USDA to host webinar advising poultry farmers on keeping their flocks disease free

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) On Thursday, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) will host a webinar entitled “Defend the Flock”, which will focus on biosecurity in poultry farming. The webinar will begin at 10:30 a.m. AKST.

The "Defend the Flock" webinar is aimed at hobbyist chicken-keepers, and people with backyard flocks. More information can be found at their webpage. (USDA)

“Biosecurity is anything you do that helps prevent the spread of infectious diseases to your flock, or the introduction of a disease to your flock,” says Dr. Julie Gauthier, Assistant Director for Poultry Health at the USDA APHIS. Gauthier is leading the webinar, with the help of veterinarians Dr. Michael Martin and Dr. Tahseen Aziz.

The webinar is aimed at hobbyist chicken-keepers, and people with backyard flocks. However, Gauthier hopes that the material will benefit anyone who wishes to attend. “We’d like to present this in a way that anybody can take something away from it and understand how biosecurity is important to keep their flock healthy, even if they haven’t started their flock yet,” she says. She adds that biosecurity is also the best way to stop humans from contracting poultry-related illnesses like salmonellosis.

Gauthier explains that the United States is just coming out of the most expensive animal health incident the country has ever experienced. She is referring to the 2014 outbreak of avian influenza, commonly referred to as ‘bird flu.’ She says that good biosecurity practices can help prevent similar outbreaks. “Prevention really is the key with our backyard flocks,” Gauthier continues. “Treatment is often so disappointing and we really need to start with prevention and biosecurity.”

Prevention, Gauthier says, includes sourcing flocks from reliable sources. “The youngest birds you can get are generally going to be the safest just because they haven’t been walking around on the planet long enough to pick up something,” she says. She adds that farmers incubating and hatching their own eggs is another exercise in safe practice.

Additionally, farmers can source their birds from a National Poultry Improvement Plan flock -- a voluntary state-federal program which tests flocks for certain diseases. “Certainly not for everything, but you’ll know that they maintain certain standards within those flocks,” Gauthier says. However, she cautions against the risky practices of going to swap meets or auctions to purchase a bird.

More information on the webinar, including where to sign up, can be found on APHIS’ Defend the Flock webpage.

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