Today an increasing number of duck farmers are using alternative medicine to improve the state of health of their birds. In the space of just a few years, farming conditions, impacts on the environment and animal welfare have become the main priorities for farmers and consumers alike. Since 2011, the use of medication and the purchase of antibiotics have halved on farms.
“Antibiotic doesn’t mean automatic”
Why would this health claim, proven for humans, not apply to animals on farms?
During the 20th century, antibiotics made it possible to reduce mortality rates associated with infectious diseases. However, their repetitive use on a massive scale has led to the emergence of bacteria that are resistant to these medications, both in humans and animals.
Farmers are turning to alternative medicine due to a global intention to demedicate livestock, driven by societal pressure on agriculture and the reduction in use of chemical inputs. Consumers’ desire to eat more healthily leads producers to rely on specifications that encourage reduced systematic use of medication—especially antibiotics.
Tackling the issue of alternative medicine use in farming is about restoring the natural balance of animals and their environment on farms: a balanced diet, limited stress and building comfort (equipment in sufficient quantities) are the prerequisites for this. The idea is to allow the animals to develop their own natural defences.
For optimum efficiency, alternative medicines call for production systems to be thoroughly rethought and for the basics to be reintroduced to the subject: care provided to crawlspaces, building heating, water quality, input quality, fresh bedding, availability of equipment, supervision of animals and effectiveness of actions… these are all performance levers that are interdependent and determine batch performance.
Essential oils as curative care
It is therefore now possible to choose between the use of an antibiotic or an essential oil to treat animals. For example, a blend of thyme-based essential oils can be given to poultry if they have a cough. Tools such as the Phytogram allow to test the inhibitory
effects of a mixture of essential oils, and allow to routinely select the optimal aromatherapeutic solution. Just like the Antibiogram does with antibiotics, this tool determines the essential oils necessary to improve the birds’ health.
Essential oils, probiotics and autovaccines as preventive care
Farmers who choose alternative medicine also use probiotics to maintain and improve the microbial balance in ducks’ intestines and their living environment. Today there are a wide range of probiotics available to tailor this flora and prevent pathogens from establishing themselves.
Some products that make it possible to lower intestinal PH also make it possible to create a flora that is more beneficial to the animal.
Autovaccines can prove to be effective solutions when it comes to protecting a batch of animals. These vaccines—
produced using bacteria recognised as pathogens for production—are injected into the birds in production: we subsequently observe that disease resistance is improved, without reducing the birds’ immune defences.
The diffusion of essential oils is also used by some farmers as a preventive measure or to improve performance. For example, we note that lavender essential oil is effective at reducing stress in ducklings during the first few days of life. Less stress means improved consumption of water and food, and more exploration means a successful start to life.
Now and for the years to come, the trend is guiding toward a well-reasoned use of medication that includes alternative medicine as a solid basis and long-term tool. The use of antibiotics should not be ruled out on farms, as it is a powerful tool that should still be used when justified. Alternative medicine is fully intended for use as a complement to conventional medicine.