Organic poultry are free to roam in outdoor pastures. This encourages normal foraging and re-integrates the birds with the soil, vegetation and wildlife that are natural parts of farm ecosystems. While this practice provides services to producers, such as supplementing food and managing manure, there are also risks. For example, pastured poultry are exposed to parasites and pathogens in the soil (e.g. Coccidia), or vectored by songbirds and other wildlife (e.g., Avian influenza virus; E. coli or Salmonella bacteria), endangering animal and human health. Unfortunately, there have been very few holistic studies of the factors rendering organic poultry farms susceptible or resistant to parasite/pathogen invasion. Growers’ inability to predict and manage these risks forms a major barrier to organic transition. Working on organic egg-layer farms with pastured poultry, we will fill these knowledge gaps by: (1) Surveying pathogen and parasite communities within on-farm wild bird populations, while characterizing transmission routes between wild and domesticated birds; (2) Searching for communities of soil organisms that resist colonization and persistence by soil-borne poultry parasites and pathogens; and (3) Documenting, through detailed farm descriptions and GIS modeling, local and landscape characteristics associated with problematic wild bird populations and/or beneficial soil communities. Each research objective leads directly to a specific outreach product, providing poultry producers with practical ways to reduce the risk of harboring parasites and pathogens on their farms. We address USDA-ORG priorities by (1) improving methods to describe and optimize environmental services in organic animal production while (2) reducing barriers to organic transition.
This work is supported by a grant from the USDA-NIFA (2017-51106-27026).