Background: Poultry farming is widely practiced by rural households in Vietnam and the vast majority of domestic birds are kept on small household farms. However, smallholder poultry production is constrained by several issues such as infectious diseases, including avian influenza viruses whose circulation remains a threat to public health. This observational study describes the demographic structure and dynamics of small-scale poultry farms of the Mekong river delta region. Method: Fifty three farms were monitored over a 20-month period, with farm sizes, species, age, arrival/departure of poultry, and farm management practices recorded monthly. Results: Median flock population sizes were 16 for chickens (IQR: 10-40), 32 for ducks (IQR: 18-101) and 11 for Muscovy ducks (IQR: 7-18); farm size distributions for the three species were heavily right-skewed. Muscovy ducks were kept for long periods and outdoors, while chickens and ducks were farmed indoors or in pens. Ducks had a markedly higher removal rate (broilers: 0.14/week; layer/breeders: 0.05/week) than chickens and Muscovy ducks (broilers: 0.07/week; layer/breeders: 0.01-0.02/week) and a higher degree of specialization resulting in a substantially shorter life span. The rate of mortality due to disease did not differ much among species, with birds being less likely to die from disease at older ages, but frequency of disease symptoms differed by species. Time series of disease-associated mortality were correlated with population size for Muscovy ducks (Kendall's coefficient τ = 0.49, p-value < 0.01) and with frequency of outdoor grazing for ducks (τ = 0.33, p-value = 0.05). Conclusion: The study highlights some challenges to disease control in small-scale multispecies poultry farms. The rate of interspecific contact and overlap between flocks of different ages is high, making small-scale farms a suitable environment for pathogens circulation. Muscovy ducks are farmed outdoors with little investment in biosecurity and few inter-farm movements. Ducks and chickens are more at-risk of introduction of pathogens through movements of birds from one farm to another. Ducks are farmed in large flocks with high turnover and, as a result, are more vulnerable to disease spread and require a higher vaccination coverage to maintain herd immunity.
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