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Backyard Chickens

Selected USDA Research on Backyard Chickens

The USDA's Agricultural Research Service program of research into poultry farming is highly focused on specific issues such as poultry litter management, disease control and reistance, and nutrition.

The most relevant recent USDA research on poultry farming for the non-agricultural professional are confined to the following documents and reports from the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service:

Urban Chicken Ownership in Four U.S. Cities

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Veterinary Services. National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS)

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"Raising chickens in urban environments is a growing phenomenon in the United States. Urban chicken flocks are not part of the commercial poultry industry; however, they sometimes provide chicken meat and eggs to local food systems such as farmers’ markets. Urban chickens represent an avian population for which very little information is available. An understanding of the level of urban chicken ownership could be important in the event of a disease outbreak such as avian influenza or exotic Newcastle disease (END). For example, the 2003 END outbreak in southern California involved many urban chicken flocks. This study was conducted to determine the percentage of households in four U.S. metro areas (Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York City) that owned chickens and to describe the residents’ opinions about raising chickens in urban settings."

Poultry 2010: Urban Chicken Ownership in Los Angeles County, California 2010

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Veterinary Services. National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS)

Full text

"Raising chickens in urban environments is a growing phenomenon in the United States. Urban chicken flocks are not part of the commercial poultry industry; however, they sometimes provide chicken meat and eggs to local food systems such as farmers’ markets. Urban chickens represent an avian population for which very little information is available. An understanding of the level of urban chicken ownership could be important in the event of a disease outbreak such as avian influenza or exotic Newcastle disease (END). For example, the 2003 END outbreak in southern California involved many urban chicken flocks. This study was conducted to determine the percentage of households in Los Angeles County, California, that owned chickens and to describe the residents’ opinions about raising chickens in urban settings."

Poultry 2004 Part I: Reference of Health and Management of Backyard / Small Production Flocks in the United States, 2004

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Veterinary Services. National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS)

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"Poultry ’04 is NAHMS’ second study of the U.S. poultry industry. For Poultry ’04, NAHMS conducted a thorough assessment to determine the information needs of the poultry industry, researchers, and Federal and State governments. This needs assessment indicated a need for information regarding bird health, bird movement, and biosecurity practices of nontraditional poultry industries, such as backyard flocks, gamefowl, and live poultry markets.
Part I: Reference of Health and Management of Backyard/Small Production Flocks in the United States, 2004 is the first in a series of reports containing national information from the Poultry ’04 study. Data for Part I were collected via a questionnaire administered to owners of backyard flocks in 18 major poultry producing States (see map next page). A sample of large commercial poultry operations (n = 350) with at least 10,000 chickens or 5,000 turkeys was selected, and then a circle with a 1-mile radius was “drawn” around each of these selected operations. VMOs, many of whom had gained previous area- screening experience during the exotic Newcastle disease outbreaks in California, canvassed the circles for residences with birds. Residences with birds other than pet birds (backyard flocks) were asked to complete a questionnaire describing their management and biosecurity practices. A total of 349 of the 350 circles were canvassed. Over the 349 circles screened, there were 10,579 residences contacted, of which 156 had pet birds only and 763 had birds other than pet birds (backyard flocks). In addition, there were 668 commercial poultry operations (other than the ones selected to serve as the centers of the circles) within the 349 circles. Since the design and analysis of this study are probability based, estimates presented describe backyard flock attributes within 1 mile of commercial operations within the 18 States."

Biosecurity Guide for Poultry and Bird Owners (2014)

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

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Program Aid No. 1885

"This guide was designed to provide useful information on biosecurity for poultry and bird owners. The United States works very hard to prevent infectious poultry diseases such as highly pathogenic avian influenza and exotic Newcastle disease from being introduced into the country. To accomplish this, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires that all imported birds (poultry, pet birds, birds exhibited at zoos, and ratites), except those from Canada, be quarantined and tested for the viruses that cause thesetwo diseases before entering the country."

Profitable Poultry: Raising Birds on Pasture (2012)

Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE)

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"Profitable Poultry: Raising Birds on Pasture features farmer experiences plus the latest research in a guide to raising chickens and turkeys using pens, movable fencing and pastures. A Wisconsin family nets between $2 and $6 per bird for their pasture-raised poultry, and partners with two other producers in processing and marketing. A New Mexico producer who rotates birds across his property year-round has seen dramatic improvements to his desert soil. And a Wyoming producer was able to quit a full-time, off-the-farm job to stay home and raise pastured poultry with help from her school-age kids. With those examples and more from around the country, the bulletin touches on the pasturing system's many opportunities to improve profits, environment and rural family life. With original ideas for marketing poultry products and a page of additional, expert resources, this 16-page bulletin offers a jumping-off point for new producers."

Non-commercial poultry industries: Surveys of backyard and gamefowl breeder flocks in the United States (2007)

Garber, L., Hill, G., Rodriguez, J., Gregory, G., & Voelker, L.

Preventive Veterinary Medicine Volume 80, Issue 2-3, pp. 120-128

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"The National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) Poultry '04 study was conducted to better describe non-commercial United States poultry populations, in particular, backyard and gamefowl breeder flocks. To estimate the density of backyard flocks in close proximity to commercial operations, a sample of 350 commercial poultry operations in 18 top poultry producing states was selected from the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) list of poultry operations. A 1 mile radius circle was drawn around each operation, and door-to-door canvassing was conducted within these circles to enumerate premises with all species of birds. Premises with backyard poultry flocks completed a questionnaire focusing on bird health, bird movement, and biosecurity practices. A similar questionnaire, provided in both English and Spanish, was mailed to all members of State affiliates of the United Gamefowl Breeders Association (UGBA) as well as to members of State associations not affiliated with UGBA. An average of 29.4 residences was found within a 1 mile radius of commercial operations, of which 1.9 residences per circle had backyard poultry flocks. Gamefowl breeder flocks were larger, used more health care and biosecurity practices, and moved birds more frequently compared to backyard flocks."