I’m on a number of chicken Facebook groups and see folks refer to NPIP – the National Poultry Improvement Plan. I’m in Canada and as far as I’m aware (correct me if I’m wrong), we don’t have a counterpart of this American program.
NPIP was established in the early 1930’s to provide a multi-level program aimed at improving the health of poultry. The original goal was to eliminate Pullorum Disease caused by Salmonella, a widespread bacteria that caused high mortality rates in chicks.
It’s now a State-Federal cooperative testing and certification program for poultry breeding flocks, hatching eggs, hatcheries and dealers regarding specific diseases and includes commercial, show and backyard chickens; turkeys; waterfowl and game birds.
Current pathogen testing has expanded to include:
- Avian Influenza
- Mycoplasma gallisepticum
- Mycoplasma meleagridis
- Mycoplasma synoviae
- Salmonella enteritidis
- Salmonella gallinarum (fowl typhoid)
In addition, they offer specific programs intended to reduce the incidence of Salmonella in hatching eggs, chicks and poults through sanitation measures at farms and hatcheries.
How to Get NPIP-Certified
Hatcheries are required to test their flock for the diseases included in their certification. While testing procedures vary from state to state, blood testing for a representative sample of the flock is required prior to receiving certification – usually up to 300 birds. If your farm has less than 300 birds, it’s likely they will all be tested and banded as verification.
After testing, all future birds must be purchased from an NPIP certified source. Any non-NPIP birds purchased must be quarantined before being tested and added to your NPIP tested flock. Hatcheries must re-test their flock annually to maintain certification.
Certification also requires a written biosecurity plan which includes:
- Traffic Control: of people, other animals, vehicles and equipment in order to reduce the risk of introducing pathogens to their flock.
- Pest Control: Rodents, insects, and even wild birds can introduce diseases to the flock, so plans include how to deter pests and prevent infestations.
- Reporting: unusual illnesses or increased mortality rates.
The Benefits of NPIP include:
- If you’re breeding birds and would like to mail birds across state lines, certification is required to do so legally.
- If your flock becomes infected with a reportable disease (such as Avian Influenza), the USDA will reimburse you for all birds that are culled.
- If the USDA depopulates a flock that is not NPIP certified, they only compensate the owner for 25% of their value.
It seems that although the program is national it rolls out differently across the country. Each state has its own process, fees and paperwork. For instance, in California there are a limited number of allowable NPIP certified hatcheries and there’s a waitlist to become part of the program; in New Hampshire, there are grants and the testing is free.
Flock owners are responsible for the costs of testing, which typically include the cost of drawing blood, shipment and analysis by an NPIP approved laboratory. In some states it’s free; in others it may cost as much as $300 for the first year and $125 for annual renewal after that. For some, that’s enough to discourage certification for small flock owners.
I asked folks on a couple of Facebook chicken sites about their experiences with NPIP. I had several responses, all of them positive. Breeders spoke of how it ensured that chicken keepers played by the rules in order to reduce and track the spread of various pathogens across their state. One person said their tester offered to take several birds that had just died of unknown causes to the lab for a free necropsy to determine their cause of death.
While most folks were positive about NPIP certification itself there was some discussion about the negative practices around selling and shipping birds and eggs. Some breeders join NPIP in order to legally ship birds across state lines, but it’s clear that there are non-certified breeders who ship eggs and birds illegally because they can do so without penalty.
There was also the mention that some people are using forged certification numbers.
Buying from an NPIP certified breeder should give you peace of mind that you are buying healthy birds. However, NPIP doesn’t mean that those birds are free of all diseases or even all of the ones that certification might cover. And that’s because some NPIP participants don’t test for all six pathogens. It’s imperative that you ask what they are tested for and verify their certification number with your state organization.
A south-of-the-border friend brought to my attention some of NPIP’s shortcomings.
“People think if they purchase from an NPIP breeder their birds are healthier than purchasing from those that aren’t. I had that false sense of security myself. What I learned and now explain to others when they state, “You should only purchase from a NPIP dealer,” is you need to ask what they test their flock for.
The only test that is mandatory is Avian Influenza. All other tests – like MG and MS – are optional. When I found that out I asked local breeders what they test for and all responded that they only test for Avian Influenza because it’s cost prohibitive to do otherwise. By the time you learn that, it’s too late.” – D.W.
Like any program, NPIP is open to abuse and misinterpretation of what certification entails. Remember that they only test for Influenza, Mycoplasmas and Salmonella and not most respiratory infections or Marek’s Disease.
If everyone abides by the rules it can be a way to improve the health of small flock chickens. I think it’s really a situation of caveat emptor – buyer beware – and doing your due diligence to make sure you are getting what you’ve paid for.
For more information on NPIP click here.
Credit: Backyard Poultry, Mother Earth News, Poultry World, US Dept. of Agriculture. Featured Photo: NPIP