Defend The Flock

Defend The Flock

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Between December 2014 and June 2015, over 50 million chickens and turkeys died in the U.S. Midwest. Some succumbed to highly pathogenic avian influenza while others were culled to stop the spread. Reports claim it started in the Pacific Northwest, in backyard flocks in Oregon and Washington. Then a new strain hit Mississippi flyways, where it impacted Minnesota and Iowa … agricultural poultry hubs. The aftermath was disastrous.

Backyard poultry owners across the country held their breaths, waiting for it to spread to our flocks. We watched egg prices soar as 12 percent of the nation’s commercial egg-production flocks died. We amplified our biosecurity measures and sifted through Internet sites, looking for information. But that information was often fragmented or difficult to find.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) already had guidelines published for backyard flock owners, called “Biosecurity for Birds.” Launched in 2003 after the spread of virulent Newcastle disease, it gave tips on preventing/containing infection, recognizing infectious diseases, and encouraged poultry owners to report sick or dead birds.

Defend the Flock, a secondary educational program, started on the heels of the avian influenza outbreak, focusing on commercial flocks.

While both programs successfully educated poultry owners about identifying and containing disease, the USDA has now decided to combine both programs and to focus on both commercial and backyard flocks with one campaign.

“The timing is right for everyone in the poultry community to band together to protect the nation’s flocks,” says Dr. Denise Heard, “and that’s everyone in the backyard growers’ community as well as commercial producers.”

Dr. Heard, DVM, is Senior Coordinator of the National Poultry Improvement Plan, VS, APHIS, USDA. Her degrees include a B.S. in Agriculture and Poultry Science, a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine, and a Master’s of Avian Medicine from the University of Georgia. She also has a Certificate of Public Leadership from Washington University and is a Diplomate of the American College of Poultry Veterinarians.

While explaining how the Defend the Flock campaign has expanded to include both commercial and backyard owners, she says, “Backyard flocks are as important as commercial producers. We have over 10,000 backyard growers participating in the USDA National Poultry Improvement Plan.”

While important biosecurity points can differ between small, privately-owned flocks and large-scale commercial operations, the message is the same. Good practices need to be sustained whether disease is endemic or not.

he Defend the Flock the program is poised to address those practices with 14 different checklists, which APHIS/USDA plans to publish at intervals among backyard and commercial producers. Materials, currently available in both English and Spanish, will include additional languages in future years to reach all audiences.

“Commercial producers, the primary breeding industry, backyard poultry owners, and even personnel working on the farm can use these checklists and biosecurity practices as reminders. It’s extremely important that we have biosecurity procedures in place at large and small establishments or operations at all times, because you never know when disease will strike.”

Free checklists, videos, webinars, and resources can be found at the Defend the Flock Resource Center at and APHIS encourages all poultry owners to use and share the material and ensure they are doing everything possible to keep their birds healthy.


Impacts of the 2014-2015 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Outbreak on the U.S. Poultry Sector by Sean Ramos, Matthew MacLachlan, and Alex Melton

Defend the Flock Resource Center

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