to inspire the next generation of veterinarians and emphasise the role of vets in intensive livestock production for the future global population. Although I considered numerous career paths at various stages of my undergraduate journey, it wasn't until I was on the boundary of professional status that I was confident enough to select my chosen course. Perhaps my cues of encouragement may fall on deaf ears at this stage, but if the students feel more confident when answering poultry exam questions, or examining a backyard chicken, then all parties have gained.

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