Animal welfare during the pandemic

Published on: 5/10/2021
Author/s : Dr. Prafulla Regmi, North Carolina State University. Reviewers: Dr. Shawna Weimer, University of Maryland; Dr. Marisa Erasmus, Purdue University; Dr. Leonie Jacobs, Virginia Tech.

Animal welfare during the pandemic - Image 1

Ensuring welfare of birds at the farm is key to maintaining a healthy supply of eggs and chicken during the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on various industries, including the poultry and livestock sectors. Livestock prices are expected to go down by as much as 12%, causing billions of dollars in losses. Some examples of COVID-19 impacts on poultry production include difficulty of moving live animals, disruption of supply chains (feed, bedding, vaccines), and limited access to labor and professional services. These could directly or indirectly affect the welfare of the birds at the farm.


COVID-19 and poultry welfare

Disruption in the production chain means overgrown birds at the farm that could face euthanasia or depopulation


Management tips for the farm during the pandemic

  • Train all employees on CDC guidelines to maintain sanitation and hygiene
  • Enforce strict biosecurity measures and maintain minimum external access to the farm
  • Source out PPE (masks, gloves) in advance and maintain inventory
  • Constant communication with state and federal agencies, processing plants, and input suppliers
  • Develop an emergency plan with a veterinarian in case of a disease outbreak in the flock
  • Plan ahead for extended stay of animals on farm in cases where processing plants are closed
  • Be prepared to process animals in small batches and sell them locally


Animal welfare during the pandemic - Image 1Animal Welfare issues in times of a Pandemic

The closure of processing and packaging plants could lead to extended stay of market-ready chickens and turkeys at the farm. As birds continue to grow, they have less space.

Overstocking can cause stress, increase risks of disease, reduce litter quality, and cause behavioral issues such as aggression in birds. It also results in more restlessness and disturbance as birds have difficulty moving away from each other.

Although inter-state movement is not restricted in the U.S., certain states are beginning to impose travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines. This could lead to significant transportation stress, compromised animal welfare, and reduced product quality.

Disruption of a proper supply of feed, vaccines, medicine, and professional support are other factors that could be compromising welfare of poultry at the farm. Furthermore, waste disposal could be challenging, as prolonged housing of market-age birds results in build-up manure in the litter.


Potential Animal Welfare Solutions

There are certain strategies that could be employed at various points of production to minimize consequences for poultry welfare and potentially preventing large-scale depopulation of market-ready birds.

Animal welfare during the pandemic - Image 1

Animal welfare during the pandemic - Image 2

Animal welfare during the pandemic - Image 3

Animal welfare during the pandemic - Image 4


Other Considerations

  • Lobbying with your state representatives and agencies to make provisions for green lanes for live poultry transport and keeping food markets open
  • Following FDA and USDA guidelines on temporary changes in regulations that can benefit you to process and sell meat and eggs at local markets

This article was originally published on Poultry Extension Collaborative (PEC) and it is reproduced here with permission from the authors.

Bibliographic references

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