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Extension launches Animal Health Network to deliver critical information to backyard farmers


Chickens in a yard Owners of backyard flocks and herds are among the most difficult to alert about disease outbreaks. The Animal Health Network is designed specifically to reach this audience.

BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 6, 2013 – The agriculture and food system is an extensive, open, interconnected, diverse, and complex network. Any disease, pest, or poisonous agent — whether it occurs naturally, is unintentionally introduced, or is intentionally introduced by acts of terrorism — could potentially cause catastrophic health effects or economic losses to the United States. 

Recognizing that threat, Virginia Cooperative Extension, in partnership with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) and local feed retailers across the commonwealth, has put in place the Animal Health Network. This network connects underserved populations of noncommercial livestock and poultry owners with vital, animal-disease-related alerts and information from the state veterinarian. The information comes through local feed retailers who receive it from the existing Extension system.

“The Animal Health Network enables my office to reach noncommercial livestock and poultry owners more effectively and in a timely manner with critical animal disease alerts,” said Dr. Richard L. Wilkes, state veterinarian with VDACS. “This network will be extremely important in helping us reach those individuals that may only have a few head of livestock, such as chickens, goats, horses, and other pets.”

Extension agents have worked in partnership with local feed retailers to establish the network in their counties.  

“The agents will disseminate approved information from the state veterinarian to the network in the event of an emergency. The feed retailers will post the information in their stores,” said Bobby Grisso, associate director of agriculture and natural resources for Extension.  

After the alert is posted, Extension will work with the state veterinarian’s office to provide additional education and suggestions.

Prior to launching the network, Extension and VDACS conducted two tests — one planned and one unannounced — to make sure the alert system worked as intended.

The development of the network concept was funded by the National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense, one of 12 Centers of Excellence in the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of University Programs.

Virginia Cooperative Extension brings the resources of Virginia's land-grant universities, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, to the people of the commonwealth. Through a system of on-campus specialists and locally based educators, it delivers education in the areas of agriculture and natural resources, family and consumer sciences, community viability, and 4-H youth development. With a network of faculty at two universities, 107 county and city offices, 11 agricultural research and Extension centers, and six 4-H educational centers, Virginia Cooperative Extension provides solutions to the problems facing Virginians today.

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