Biosecurity

We have a young family from Washington D.C. staying in our farm house this week. They found us through Air BnB and chose to come stay here so their two children could have a chance to see the stars at night and begin to learn about how food is grown. We’re enjoying having them here.

Yesterday the two little girls especially enjoyed petting chickens, and allowing them to eat cracked corn out of their hands.

Seeing how much fun they had playing with the chickens caused me to think about how different the scene would be on a typical chicken “farm” these days.

The vast majority of the chickens in America these days are housed in CAFOs–giant metal buildings containing tens of thousands of birds. The conditions are unnatural, to say the least. And under such conditions the threat of disease is ever-present.

In the CAFO system the “farmer” must provide the poultry house and is responsible for disposing of all the manure generated there, but the “integrators” (industrial chicken companies, like Tyson and Perdue) provide and own the chickens and provide and determine their feed. As strange as it seems to me to call something done entirely indoors “farming,” it’s stranger still when the “farmer” neither owns the animals or has any say in what they’re fed. But, strange or not, that’s the reality in industrial poultry these days.

Given that these unnatural concentrated operations are epidemics waiting to happen, the integrators require “biosecurity” measures. The integrators’ contract with the “growers” (as they’re euphemistically called in the contracts) forbids them from having any backyard flocks of their own. The chickens’ feed is laced with antibiotics. And no one is allowed to enter the poultry house without showering and putting on a type of hazmat suit. Biosecurity.

More than 48 million chickens and turkeys were killed or euthanized earlier this year when avian flu swept through CAFOs in the Midwest, seemingly mocking the industrial “biosecurity” measures. Over forty percent of all the layers in Iowa (which is the largest egg-producing state in the country) were killed. Most of those operations have still not be cleared to reopen and industrial egg prices have doubled.

Interestingly, and despite the absence of any “biosecurity,” few backyard flocks were affected by the epidemic–a fact scientists are calling “enigmatic.”

Beyond common sense, we have no “biosecurity” measures on our farm. Folks don’t have to shower and put on a hazmat suit in order to go in our coop.

Here little girls can pet chickens and feed them cracked corn.

It is ironic that farms without elaborate industrial biosecurity measures are biosecure. And factory farms that have biosecurity protocols are public health catastrophes in the making.

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32 comments on “Biosecurity

  1. shoreacres says:

    Well, this helps to explain that recent, inexplicable warning from some governmental agency that we shouldn’t be kissing our chickens. When I saw that, I couldn’t imagine why they would be issuing a caution like that. But, in the context of what you say here, it makes sense.

    On the other hand, it makes no sense at all — except as another example of governmental fear-mongering. No child with a pet chicken is going to be anywhere close to the chickens that could cause real harm. Perhaps the government could address some of the real problems, instead of creating one where none exists.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bill says:

      There is a real risk that something from one of these disease generation facilities is going to transmit to the human population someday, and be antibiotic resistant. If that happens (some say it’s just a question of when) it isn’t going to be because a child kissed her pet chicken.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Call me strange for thinking this way, if you will… But doesn’t it seem odd to you – not that, in spite of all the precautions, 1/2 of the layers died – but that the price of eggs doubling with only half the amount of birds to maintain equals an incredible profit margin?

    Like

    • Lynda says:

      No profit margin here. All the remaining birds will have to be euthanized, the housing thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, and the birds replaced. That is a costly process. As for the price of eggs going up, that is called “supply and demand”. Consider this: Back in the days of the gold rush it was the person cooking and or selling eggs for breakfast that got rich. Not the prospectors. They were paying a dollar an egg in the 1800s! 😉

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      • smcasson says:

        Expensive to replace indeed. The farmer has the responsibility to “dispose” of carcasses. Have you ever called the local dump and mentioned you needed to drop several semi truck loads of dead chickens? It ain’t that easy. Most times, the chickens get buried on site, inside the chickenhouses. The chicken market is ruthless and disgusting, and that doesn’t even consider the conditions for the birds. That’s just the business practices.
        My uncle is an industrial chicken farmer. I’ve helped during “cleanout” and it’s as fun as it sounds. Thigh-deep POOLS of …. yum under the slats. It all goes out the back into another depression in the ground. Creates a pond of the worst kind.

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      • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

        How people can justify treating another living creature this way is beyond me! And, if karma exists, boy are they in for it, when the time comes…
        I picked eggs as a kid and the crowding, hummocks of chicken crap, hen-pecked birds was abysmal back then; so the numbers bro g quoted these days totally boggles my imagination (and turns my guts):
        Ignorance and Greed ~ Epidemic’s Perfect Storm, or what? Thank you.

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      • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

        Whoa girl! It was certainly not my intention to imply that any farmer was going to make money from this fiasco. Betting the farmer is responsible for cleaning up the mess, so no impact on corporate profits there…
        So what could possibly be the appeal for taking on this sort of responsibility when you’re also assuming all of the risk and cost with zero control over the outcome? Probably the same reason that many(most?) farmers also work off farm to make enough cash to sustain themselves? I knew lots of fellas who were working full time at General Motors, just to keep the farm in the family.
        To me, this is shameful – that there is so little profit in farming, that you need to take on excess debt or responsibilities – when all the way up the chain, bigger profits are being taken at the Producer’s expense):

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    • Bill says:

      I’m not sure what the margins are, but of course price is a function not only of cost of production, but also supply and demand. Now that supply has been deeply reduced, demand will drive up the price. My guess is that the integrators aren’t suffering any losses. The growers probably are and lots of people who work in the industry have been laid off.

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      • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

        Yup, that’s pretty much what I was attempting to say; thanks Bill.
        So many reasons why it’s better to buy from the source and keep the profits “down on the farm”; )

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  3. Lynda says:

    Bill, It does concern me that the threat is out there. Recently I had a BIG scare with one of my new chickens. I went out in the morning to find that one henny had a terrifically swollen head and neck. Her eyes were at half mast and her waddles were four times their usual size. She was wobbly and had had the diarrhea too, so naturally my first thought was bird flu. Then I went in to look up symptoms and she had all but one. She did not have a runny nose. Further, her swelling had made her look pale looking and not reddened or blackish about the face as with other highly contagious flock illness.

    I went out to further observe and investigate and found a small wasp nest on the ceiling of their roost. Reading about chickens and wasp bites I was sure she was a goner. She survived, but it took several weeks for that swelling to go away and for her appetite to return to normal. Poor baby!

    I am glad we are so fortunate as to be spared such a horrible poultry disease. The thought of having to destroy all my lovely birds scares me silly. I can’t imagine our place without my geese and my silly chickens roaming the Farmlet at will.

    It is good to know that your birds have remained safe as well.

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    • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

      Hi Lynda, I was just wondering if it would be possible to give a chicken antihistamine, like you would for a person who was having an allergic reaction? (Although, lord knows that for anyone/ or thing being stung anywhere about the head is always a bad thing… ):

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      • Lynda says:

        I read some say they did, but all said it was very difficult. Observation told me she was eating and taking water, albeit in small amounts, so I left her be.

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      • Joanna says:

        Maybe making plantain available to eat? I find that plantain (plantago major, not the banana like fruit) is better than antihistamine tablets in reducing swelling on insect bites for me. I also made a mix of plantain and comfrey in vodka in case I am no where near a plant and this seems to work too

        Liked by 2 people

      • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

        Thank you, Joanna: ). Do you have specific ratios or just half ‘n half for the plantain/ comfrey mixture? Just enough vodka to make a paste?

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      • Joanna says:

        I aimed for about half and half, but the plantain is the most important part, the comfrey is more for healing of tissues, so if reduction of histamine responses is your aim then more plantain. I whizzed up the leaves and covered with vodka. Keep shaking it and use the resulting liquid (preferable to leave at least a week, I just left the liquid in and rubbed the liquid onto the spots that were bitten). Squeeze the liquid out to get the most from it

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      • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

        Awesome Joanna; thanks!: )

        Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      I didn’t even know wasps were a danger to chickens. Glad things worked out for your girl.

      If some federal bureaucrat showed up here with orders to kill all of our chickens, I think we would have a very serious conversation.

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      • Lynda says:

        Me too. My neighbor wanted to sell my eggs in her store, but she insisted that I needed the FB to come out and inspect my little hen house…

        She is not selling my eggs in her little store. Once they get a toe in the door I don’t see how to keep them out of my business. 😐

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Sue says:

    All right, Bill—you got me wondering what enigmatic means and a Google turned up “hard to understand”.
    A scientist finds it HARD TO UNDERSTAND why cramming 10,000 birds in a pole building causes huge disease problems? C’mon. Maybe these corporations should face facts…….the SIMPLE facts that any backyard flock owner understands……treat an animal well, and it will be healthy. Oh, I get so mad…………..
    Time to pull weeds…….it’s what I do when I get “pissy”.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bill says:

      If only it were a mere 10,000. The egg production CAFOs typically house about 125,000 hens at a time, in cages where the birds will spend their entire brief and tortured life on a piece of wire mesh smaller than the size of a standard piece of paper. A typical 30,000 square foot “broiler production facility” holds 37,000 to 46,000 chickens at a time, with well under one square foot of space allotted to each of them. It’s an outrageous system. Sorry if I’m driving you back to the weeds.

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  5. Anna W says:

    And, integrated chicken farming is the kind of business that they want to bring to the Chatham, Virginia area to revitalize it. Such an awful and upsetting idea.

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  6. BeeHappee says:

    40% !!! Goodness… I am in a Facebook group of Backyard Chickens. All seem to be doing really well.
    I took a backyard chicken class recently and so did kids, and we learned some interesting lessons, I think I will write up something on it. I’d be curious to hear what feed you give your chickens, Bill, in addition to free-range foraging.
    A dollar an egg, pretty much.. To get eggs I like from Whole Foods, it costs me $8 a dozen. Close to a dollar an egg. Otherwise, I have to drive to a farm early Sat morning, get in line, which forms before they open, and get some free range eggs for $4 a dozen, which is a real bargain, but you are not guaranteed you will be the lucky one getting them. 🙂

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    • Bill says:

      To supplement their foraging, our chickens get nothing but chemical-free produce from our gardens (this time of year, tomatoes, watermelons and cantaloupes) and a special GMO-free feed we get from a Mennonite farm in the Shenandoah Valley.

      We don’t produce a lot of eggs (15-20 dozen/week–the margins in eggs are terrible) but what we do have sells out in advance every week at $5/dozen. You’re getting a great deal at $4/dozen. We were losing money at that price.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Joanna says:

    I decided to practice some biosecurity this trip because I do not want to be responsible for importing African Swine Fever to the UK. I washed and sprayed my hiking boots. I have no idea if I am going near any pigs or how likely it is that I could spread contamination, but I am taking no chances

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  8. daphnegould says:

    It seems to me that a chicken factory is a classic example of how to screw up an immune system. High stress, foods that don’t have the diversity of their natural diet, no access to dirt and bugs and the microbes that come with them, antiboiotics that wipe out the good microbes they do have. It sounds just like modern society. I would be shocked if many backyard birds hadn’t been exposed. The small exposure is probably easy to fight off with a working immune system. Modern science has come far enough to know that, so I’m surprised the scientists are shocked.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Bill says:

      Amen. Well said.

      This virus was supposedly spread by migrating wild birds. Backyard/free-range chickens would be much more likely to be exposed than chickens inside a “biosecure” poultry house. That’s what caused them to call the fact that the vast majority of the infected chickens were in CAFOs “enigmatic.” Concentrating any species so unnaturally (including people) will facilitate and encourage the spread of disease.

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  9. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    “Enigmatic”? My arse! The only reason their results are mysterious is because they don’t jive with the company’s desires. Over-population/ population density studies have been around since the 50’s and the results are very well understood, indeed ):

    Like

  10. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Funny thing eh? Kind of like the kids I went to school with: we all lived in the country – most on mixed/ dairy farms – drank their own milk, ate food out of their own veggie gardens, definately ate their “peck of dirt”, worked and played hard and got really filthy doing it… But very rarely, if ever got sick – other than the usual childhood diseases like Chicken Pox, Mumps and Measles. Yup, what’s that expression? The best offence is a good defense. Or (my personal favourite; ) use it or lose it.
    When we “baby” our immune system with antibiotic soap, shots and cleansers our busy little (autonomic) immune systems go and find other things to keep them occupied… So, how many auto-immune diseases are there these days? And you can bet all of the crap these animals are being fed, just to keep them alive, is being passed on to anyone who eats them.
    But I’m just preaching to the choir here, aren’t I?
    *sigh*

    Liked by 1 person

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