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Eggcellent collaboration aids poultry health

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Rodrigo Gallardo (left) and Maurice Pitesky combine their talents to improve poultry health in California and around the world.

Commercial chicken farmers and backyard enthusiasts alike have something to crow about—a new “poultry group” at the school. Rodrigo Gallardo, assistant professor in Avian Medicine, and Maurice Pitesky, assistant specialist in Cooperative Extension, form a strong duo working to solve California’s poultry needs. 

Gallardo’s expertise as a molecular virologist leads to better understanding viral diseases in poultry. He’s part of an international research team working on a five-year project in Africa to determine which chicken breeds can tolerate hot climates and resist infectious diseases — specifically the devastating Newcastle disease.

Pitesky focuses on poultry epidemiology, food safety, and sustainability. For example, he uses GIS mapping techniques to understand how poultry diseases move in space and time in order to better mitigate the spread of poultry related diseases.  

“Understanding where and when disease(s) cluster is important from a poultry health and food safety perspective,” Pitesky said. “In addition, it allows disease control resources to be focused appropriately.” 

Pitesky and Gallardo work closely with the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System (CAHFS) and the Department of Animal Sciences in the UC Davis College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. Ongoing collaborative research projects include: understanding the epidemiology of how very virulent Infectious Bursal Disease Virus (vvIBDV) spreads in California; creating an ante-mortem test for vvIBDV; developing preventive measures and understanding Infectious Bronchitis Virus; testing new poultry vaccination strategies and techniques; and better understanding Salmonella Heidelberg (SH) to improve food safety. 

This particular Salmonella strain associated with human outbreaks has been a problem for the state’s commercial growers since last year. In collaboration with Dr. Huaijun Zhou from UC Davis’s animal science department, Gallardo and Pitesky will use molecular techniques to look at the gene expression of this strain and to discover how this pathogen reacts from a molecular perspective when challenged with different processing plant conditions.

In their teaching endeavors, Gallardo and Pitesky engage third year students by taking them on field trips to commercial chicken layer and broiler farms, where they learn about biosecurity, poultry production, poultry health and job possibilities in the industry. The students also visit the CAHFS facility in Turlock to witness necropsies—an important factor in determining cause of death for backyard chickens and commercial flocks alike. 

Occasionally, when a pet chicken is brought to CAPE—the Companion Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery Service at the teaching hospital—Gallardo and Pitesky are asked to help identify potential illness.

“We have approximately 26 million egg-laying hens, and over 250 million broilers and 15 million turkeys produced commercially in California every year,” Gallardo said. “We have a real need to ensure their health and well-being as well as keeping us healthy and our food supply safe.” 

More resources for poultry enthusiasts available through a new UC Cooperative Extension website.

During the month of May, as part of the annual Tour de Cluck, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine researchers will be presenting various talks throughout the city of Davis:

“Backyard Chicken Diseases and Diagnostics” led by Asli Mete, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVP Thursday, May 8, 2014~~4-6p.m.~~University of California Campus at California Animal Health and Food Safety (CAHFS) at John E. Thurman, Jr. 620 W. Health Sciences Drive Host: Davis Farm to School 4-5 pm Tour, 5-6 pm Talk on backyard chicken diseases and diagnostics NOTE….This tour is most beneficial for 10 persons, we will have either two half-hour tours or one longer tour depending on the number of interested individuals. Reservations need to be made in advance: 530-219-5859 or I am a veterinary pathologist and Assist. Prof. at the Davis branch of the state diagnostic laboratory system “California Animal Health and Food Safety” (CAHFS) at UC Davis. We will meet at the diagnostic laboratory located on west campus. After a tour of the lab where we will walk through to see the scientific sections at work, I will give an overview presentation of our testing and diagnostic capacities, followed by some backyard chicken disease data and the most common causes of mortality. All will be an open to discussion session with sharing of experiences. ADDITIONAL NOTE…. there will be images of dead chickens when they are opened up to investigate the cause of death during this presentation.

“Around the World with Chickens” with Dr. David Bunn of UC Davis Thursday, May 15, 2014~~6:30-8:30p.m. ~~Mary L. Stephens Davis Branch Library Blanchard Room~~315 East 14th Street, Davis, CA Host: Asli Mete The amazing chicken is critical for women’s income and food security of poor rural families in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Improving chicken health and increasing egg production among the poorest of the poor is David’s passion. An African woman may earn 30 percent or more of her annual income from the sale of eggs and chickens. David and his African colleagues have trained veterinary extension staff, women farmers groups, community animal health workers, and now grade school children to vaccinate chickens and improve husbandry. The results have dramatically increased chicken and egg production: providing critical nutrition for families and income from sales. The increase income from chickens, has enabled families pay school fees for the first time for their children, put a tin roof on their homes and pay for emergency health clinic visits. Come hear why chickens and the eggs they provide are a key component in preventing malnutrition and a first step out of poverty for millions of families throughout the developing world.

“Be Your Backyard Bird’s Wingman, in Health and Disease” Dr. Maurice Pitesky of UCD Veterinary School & Cooperative Extension “Pampering your Poultry” Overview of Resources for your Chickens at UC and Dr. Nancy Sinai of UCD Veterinary School “Biosecurity and your birds: how to prevent diseases from getting into your poultry” Thursday, May 29, 2014..6:30 to 8:30p.m.~~Mary L. Stephens Davis Branch Library Blanchard Room~~315 East 14th Street, Davis, CA Host:  Brianne Bradford The School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California is respected around the world. This presentation was purposely scheduled after the 5th annual Tour de Cluck to provide answers to individuals who are potentially planning a backyard chicken experience. You are encouraged to bring questions and ideas to explore with these professionals in the field. The doctors will provide practical information about poultry health, with implications for human health. Topics will include diagnosis, treatment and prevention of common diseases of chickens, as well as food safety. In addition, poultry resources at UC Davis helpful for backyard flock owners will be highlighted. Anyone with backyard birds or with an interest in backyard birds should find this presentation useful.