Many livestock and poultry disease outbreaks begin and flourish among non-commercial livestock and poultry operations.
Many livestock and poultry disease outbreaks begin and flourish among non-commercial livestock and poultry operations.

Small backyard operations are often the sources for devastating outbreaks, such as the 2002-03 outbreak of Exotic Newcastle Disease. To meet a communications need between state veterinarians, Extension personnel, feed retailers and these non-commercial or hobby farms, the National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense (FAZD) has launched the Animal Health Network.

The Animal Health Network is a state-adaptable, local network concept connecting underserved populations of non-commercial, backyard, and hobbyist livestock and poultry owners with vital animal disease related alerts and information from the state veterinarian through their local feed retailer via the existing Extension system for the protection of our food and agriculture infrastructure.

How it works is the state veterinarian sends out an alert to the state Extension, which passes along the alert (using provided templates) to feed retailers. Feed retailers then post printed alerts in highly visible areas for their customers, especially those non-commercial livestock and poultry owners.

“State Veterinarians, USDA-APHIS Veterinary Services and veterinarians at the Science and Technology Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security agree that underserved communities of non-commercial livestock and poultry owners (NLPO) are a difficult but vital audience to reach for protection of our food and agricultural infrastructure from both accidental or terrorist introduction of animal diseases,” explains Andy Vestal, PhD, Homeland Security & Emergency Management Programs, Texas AgriLife Extension.

Historically, many livestock and poultry disease outbreaks begin and flourish among NLPO long before they are diagnosed, Vestal adds. “The 2011 low-pathogenic avian influenza outbreak in Nebraska and recent exotic Newcastle diseases (END) in California and Texas were believed to have originated among NLPOs,” he says. “According to USDA the 2002 END California incident alone caused 34 counties to suspend importation of poultry and poultry products from California, Nevada and Arizona; resulted in the depopulation of over 3 million birds; and affected 22 commercial flocks and 2,000 private premises.  The control cost of this outbreak was approximately $160 million.”   

Practicing veterinarians are not a direct target of this program because licensed veterinarians in each state should already be a part of a listserv or newsletter alert system initiated by their state veterinarians, Vestal explains. “However, even if local veterinarians receive alerts directly from their state veterinarian they are welcome to be included along with feed retailers to receive Animal Health Network alerts.  They simply need to request to be included by contacting their local Extension agent/educator.”

For more information on the Animal Health Network, click here; for information from the National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense, click here.

Sponsors and partners of the program include:

  • National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense (FAZD Center); a Department of Homeland Security University Center of Excellence
  • Cooperation Extension programs in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Vermont led by Texas AgriLife Extension Service. 
  • USDA-NIFA, Extension Disaster Education Network