Poultry News, Feb/Mar 2024 – Backyard Poultry

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Lucy in school, Ducks Unlimited fundraiser, genome editing, and more…

By Kenny Coogan and Carla Tilghman

Students at Howell Elementary Love Their Schoolmate, Lucy the Chicken

Lucy hatched in September 2022 at Peter Howell Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, and quickly became a friend to all. Today, she assists the
school’s evening custodian, Gilbert Garcia, as part of the cleanup crew. Lucy
follows Garcia in the hallways, making sure all crumbs are accounted for.

“When she was little, Gilbert would let her roam in the hallways,” Principal
Jaquetta Alexander tells Backyard Poultry. “Little by little, she followed him and slowly developed a trust and bond with him. Eventually, he would call her, and she would come. Now they’re great friends!”

Alexander believes that other principals should allow chickens on their campuses.

“Our students love her, and they look forward to seeing her and taking care of her. We’ll be adding more chickens, soon, and our plan is to have all of the students involved in taking care of the chickens,” Alexander explains. “It truly provides a bright spot in the day, and our students are learning not only about how to tend to her needs but also about cooperation and teamwork. It’s building empathy and understanding and, of course, promoting caring and kindness.”

Lucy following Garcia through the halls of Howell Elementary. Photo by Jacquetta Alexander.

While they haven’t collected any specific data on the effects Lucy the Chicken brings to the students, Alexander does see the excitement the
students exhibit when seeing Lucy. “We see students excited about seeing her, and it adds to the overall climate and culture, providing a lot of happiness. We have anecdotal data and observations that indicate students are reading more because they read with her. And when it’s possible, in any content area, teachers use Lucy in real-world problem solving, and that’s highly engaging for our students.”

The school just hired a Gardening/Chicken Enrichment Specialist, who will be adding more chickens and a chicken coop to the school. Alexander says Gilbert will certainly volunteer his time and be involved.

Sedalia Chapter Raises Over $60,000 for Ducks Unlimited

In mid-October 2023, the Sedalia Chapter of Ducks Unlimited held their 48th annual fundraising banquet at the Ag Building on the Missouri State Fairgrounds. Ducks Unlimited has more than 2,400 chapters nationwide. Ducks Unlimited conserves, restores, and manages wetlands and associated habitats for North America’s waterfowl.

Tyler Atkinson, area coordinator for Ducks Unlimited told Backyard Poultry
that while the number of funds raised this year is huge, it’s about 10% more than last year. Atkinson says, through the generous donations and support of the community, they’ve been steadily increasing their donations.

Ducks Unlimited is a nonprofit organization established in 1937. They employ waterfowl biologists, wetland scientists, and engineers, as well as policy representatives and administrators.

Creating Resistance to Avian Influenza Infection Through Genome Editing

Researchers from the U.K. reported in October in Nature Communications that chickens that have been genetically modified are resistant to avian influenza. According to the World Health Organization, in 2022, 131 million chickens were culled or died from the disease, resulting in egg and meat shortages worldwide.

According to the study, the influenza A virus (IAV) relies on the host
protein ANP32A. Using CRISPR/ Cas9, scientists generated homozygous gene-edited (GE) chickens containing two ANP32A amino acid substitutions that prevent viral polymerase interaction. This means that the virus couldn’t take over the chicken’s protein and, therefore, birds wouldn’t be infected.

This initial study showed that 90% of edited chickens remain uninfected. One of the authors, developmental biologist Mike McGrew of the University of Edinburgh, said at a news conference in October 2023, that vaccines that defend poultry from the flu exist, but are expensive, and the virus swiftly
adapts to evade that protection. Gene editing offers a way to make permanent changes that leave an animal resistant to a particular disease.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks at an all-employee town hall in the USDA’s South Building Cafeteria, thanking employees for their contributions and taking questions from those attending the event.” USDA photo by Tom Witham.

USDA Publishes New Standards for Organic Livestock and Poultry Production, Promotes More Competitive Organic Market

Driven by consumers and the organic industry, the USDA received more than 40,000 written comments regarding new standards for Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards (OLPS). According to the USDA, OLPS improves uniformity concerning animal welfare practice requirements for organic livestock and poultry, promoting their well-being and natural behaviors. The final rule outlines six key areas:
• Outdoor space requirements
• Indoor and outdoor living conditions
• Poultry stocking densities
• Preventative healthcare practices
• Physical alterations and euthanasia
• Transport, handling, and slaughter

“USDA is creating a fairer, more competitive, and transparent food system. This organic poultry and livestock standard establishes clear and strong standards that will increase the consistency of animal welfare practices in organic production and in how these practices are enforced,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says. “Competitive markets help deliver greater value
to all producers, regardless of size.”

The USDA says, “The rule supports ongoing consumer confidence and trust in the USDA organic seal by better aligning the organic standards with consumers’ expectations for animal welfare. Many consumers are willing to pay a premium for organic livestock products, particularly for the organic chicken, egg, and meat industry. By increasing consumer trust in the organic label by aligning the organic standard with consumers’ animal welfare preferences, USDA is helping to deliver greater value to producers, and creating a fairer, more competitive, and transparent food system.”

South Africa – Next Country to be Affected by HPAI

In fall of 2023, South Africa culled 7.5 million chickens due to two strains of avian influenza, which has led to meat and egg shortages. This number
represents 20% to 30% of South Africa’s total chicken count, the South African Poultry Association says. In some stores in Johannesburg, customers were limited to six eggs a week.

It’s believed that it will take six months for the poultry industry to replace the culled birds. Namibia, which imports most of their chickens from South Africa, has placed a ban on poultry products due to the outbreak. South Africa’s government has announced it will consider purchasing bird flu vaccines.


• https://www.tusd1.org/story-20230831-chicken-in-the-classroom-howell
• https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-023-41476-3
• https://ksisradio.com/nearly-60000-raised-for-ducks-unlimited-at-banquet/
• www.usda.gov/
• https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-67054197

Originally published in the Feb/Mar 2024 issue of Backyard Poultry magazine and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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