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Strong winds help pathogens spread on poultry farms

In a new study from Washington State University, experts have found that strong winds can increase the spread of pathogens at outdoor chicken farms. The research was focused on the prevalence of Campylobacter – the most common bacterial cause of foodborne illness – at chicken farms in the western United States.

Across farms that had experienced high winds the week before the samples were collected, the pathogen was found to be more widespread. 

“Farmers need to be aware of the risk,” said study co-lead author Olivia Smith. “These environmental factors are influencing if the poultry are going to have foodborne pathogens, so farmers need to be aware of what’s around them. If there’s a lot of wind and if they’re in really agricultural areas, that’s a problem.”

For the investigation, the researchers collected samples of chicken feces at 27 farms in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho. On most of the farms, samples were taken once a year for three years. 

Overall, more than 85 percent of the farms had some instance of Campylobacter during the study period. 

“We found that 26.0% of individual chicken fecal samples we tested were positive for Campylobacter spp.,” wrote the study authors. “Our analyses suggest that Campylobacter spp. prevalence increases in poultry on farms with higher average wind speeds in the seven days preceding sampling; on farms embedded in more agricultural landscapes; and in flocks typified by younger birds, more rotations, higher flock densities, and the production of broilers.”

Study senior author Jeb Owen, a WSU entomologist, said that farmers should set up a professional relationship with a veterinarian to get their flocks checked and monitored on a regular basis. “Whether for productivity or for animal welfare, you don’t want your animals to be sick.”

The study is published in the journal Animals.

By Chrissy Sexton, Editor

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