High Pathogen Avian Influenza

Confessions of a Steward with Joel Salatin


Perhaps no agricultural topic right now creates a sharper contrast between the “life is biology” versus “life is mechanics” philosophy than High Pathogen Avian Influenza (HPAI). In less than a year, the United States has exterminated more than 58 million chickens, turkeys, and ducks by government mandate.

For the uninitiated, realize that if one bird in a million on a farm tests positive for HPAI, every bird on that property must be exterminated. The industry uses the term euthanized, but that is not the right word. Euthanizing is what you do to a suffering pet that has no hope of recovery. It’s an end-of-suffering kind of thing. Most of the birds being killed due to HPAI are neither sick nor showing symptoms of being sick; they just happen to be in proximity to sick birds and get caught up in the melee.

To be sure, HPAI is a real thing and does kill birds. But just like covid, which is also a real thing, proper responses vary. The orthodoxy right now is to annihilate every proximate bird, healthy or not. Complete extermination. It’s being done to such an extent these days that our nation now has a Foaming Association that poultry growers can join to be first in line when the extermination order comes.


A group of white turkeys on Joel Salatin's farm


How do you kill 15,000 turkeys in a confinement house? Or 50 million chickens in a layer house? You can’t electrocute. Starvation is too slow. Ah, soap suds. You close all the windows and doors and pump in soap suds that suffocate everything and then dissipate into nothing. All you have after the foam leaves is carcasses to pick up. Efficient and cheap. How many of you want to join the Foaming Association?

The official narrative regarding this disease is that it’s spread by wild waterfowl. Isn’t it interesting that these supposed carriers don’t themselves succumb to the disease? This brings up an interesting question about how you respond to disease. That question prompts an even deeper question: Why did something get a disease? Or we could even ask what the purpose of disease is?

Bible believers understand that we live in a fallen world, where corruption and disease are all a part of losing the Edenic paradise. But clearly, the Pentateuch’s instructions about land, hygiene, religious protocols, and finances indicate that the Israelites would enjoy fewer diseases than other people. Leprosy occurred, but it was rare.

Usually, disease or complete functional breakdown occurs because protocols surrounding health aren’t—or weren’t—followed. This includes stress, of course. Envy rots the bones, according to Proverbs. My point is that things don’t break down without a reason.

Right now, nobody knows why low-path avian influenza turns into high-path. Nobody actually knows the vectors. In domestic poultry flocks, HPAI devastates, but it never kills all the birds. Somehow in the midst of the catastrophe, some birds never succumb and continue to thrive. All genetic understanding, adaptation, and immunological development indicate that the most reasonable response to HPAI is to protect and propagate the survivors.

The complete extermination policy makes no sense. If you have a rampant disease, why would you also kill the survivors? Wouldn’t you want to hang onto them at all costs, breed them, and reward whatever created a more robust immune system? It’s such a simple question, but apparently, nobody in the industry is asking it. The official policy is the complete extermination of every bird on the property…


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Photos by: Millpond Photography

Joel Salatin co-owns, with his family, Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia. Four generations of his family currently live and work on the farm, and his farm services more than 5,000 families, 50 restaurants, 10 retail outlets, and a farmers’ market with salad bar beef, pigaerator pork, pastured poultry, and forestry products. When he’s not on the road speaking, he’s at home on the farm, keeping the callouses on his hands and dirt under his fingernails, mentoring young people, inspiring visitors, and promoting local, regenerative food and farming systems. Salatin has published 15 books, and he is the editor of The Stockman Grass Farmer, granddaddy catalyst for the grass farming movement. He passionately defends small farms, local food systems, and the right to opt out of the conventional food paradigm.


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