Backyard poultry producers have been associated with outbreaks of exotic (e.g. avian influenza) and endemic (e.g. Salmonella) disease all over the world. Currently in the UK the registration of small flocks (less than 50 birds) with local authorities is voluntary therefore there is not an accurate record of how many keepers and birds there are or where they are located. This lack of information (e.g. how many birds they keep, what type of birds, biosecurity measures they implement, etc.) may compromise contingency planning in an outbreak.
A questionnaire was designed and implemented to gather information that will allow some of the knowledge gaps to be filled. The questionnaire comprised a total of 63 questions divided into seven sections (characterisation of the keeper, location of the enterprise and interest in poultry, poultry husbandry, transport of poultry, details about the poultry enterprise, marketing of poultry products, and poultry health/biosecurity). The questionnaire was implemented through an online survey, which was promoted through web links in smallholders’ websites, Facebook pages, the SRUC network, a course about poultry welfare, and leaflets at smallholders’ festivals. The survey was open from 24th October 2016 to 10th April 2017 and 176 questionnaires were completed by target respondents.
Overall, our results suggest that the level of disease identified by backyard poultry keepers is low but the majority of the backyard poultry keepers also keep other livestock species, with an associated increased risk for disease transmission between species. Almost all respondents reported implementing at least one biosecurity measure, although in the majority of cases the measures taken were not comprehensive. A lack of knowledge about the legislation concerning poultry-keeping activities was evidenced by the answers given to some questions, such as the feeding of kitchen scraps and how to dispose of dead stocks. This investigation fills gaps in knowledge which will allow industry stakeholders and policy makers to adapt their current disease programmes and contingency plans to the reality of the health and biosecurity status of backyard poultry. It also highlights that government could play a more active role in engaging with backyard poultry keepers and in finding ways to disseminate reliable information generally and about disease outbreaks specifically, to these keepers.
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