Abstract

The distribution, composition and management characteristics of small "backyard" poultry flocks may have important implications in the spread of both avian diseases and zoonoses of public health concern. While the prevalence of small poultry flocks has increased in Alberta in recent years, there is minimal demographic information available for these populations. To gain initial epidemiological insight into this growing population and potential areas of risk, a survey was conducted to characterize the sector. Information on flock demographics and bird health, as well as production and biosecurity practices were gathered and analyzed from 206 surveys representing respondents from 43 counties.

These results revealed great diversity of both owners and flocks characterized by wide variations in flock sizes and composition. Laying hens were the most commonly reported type of bird (93.4%), followed by ducks and geese (35.3%), turkeys (33.8%) and broiler hens (33.1%). Notably, 58.1% of owners reported having more than one type of bird in their flock, with many owners never, or only sometimes, separating flocks based on species or purpose. Personal consumption (81.8%) and sale of eggs (48.2%) were the most frequently cited purposes for owning a flock. Our findings suggest that owners in Alberta are predominantly new to production; most (73.1%) have kept birds for less than five years and 25.6% for less than one year. Flock health parameters revealed inconsistent use of medical interventions such as vaccinations, treatments and veterinary consultation. Data on the sourcing, housing and movement of birds as well as movements of people and visitors reveal substantial potential for contact to occur directly and indirectly between flocks and humans. Additionally, basic husbandry and biosecurity practices were found to be inconsistent and often inadequate, highlighting important gaps and opportunities to improve the health of Alberta's small poultry flocks, and mitigate risks to public health.

These quantitative and qualitative results provide a baseline characterization of the sector, and identify risks and challenges which may serve to inform the development and delivery of future study and interventions.

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