APHIS reaches out amid spike in backyard poultry sales

COVID-19 has inspired a sudden spike in poultry sales, prompting federal regulators to double down on their efforts to reach first-time backyard farmers and educate them about the importance of biosecurity.

(Roy Graber)
(Roy Graber)

COVID-19 has inspired a sudden spike in poultry sales, prompting federal regulators to double down on their efforts to reach first-time backyard farmers and educate them about the importance of biosecurity.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)  issued statements online and on social media last month directing new poultry owners to the agency's Defend the Flock online biosecurity toolkit. While thew Defend the Flock materials are routinely available for both commercial and amateur poultry producers, Julie Gauthier, assistant director of the Poultry Health program at APHIS, said the agency has tailored recent online messages with the intent of capturing the interest of new poultry owners, which a recent statement from APHIS noted appear to be growing quickly in number this year as COVID-19 inspires greater interest in self reliance and food production among consumers.

The materials also adapt some of the standard Defend the Flock biosecurity protocol to backyard scenarios, advising new owners to opt for purchasing chicks vs older birds, reminding them to keep their animals secure to prevent contact with wild or stray animals, and highlighting the importance of hand washing.

“Raising backyard poultry can be a fun and fulfilling experience, but it is essential that all flock owners learn about and practice good biosecurity daily,” the statement reads. “Practicing good biosecurity is vital in protecting your own birds, neighboring flocks and our nation’s poultry industry.”

While commercial and residential flocks don't typically intermingle, a high density of backyard animals is thought to have contributed to a two-year outbreak of virulent Newcastle disease (vND) in California. Gauthier said APHIS hopes to eliminate the disease from California in the near future.

Social distancing and other current events may also reduce bird movement, she said, which could help offset some of the risk associated with increased residential flock density.

“Social distancing is probably affecting the trade that goes on in the backyard flock community,” Gauthier said. “I see that the feed stores are generally open, and they're a low-risk source of replacements. So it's hard to say [whether the risk to commercial flock has increased,” other than the interest in being self-reliant, and the impact that's having on people starting flocks.”

Given this growing interest, Gauthier said, now may be a good time for commercial producers to review their policies regarding owning and handling animals at home with their employees.

View our continuing coverage of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.

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