By Tom Tabler, Ph.D.
The poultry world is made up of two very distinct sides. One is the multibillion-dollar commercial poultry industry that supplies high-quality, reasonably priced protein to the US and much of the rest of the world. The other side is the increasingly popular backyard segment found in both rural and urban areas, where small numbers of chickens are kept for meat, eggs, entertainment, exhibition and youth projects.
Years ago, as a young broiler service technician in Arkansas, I routinely visited a commercial, two-house broiler farm located down a narrow, crooked dirt road. En route, I would always drive by — or through — a flock of chickens and guineas that spent as much time in the road as they did in their owner’s front yard, which was two driveways down from the commercial farm.
Not much has changed. Driving the roads in Mississippi, I still see backyard chickens foraging just down the road from the biosecurity sign at the entrance to a commercial poultry farm. Backyard chickens are often free to go where they will. I saw the disease threat they pose years ago, and the threat today may be greater since the backyard chicken movement appears to be burgeoning.
Daral Jackwood, PhD, Ohio State University’s expert on infectious bursal disease (IBD), explained in a Poultry Health Today article that movement of backyard poultry appeared to be responsible for an outbreak of very virulent IBD in Washington State that led to unusually high mortality in commercial layers. “The role of backyard poultry as a reservoir for the viruses is a major concern…” he said.
There are many other major disease threats to commercial poultry such as avian influenza and, in some areas such as my own, infectious laryngotracheitis.