Backyard poultry phenomenon requires vet retraining
Taken from Feedstuffs Magazine (Online Journal) August 10, 2016 (Feedstuffs Online Magazine)
Backyard poultry is becoming more and more commonplace for a variety of reasons, such as local food webs or the desire for non-traditional pets. These chickens are also coming into the neighborhood animal clinic for veterinary care.
“These backyard chickens are not just providing fresh eggs; they are pets, and when ‘Henny Penny’ is sick, she needs to see the doctor,” said Dr. Cheryl Greenacre, a professor at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.
Greenacre, who specializes in avian medicine, presented at the American Veterinary Medical Assn. (AVMA) Convention held Aug. 5-9 in San Antonio, Texas.
While backyard poultry is a growing phenomenon, the numbers are more than a bit elusive. In a 2010 study, the National Animal Health Monitoring System, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, surveyed metro areas of Miami, Fla.; Denver, Colo.; Los Angeles, Cal., and New York City to gather urban coop statistics. Approximately 0.8% owned chickens, but nearly 4% more planned to have them within five years, Greenacre noted.
Information gathering remains an ongoing priority for some university extension services, but it is clear that those numbers are affecting the local veterinarian’s practice. Small-animal practitioners may not be trained in avian medicine, while others often do see pet birds in their practice.
“One of the most common reasons why veterinarians see chickens is an attack by a predator,” Greenacre said. “However, when it comes to treatment, the biggest and most important difference is that backyard poultry are food animals. They provide eggs, and sometimes meat, for human consumption, so the medicines these birds can receive are under a different set of rules. We need to provide education for our veterinarians to meet the demand of this up-and-coming market segment.”
In addition to gaining the knowledge needed through conferences and other continuing education opportunities, veterinarians can tap into certain websites for vital information, like the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank, the go-to source for drug use in chickens.
It is imperative that veterinarians treating poultry become educated on proper medication use in a food animal, according to Greenacre, because certain drugs are prohibited by the Food & Drug Administration, others are considered off label and still others are approved for use only in specific instances and under certain conditions, such as age, concentration, duration or frequency.
Backyard poultry enthusiasts themselves have to sift through the mountains of material available to obtain correct information about their flocks. Some information flies in the face of animal welfare, she said, and condones harmful at-home treatments for certain conditions, such as bumblefoot, an infection on the bottom of a chicken’s foot.
“From books to the internet to radio shows and magazines, there is a variety of advice out there regarding backyard poultry,” Greenacre said. “The best sources are university extension services and your veterinarian.”
However, with these pets come cautions unfamiliar to owners of dogs and cats. “Veterinarians should educate owners on the risk of salmonellosis in humans from handling poultry,” Greenacre emphasized. “Elderly people, children less than five years old and any immunosuppressed individuals are most at risk for a fatal infection. Careful hand washing is a must after any contact with the poultry.”
Owners of backyard poultry also have to be aware of biosecurity measures and be able to recognize and prevent spread of disease, especially avian influenza and exotic Newcastle disease. Anyone experiencing sudden deaths or high mortality should contact their veterinarian immediately. Other actionable measures are to quarantine new birds, to not share tools or egg cartons and to always clean and disinfect the coop.
“Veterinarians need to hone their expertise in this area and team up with backyard poultry owners,” Greenacre said. “Together, we can provide the best care possible and keep these flocks healthy.”
Michael Westendorf e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org