What the USDA Really Thinks About Backyard Poultry

A recent symposium hosted by Ceva Animal Health (an animal pharmeceutical company) addressed the topic of vaccines in the poultry industry. One of the speakers was Dr. Andrew Rhorer from the National Poultry Improvement Plan. Here is a quote from the Ceva Animal Health write-up on Dr. Rhorer’s presentation:

According to Dr Rohrer, raising backyard poultry, hobby chickens and interaction with chickens at shops or other consumer events or fairs could reduce the change to control avian and human influenza succesfully [sic]. (quotation found here.)

Got that? A USDA official is stating that backyard poultry is a danger to the nation. He believes that my taking a chicken (tested under the NPIP, BTW) to a school, could prevent the government from protecting the nation from an outbreak of influenza. Interesting that he says this at a conference paid for by a drug company and attended by factory farm producers.

The American Poultry Association (which supports poultry shows and backyard breeders) tries to send a representative to NPIP meetings and inject some sanity into the discussions and resultant regulations. The Cornucopia Institute understands that it’s not the small farms that cause the major disease outbreaks. They do their best to get the word out. What other organizations are giving a voice to the “village hennery?” (A phrase discovered in The Biggle Poultry Book from 1895, and my favorite way to describe backyard chicken keepers.) Those voices need to turn into a chorus.

Note: The NPIP, created in the 1930’s, did a terrific job of eliminating deadly diseases that were decimating large and small flocks. I do believe in vaccination and the judicious use of drugs. But I also believe that it’s the factory farms that are the potential reservoirs of devastating diseases, not the well-cared for backyard flock, and that regulations must take the different types of animal husbandry into account.

Okay, now I’ll stop ranting.


  1. I agree with every word you said. And I’ll bet you my pay check I recieved today that the Dr Rohrer didn’t mention that the recent out break of ecoli that broke out in barns holding thousands of chickens and the out break is most likely caused by over crowding and the inability to keep a barn that big clean.
    The part that bugs me the most is I wan the gov’t OUT of my home and yes I consider my backyard my home.

  2. Really, small backyard chicken keepers are a threat to the nation??? I’m sorry, I missed the national news reports on the thousands of people sickened by eating eggs from small hennerys (totally stealing that name, thank you very much). Once more, money buys what the people footing the bill want to hear. I’ll put my little henhouse up against a large corporation any day of the week. Sheesh!

  3. Oh my goodness, I can’t even imagine anyone telling me I’m a threat with my organic chicken feed, 11 chickens with double the recommended space and poop tray that gets cleaned every other day. Yeah, so scary. All those eggs from the farmer’s market and no one gets sick. Is there some sort of petition I can sign or anyone I can call to instill some sense??

  4. You rant away, it’s only by ranting that things get done! It always amazes me that experts with a supposedly scientific background still can see no connection between disease and the way animals are kept. Too many animals, too small a space, easier for pathogens to spread. It really isn’t rocket science. Contented animals, outdoors, in the breeze, good food, equals less disease. I have been laughed at so many times by my friends when I take hens to the vet, yet the knowledge the vets develop by seeing pet and small meat-and-egg flock birds can only help all sectors of the chicken industry, which helps us all in the long run by reducing dreadful outbreaks of easily preventable diseases.

    A couple of years ago when the bird ‘flu thing took hold here in a grim Bernard Matthews turkey factory, a forum I belong to had a member who had been told (by DEFRA) that all she had to do legally to prevent the spread of the ‘flu (she was in the danger zone) was to ensure her birds feeders and drinkers were under cover, to prevent wild bird droppings landing in them. No hysteria, just common sense, yet the media threatened us all with culling our flocks if things didn’t improve, and that small keepers would make things worse with their lax hygeine!

  5. I’m taking Physiology 1 this fall semester. Just last week we learned about “general adaptation syndrome”. That’s how stress works- the first “fight or flight” adrenal response, the next stage is when the organism tries to readjust to the stress, and the final stage, if no readjustment is made, leads to sickness and death.

    I don’t think it’s possible to deny a link between stress and susceptibility to disease. And if it’s constant over-crowding and careless handling that stresses chickens, it’s the factory farms that will be the source of any outbreaks that increase the chance of the disease crossing species…

    • Good points. I’ve actually taken up that very concept recently to improve my own health.

  6. ah the topic that just adds to the small farm life! the government! well, um, I guess I better not say what I really feel like saying :) but I will say this..there is a sad but true reason why people like us here in Perry that have a small (180 acres) farm are having such hardships. But we keep trudging along and getting by. We have cattle, chickens, produce ect. and it all helps but that’s us. There are way too many that couldn’t hang in there and have been forced to sell out. What happens when we need to rely on big and small farms (it does take both) to eat food grown and raised here in America and they realize that there isn’t enough of them left? blah..like I said earlier..don’t get me started!! p.s. Backyard chickens are more healthy than anything people can even imagine buying anywhere other than the small farm/henneries. we almost can’t keep enough eggs in our fridge for ourselves! once someone tries home grown..you can’t have store bought! that goes for any other product you can get from a local farmer.. right??!!

  7. It is my observation that people vote for charisma or against candidates instead of voting for the best person for the job. We are mostly offered a choice between the lesser of two evils. Perhaps if we start electing people who actually know something and are not in popularity contests, then things would change in all levels of government. If there is no one fit for the job, then don’t vote for them! Big business controls much of what we do through gov policies, which in turn controls what we think and what we eat. Even our food is grown in other countries now. Keep it inexpensive and most people think it is okay. I had one person tell me that my eggs were expensive at $3.00 a dozen, when she could get Walmart eggs at .99. I would not be able to convince her that those are stressed out hens, living in unatural conditions, on forced vegetarian diets (even the labels tout veggie diets when hens need their bugs). How does the battle for sanity begin when the mentality is that the cheaper the better is best for the wallet. sigh. Ranting probably helps!

  8. Money must talk. Maybe someone should spoof a huge bedraggled mega-egg-farm chicken free-ranging around Washington, D.C.

    I’d like to see some interest groups get together and start putting up billboards favoring small flock owners, making mention of health benefits and educational value to our nation’s children, the caretakers of our future planet. There’s nothing like health and children to get people interested. Well, maybe animal cruelty, but that could be the cause of lawsuits by the egg industry.

    Do they really believe that walking around and laying eggs in your own manure (“cage free”) is going to “control avian and human influenza successfully”? Or that bleaching the crap (literally) out of eggs to make them presentable for mass market sale is something the public would love to hear?

  9. It might be good to start at local level. Make sure there are policies in place that allow for back yard henneries, rabbits, and goats. Elect local officials who actually realize that people have a right to grow their own food. Cooperative henneries that serve urban areas could be set up, using buildings that are already in place. Not much different than the little garden plots used now. And local farms must be assured their place. Even though the one in my town has gone from a true farm to a factory farm. The cows now spend their days inside a cement floored area, supposed to keep them from all the bad elements they would get if grazing on pasture. Oh, that makes me so sad. It is a battle against that sort of money-unit thinking which takes us away from our rural roots. Money might talk, but it is up to the people who want something to make it known. Say it out loud by not buying the factory product. That’s the way money talks!