Report on Organic Chicken House in County - Extended Article
Note: A letter to
the editor was published in the January 7 edition of the Fairfield Ledger. The
following article on the chicken house and Avian Flu contains additional
information that we were unable to include due to space considerations.
by Diane Rosenberg Executive Director
certified organic farmer in Jefferson County is planning an independent
16,000-head organic chicken house to sell eggs to a well-known national organic
of facility is relatively new to Jefferson County. When concerned neighbors
contacted JFAN about potential impacts, we dedicated a fair amount of time for
research. We’ve had numerous conversations and meetings with the farmer, the cooperative,
various health officials, and others, and we visited an organic chicken farm in
JFAN neither endorses nor opposes the chicken house, but rather we are
providing the following educational information for the community to consider.
Information About the Chicken
the chicken house would look like a confinement from the outside, it is not a
CAFO nor designed like one. The chickens will have full access to ample
pasture, and no battery cages are involved. The building and surrounding grounds
are designed to encourage the birds to go outside through numerous doors down
the length of the building. The cooperative maintains higher animal welfare
standards than organic requirements, and the farmer, who has been completely
transparent about his plans, says he wants to exceed cooperative requirements as
well as plant an orchard around the building.
farmer will independently own his chickens and sell the eggs to the
cooperative. There is no confinement pit with liquid manure; rather chickens
produce dry litter. This type of manure doesn’t produce the volume and
assortment of toxins as does liquid hog manure. Ammonia is the most common gas
that is generated if the litter becomes wet, but the cooperative requires
several measures designed to keep the litter dry.
building itself would be designed to minimize odor and noise. At a recent visit
to a similarly designed building with 25% more chickens, neighbors and I
detected no manure smell even when standing in front of an operating fan. We also
detected no manure smell when in the building with the chickens.
farmer would feed organic grains from his farming operation then fertilize the
fields with the organic manure, creating a closed, sustainable system. As this
operation becomes increasingly profitable, the farmer plans to buy more
farmland and convert it to organic crops.
traffic to and from the building would be minimal. Trucks from the cooperative
would pick up eggs one or two times a week. The farmer would bring grain to the
chicken house once a week.
suggestion, the farmer has been talking and meeting with neighbors in the
one-mile radius to address concerns. He is considering two different locations,
one of which is further from some neighbors but would require more expense for
About Avian Flu
address concerns about Avian Flu, JFAN spoke with the Iowa Department of
Agriculture (IDALS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Iowa
State University (ISU).
pathogenic Avian Flu affected commercial poultry flocks in the US in 2015,
hitting mainly in the west coast and Midwest. Dr. Yuko Sato, Poultry Extension
Veterinarian and Diagnostician and Assistant Professor at Iowa State
University, says medical experts believe droppings from wild waterfowl migrating
along flyways transmitted the disease to commercial flocks. The virus doesn’t
affect waterfowl but is contagious to domestic poultry. Experts believe the
virus was tracked into chicken operations by humans, then incubated over a
period of time before adapting to commercial flocks.
IDALS reports 77 Iowa
poultry facilities with 31.5 million birds were infected in 2015. All but six were CAFOs. Not all birds were
sick when euthanized, says Dr. Sato. When a few birds were found ill, entire
flocks were destroyed to prevent the virus from multiplying and spreading
further. In an emergency situation she
says the quickest way to stamp out a disease is through depopulation.
were sickened with the Avian Flu, and the flu didn’t adapt to humans said Dr.
Fiona Havers, Medical Officer with the CDC. Neither did it adapt to other
can be infected with flu from a variety of different hosts, Dr. Sato said there
is some concern that hogs could potentially act as a mixing vessel to mutate
the virus and create a new one that could sicken people. A couple of studies
were conducted to try to infect pigs with Avian Flu, she says, but they were
not successful. Research is taking place in this area, but Dr. Sato says a link
has not yet been established.
an avian strain called the Asian Flu infected some people, but most of those
affected lived with their chickens and had prolonged exposure to the sick birds
and their excretions, giving the virus an opportunity to mutate and adapt to humans.
It should be noted the Asian Flu is a different strain than Avian Flu, and US
farmers don’t live with their flocks. SARS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome,
a serious form of pneumonia that first broke out in Asia in 2003, is not a form
says the Avian Flu virus is not hearty and over 200 EPA-approved
disinfectants can inactivate the flu, including heat. Early detection and
diagnosis can prevent another massive outbreak, she adds, and that the industry
and federal government is prepared to take a proactive role should one occur
again. Chickens are not always susceptible to flu from wildfowl, and she
speculates that this year’s large losses may have occurred because depopulating
didn’t occur quickly enough and the virus had a longer opportunity to reassort
and adapt to domestic poultry.
flus mutate and the potential for human transmission is always possible, the
CDC works with the USDA to closely monitor livestock outbreaks and has plans in
place in should a human transmission take place. Neither Dr. Sato nor Dr. Havers could say
human transmission couldn’t occur, however given all factors, Dr. Havers says
the CDC considers the threat of human transmission to be low. She also
cautioned that should the flu ever jump to humans, it doesn’t signal the
beginning of a pandemic.
The Spread and Containment of
pathogenic avian flus, such as the one that occurred last year, are systemic
viruses that are very contagious to poultry whereas low pathogenic avian flus
are nonfatal respiratory diseases. The
flu is always around, and Dr. Sato says in North America, wild waterfowl usually
carry a low pathogenic strain every year. Last year’s Avian Flu, though,
combined a low pathogenic strain with a high pathogenic strain leading to the
catastrophic losses for the industry.
is categorized into subtypes depending on specific proteins and enzymes on the
virus. The Avian Flu has 16 types of proteins and 9 types of enzymes that could
combine in any configuration to create a particular strain of flu.
says there is no way to tell how strains might combine or infect domestic
poultry. The USDA has an active surveillance program in place where they are
sampling migratory waterfowl including shore birds and gulls to get a good
feeling for which viruses may be circulating says Dr. Sato. Since the virus
thrives in cold, wet weather and not hot dry conditions, there were fears the
Avian Flu would return during the fall migratory period. That hasn’t occurred
but the industry is watching for a possible spring outbreak.
wild birds originally transmitted the disease to US poultry flocks, virus
analyses confirms that individuals and vehicles spread the flu from farm to
farm, writes Maryn McKenna, in a July 15, 2015 National
Geographic blog. Biosecurity was therefore strengthened in poultry
facilities to prevent further spreading of the virus. Shower facilities,
disinfected vans, disinfecting troughs and tire sprayers at farm entrances were
added in many facilities. Dr. Sato said anyone handling infected birds often
wore hazmat suits to minimize its spread. Industrial chicken operations
containing 100,000 – 1 million or more chickens employ a larger numbers of staff
and require more truck traffic, therefore have a greater risk of spreading the
flu from biosecurity lapses she explained.
organic chicken house in Jefferson County is a smaller family-run operation,
and the birds will have contact with fewer humans. The cooperative requires
extensive biosecurity measures. The Avian Flu affected none of its 100 organic
egg producers last year.
16,000 chickens is not large by industry standards, it is still large enough
for neighbors to legitimately question its impact. While it appears to be a
humane and environmentally-better alternative to CAFOs, an evaluation of this
facility should be made in the light of objective information.