Saturday, June 27, 2009

Do backyard flocks infect commercial flocks?

The Harrisonburg City Council expects to review a draft urban chicken ordinance at their July 14 meeting. Jeff Mellott's article on shows the concerns expressed by "some citizens" in Harrisonburg are the stereotypical ones we hear voiced every time a city considers legalizing chickens: reduced property values, attracting vermin, smells, poop, enforcement costs.

Andy Schneider, the Chicken Whisperer, does a masterful job of addressing each of these concerns in the first comment in response to the article. It's a shame to see many of the comments following his post seem to be of the fingers-in-ears-singing-"LALALALA! I don't hear you" variety.

But the element of the story what caught my eye: the former vice mayor, who happens to be a poultry industry executive, has voiced worries about the spread of disease to commercial flocks on the big farming operations that surround Harrisonburg.

I've blogged about protecting urban chickens from avian flu before, and I don't mean to diminish the concerns of the commercial chicken operator, but I'd love to see some actual proof that a backyard flock has led to the infection of a commercial flock. The only stories I've heard have been of the "the commercial chickens were sick so they eradicated all the backyard flocks, too."

Without that proof, I can't help but think this is simply a political play to protect the interests of commercial agriculture (Think security theater) at the expense of backyard flock enthusiasts.

Can anyone cite a story of backyard-to-commercial transmission of avian flu? I'd love to have a civil discussion about this so we can inform each other.


Mom's Sewing Vault said...

I'm new to chickens - I have 2 month old pullets, 6 of them. :) The zoning in my city allows it, and the coop is finally built!

I googled the phrase "backyard-to-commercial transmission of avian flu" and got mostly hits from 2005 when it was first a big deal. These results pretty much lumped backyard in with commercial as a potential source of avian flu, but there was not data, really.

I did find one paper from an organic food organization, so it is obviously biased, but it is also cited.

Called "Transmission of Avian Influenza and the Survival of Free-Range Poultry Operations NOFA/Mass, June, 2006 – (," it calls for organic, free-range raising of poultry as the "answer." I believe that organic holds the answer for many of our food-system ills, but we need more than one paper to feel like an issue has been thoroughly addressed! And, it's 3 years old. I'll be watching this topic with interest!

Sinclair said...

I just found you from a link on, and I am definitely marking your site for further exploration. I am new to chickens this year also (since childhood, at least). I am more rural, but am a proponent of chickens for all.

Sinclair said...

sorry, that was forgot the "the." Happy chicken rearing!

Jeannine from Pittsburgh said...

Although I don't have an actual story, in all likelihood the transmission of avian flu would come from commercial flocks due to the fact that they are kept in crowded, unhealthy conditions. Stressed and weakened birds are more likely to contract illnesses than are healthy vigorous ones that would most likely be found in backyard flocks. I heard on a podcast (Deconstructing Dinner) that avian flu outbreaks follow the route taken by commercial birds in transport. Interesting.

Jeannine from Pittsburgh said...

P.S. I've nominated your blog for an award. Please come to my blog to accept

Renaissance said...

Avian Flu never really came to much here in England there was concern from back yard flock keepers about the neccissity of keeping their hens under cover and the lack on innoculation. Francine Raymond wrote a lot about this in her book - All my eggs in one basket.

Pam said...

I'm no epidemiologist, but I do know that any disease transmission needs a vector- and there's no vector I can think of that would allow an urban chicken to unintentionally get to a commercial operation & transmit anything at all.
The risk would be from exposure to wild bird droppings, which is far more likely to infect our back yard free-rangers than the big commercial barns!
I don't remember if it's the CDC or Dept of Agriculture who published guidelines for limiting exposure, but guidelines ARE available- the birds need to live in a covered area so the wild birds don't poop on them. Anyone entering or exiting the chicken pen washes their shoes by stepping in a specified disinfectant. I think shoe covers would work as well.
And I think the chicken industrialists either don't know how the avian flu's transmitted, or just don't want to.Can you imagine going back to commercial eggs- even free range organic ones- after finding out how fun & easy it is to raise chickens and tasting a truly fresh egg?
We backyard farmers do well to know what's what - I have an anxious nightmare about the avian flu breaking out in local human populations & the ignorant neighbors rising up & burning down the coop, so when I first got the chickens, I carried fresh eggs around & told them how I planned to protect our tiny flock AND the neighborhood; I was astonished to find out that in this mostly well informed, many hadn't heard of it, & the rest weren't concerned at all!


Related Posts with Thumbnails