The U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS) has reported that the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) outbreak has affected over 52.4 million domesticated poultry in the United States in 2022. This outbreak has been the deadliest in the U.S. history, with cases reaching their peak at 6.15 million in September and almost 3.7 million cases reported in November.
Experts at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future suggest that shifting away from industrial models can prevent the spread of HPAI. Pasture-raised poultry models can also help to keep livestock healthy, according to farmers.
The USDA recommends that flocks with outdoor access, labeled as pasture-raised and free-range, be quarantined as the virus spreads through contact with migratory waterfowl, such as ducks and geese. The Regenerative Agriculture Alliance model utilizes a Tree-Range system, where farmers raise small poultry flocks with native crops like elderberries and hazelnuts. These Indigenous permaculture methods can prevent water from pooling in areas where the chickens have access, create shelter for chickens, and ensure HPAI-prone waterfowl do not intermingle with chickens.
Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, Co-Founder of Regeneration Farms, says that regenerative, indigenous methods of animal husbandry prioritize bird health, are not too labor-intensive, and create ecosystems that promote the health of chickens. Farms using the Tree-Range system follow enhanced biosecurity protocols to have full transparency in case of an outbreak.
Confined poultry systems are dangerous for spreading HPAI because the birds are standing in their waste all day. In a true pasture-based system, birds are healthier and less likely to come into contact with HPAI-infected waste. Commercial, indoor, and densely confined operations have suffered the highest bird losses, while farms that raise poultry on pasture in mobile coops have reported almost no losses.
The American Pastured Poultry Producers Association (APPPA) argues that quarantining poultry during the 2022 HPAI outbreak can create ideal conditions for spreading the virus. APPPA members raise poultry on pasture in mobile coops, where birds are moved to fresh pasture often, so they don't come into contact with waste. APPPA model is beneficial in cases of disease outbreaks because the birds are developing their immune systems in ways that confined birds are not.
HPAI is highly contagious, but poultry deaths during the outbreak are not always due to the virus but to the response itself. The USDA requires farmers to cull or depopulate via slaughter all infected poultry to prevent future spread. The APPPA model and Regenerative Agriculture Alliance create diverse permaculture ecosystems for poultry, achieving more transparent supply chains, healthier chickens, and more resilient farmer enterprises.