Veterinarians play a vital role in backyard flocks, livestock welfare and human health

A western regional team of collaborators, including University of California – Davis researchers, conducted a survey of practicing veterinarians to better assess their engagement with the owners of these animals. They received responses from 880 vets in California, Colorado, Washington and Oregon. Most respondents reported working in predominantly pet-only or companion animal practices. Although most veterinarians perceived an increase in poultry and backyard livestock in their practice areas, few actively treated these animals primarily due to a lack of facilities, interest or of experience.

Their findings, published in the July 15 issue of Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, indicate a growing demand for veterinary services for poultry and livestock in peri-urban areas, and a need for continuing education for practitioners, as well as animal owners.

“This segment of agriculture has been largely overlooked by the veterinary community in North America,” said Dr. Alda Pires, a cooperative extension specialist from the University of California at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and co. – principal investigator of the study. “Due to the potential for public health problems and the spread of zoonotic diseases, veterinary professionals need increased training and awareness of the health and welfare of these animals.”

Dr Ragan Adams, Veterinary Extension Specialist at Colorado State University and a co-principal investigator, stressed that pet owners also need to be more aware of the importance of regular veterinary care and be willing to pay for this medical expertise.

“A lot of these owners don’t know the responsibilities and challenges of owning poultry and / or livestock,” Adams said. “County extension staff can teach new pet owners because they have taught young people in 4-H programs for over 100 years. With a better knowledge of the breeding, new owners will understand the importance of seeking veterinary services when their animals show signs of illness.

The spread of the disease from these peri-urban areas can be a disaster for other animals. For example, the 2015 highly pathogenic avian influenza epidemic, attributed to backyard poultry flocks, had serious economic and business consequences for the commercial poultry industry. Recent outbreaks of virulent Newcastle disease in California have also posed significant threats to commercial poultry flocks and the agricultural economy.

“The health and welfare of animals in UPAs is of concern as their owners often lack knowledge or expertise in safe handling and husbandry,” said Dr Dale Moore, Washington State University Veterinary Extension Specialist and Co-Investigator.

A previous investigation found that owners want better access to medicine for livestock and poultry. This follow-up survey highlights the need for veterinarians, as well as extension specialists, to work with small poultry owners to improve biosecurity measures, better detect disease and mitigate potential future outbreaks.

The original study ideas for these investigations came from Washington State University’s Veterinary Medicine Extension (Drs. Dale Moore and Amos Peterson) as part of Peterson’s Masters thesis project. The project was then extended to the extension of veterinary medicine in California (Drs. Pires, Jerome Baron and Beatriz Martinez-Lopez) and at Colorado State University (Dr Ragan Adams). Extension educators from Oregon State University and the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association helped establish contacts in their states.

The increasing popularity of backyard and peri-urban agriculture presents both challenges and opportunities for veterinarians. Providing veterinary services to poultry and backyard livestock owners, who often view their animals as pets rather than farm animals, requires a different approach and different skills than providing veterinary services owners of conventional or commercial farms.

The authors of the study suggest that a new practice model could be considered for urban and peri-urban poultry and animal customers in order to ensure the health and well-being of their animals and to protect public health. Specific opportunities for the veterinary profession are to identify the needs of local or regional veterinary services of these owners, to acquire the necessary equipment to answer the questions of detection and breeding of exotic or zoonotic diseases, and to provide medical care. as well as advice on food safety.

About Hector Hedgepeth

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