American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Vincent “Zippy” Duvall knows that there is a demand for poultry raised without antibiotics, but he adds that any decision to switch to an antibiotic-free (ABF) operation should not be made until thorough research is done.

Duvall, who was elected AFBF president in January, has also been a poultry grower for the past 30 years. He is currently raising chickens under contract with Pilgrim’s, and all chickens in his flock will be raised without antibiotics before the end of 2016 per the request of the integrator.

But Duvall, like many other farmers, still has concerns about the health of birds raised without antibiotics.

“As farmers and in Farm Bureau, we believe that if an animal is sick, we should treat it. We also believe in a strong relationship with a veterinarian to help guide us through those treatments. To me, that’s part of treating animals humanely, and that’s taking care of them when they need to be taken care of,” Duvall said. “We don’t want to carry antibiotic-free [production] to the extreme that we’re not taking care of our animals.”

Duvall has a strong relationship with his veterinarian. His youngest son, Zeb, is a veterinarian and has been managing day-to-day operations at the Duvall farm while he tends to his duties with AFBF.

The AFBF president also wants to make sure that all decisions a farmer or integrator makes concerning raising animals without antibiotics are based on sound science.

ABF demand shouldn’t drive market

Duvall knows there is a segment of the consumer base that wants poultry raised without antibiotics, but he also thinks it might not be as large as some might think. Instead, he thinks it is a representation of a smaller group of people that is being heard as more broiler companies transition into ABF production.

“If we have a minority of people who want antibiotic-free, I’m not sure they should be driving the market,” he said.

“People perceive that’s what the market’s calling for. Some of the companies are requesting that, and moving forward thinking that’s what the market’s calling for. But we live in a free country, and we’re all about choice. I think it is a niche market that people can go into and produce that way.”