News 7 commentsupdate:Mar 9, 2016

Backyard chicken owners hurting birds

While TV celebs like Jamie Oliver and Bilie Piper are doing their best to promote this middle-class trend of keeping your own chickens, researchers have actually concluded that this is doing more harm than good.

A new study has found that backyard chicken-keepers have a lack of disease knowledge and insufficient awareness of laws needed to breed animals at home. Researchers concluded that owners consequently rarely vaccinate their animals, which could have serious implications on disease control and animal welfare.

The Royal Veterinary College study found there was a low level of awareness in and around the Greater London area of diseases that could negatively affect birds' welfare. According to its research, households have little knowledge of Marek's disease, infectious laryngotracheitis and Infectious bronchitis, which have all been diagnosed in backyard flocks.

The study also surveyed backyard spaces and while chickens were generally housed in good living conditions up to three in four did not comply with government regulations on using kitchen waste as feed. Since 2001 it has been illegal to feed such waste to farmed animals in Britain because some disease agents can survive in food products and facilitate the spread of disease.

Feeding chickens with food such as chicken meat and eggs can spread viruses such as the Newcastle Disease, which can preserve its infection for weeks. The research, published in this month's British Poultry Science journal, also found lapses in biosecurity, with humans frequently allowed to access wild birds.

Furthermore, nearly half of the flock owners would not seek veterinary help in cases of illness in their chickens. Up to four in 10 owners surveyed stated they would dispose of dead birds by burying them in their gardens.

Guidelines issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) states that they should be incinerated to prevent disease spread through groundwater and wild species. A total of 65 backyard chicken "flock-keepers" were recruited between May and July 2010 through a series of advertisements on websites, at City farms, veterinary practices and pet feed stores.

They were given questionnaires asking for keepers’ and flocks’ characteristics, housing and husbandry practices and owners’ knowledge of health problems in chickens and diseases. Welfare assessments of flocks were also undertaken. Iveta Karabozhilova, the report's co-author, said today the study highlighted an alarming lack of communication between authorities and chicken keepers.

“Even though evidence from our study shows that flock owners provide enriched living conditions to the chickens, they ought to realise that their pets are a farmed species and are subjected to regulations," she said. "They need to expand their knowledge beyond the diseases for which there has been much publicity [such as] Salmonellosis and Avian Influenza, and be aware of the fact that some diseases must be reported."

An estimated 500,000 British households now keep chickens in their backyards including celebrities Oliver, the chef, and Piper, the actress. Barry Thorp, a poultry veterinarian in Scotland, said the rise in people keeping backyard chickens increased the possibility of disease spreading. "Because they are farm livestock, they require a different approach to pet animals " he said.

"It is not necessarily that they're badly treated, but a lack of education and awareness by those who buy them certainly make them more vulnerable to disease and therefore pose a bigger threat of spreading it.”

Source: The Telegraph

World Poultry


  • k johns

    this is rediculous and i feel a total falasy. what research? very biased one at that it seems. here do i start?

    mereks cannot be vaccinate for if people choose to hatch naturally. why vaccinate for this disease whn one will render poultry susceptable to mereks and never bred for resisance?

    then we have the development of super diseases through vaccination. mereks alone is a virus and it will pick up floating DNA and incorperatethem in its makeup. so will other bacteria. by vaccinations the pool of floating DNA and RNA are increased thus increasing the likelyhood of new resistant and virilent diseases. these diseases are man made, coming from laboritories possibly in another country who does it cheaper and also possibly helping to deliver othe unknown diseases into a flock.

    so why cannot people choose to dispose of a chicken in their backyard...contamiation of the ground water supply...what a joke as you yourselves say these people have very small numbers of chickens. look at more common sources of contaminants first.

    if you are so worried about infectious diseases have a free service for the postmortem of chickens and i am sure you will learn a lot more rather than a blanket condemnation of what is going on. perhaps the lack of communication has it's roots in the goernment system in itself.

  • k johns

    if people are feeding chicken scraps to their own birds, usualy it is from commercially prepared chicken which in theory should be devoid of pathogens.if they are feeding their own birds back to the chickens then it makes no difference does it?

    chickens are not humans and should not be treated as such. swift culling rather than the vet is much more desireable, A. because the bird stays at home and B. the BIG cost factor. chickens can be bred and selected for disease resistance, humans cannot it seems. this extreme obssesion that it is not possible or undesirable is rediculous. disease is a natural part of life, if we cannot start with something as short lived as chickens then we are not going to learn much for something as long lived as humans or our other animals more mportant to us.

    it never ceases to amaze me that a human can have a baby and rear it legaly with little goverment intervention yet something as simple as a chicken is deemed too complicated for the humble backyarder. what happened to education if you are so worried? perhaps you can educate people how to give their own children a nutritious diet to prevent obesity, for a start people who keep chickens to me already have a start in teaching themselves some basics of life.

    i could say more to your data manipulators and i don't know why i said this.i am tired of the stupidity of today. stop the world as i want to get off.

  • D Parsons

    1. In the original text the word 'hurting' was not used. It must have been a slow day in the media.
    2. The survey was conducted between May and July 2010. 65 people responded. Of these 45 completed the questions on-line, 1 by mail and 19 were personally interviewed. Only 30 questionniares could be used because either less than 25% of the questions were answered or the repondents did not currently have chickens or live in the Greater London Urban Area.
    3. Under references you then find 'YouTube' videos being cited. I am not aware that these videos are peer reviewed.

    Whilst there are some useful observations, I am surprised that this made it as a scientific article. Perhaps I expect too much.

    D.G.Parsons MRCVS

  • Wen

    I have 7 'Back yard chickens' who provide us with all the eggs we need.My girls are well looked after as I read up prior to getting them 5 years ago as to what their needs and problems with ailments would be. I have had a couple of my girls who have been ill but I have sort advice from our local chicken breeder and vet. How many people in the UK are now keeping chickens in their gardens and yet a study is made of only 65 keepers in London to make this so called report. Are the chicken farmers actually more bothered as to what the effect will be on egg sales if more and more people decide to keep their own chickens for their own egg consumption. What initiated this study in the first place?

  • DW Wicker

    These comments demostrate why this paper is needed. Mareks disease has caused death in chickens for many years. In unvaccinated birds losses of up to 20% were observed and are prevented with vaccination. LT is another devastating disease that can be control with vaccination.
    Why the rules on farm animals. Because they are an important part of our food supply that is put at risk by people who do not understand the risk and spread of diseases. Thus, we have devoped many regulations and laws for the production of animals for our food supply that do not apply to other animals.
    This paper is needed to bring awareness to the public and those people who raised small numbers of farm animals.

  • BarnDirtisaEuphemismforShit

    So, who are these laws supposed to protect? People or industry? Let us instead discuss food security.

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