By Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC
There are many different strains of viruses that cause avian influenza (AI). These viruses affect wild birds, waterfowl, and backyard chickens, and commercial poultry. Most are not a big threat to you and your birds, but some strains are classified high pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), meaning they cause high rates of death among chickens. These high rates of death can be especially devastating to the commercial poultry industry, so it’s important that backyard chicken keepers be aware of outbreaks of HPAI.
How can you keep your flock safe from the avian flu?
Avian flu and other infectious diseases can be transmitted by other animals, objects, or through the air. The key to keeping your birds from catching avian flu, or any contagious disease, is biosecurity, the practice of isolating your flock from direct or indirect contact with other birds to prevent them from getting an infectious disease.
Here are some steps you can take to prevent transmission of HPAI (or any other infectious disease). It’s a good practice to follow these tips on a regular basis, not just during an HPAI outbreak, however.
Take Measures Around Your Coop
- Shore up your run with hardware cloth to prevent wild birds from entering.
- Especially during outbreaks of HPAI or other highly pathogenic diseases, limit free ranging. You might want to build a bigger run and provide more enrichment.
- Remove spilled feed that might attract wild birds and other wildlife.
Keep Things Clean
- Clean feeders and waterers regularly.
- Clean and disinfect new tools and equipment (waterers, feeders, rakes, shovels, scoops, etc.) before you use them.
- When you clean the new items, prevent the runoff from reaching your coop.
- Clean and disinfect your coop regularly.
- Use a dedicated pair of shoes (and even clothing) to enter the chicken area.
Don’t Bring Diseases In
- Don’t share or reuse materials or equipment.
- If you interact with poultry that are not yours, disinfect yourself. Before getting in your car, spray down your shoes with a disinfectant approved by U.S. EPA for use against avian influenza and other poultry diseases. When you return home, remove and wash your clothes, shower, and wash your hair before going to your coop.
- If you’ve been to a farm that has poultry, wash your car, including the undercarriage.
- If you hunt gamebirds (pheasants, grouse, waterflow, etc.) for sport, be sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect any surfaces and items they may have come in contact with.
- Don’t allow people who have chickens to interact with your birds unless they are wearing disinfected shoes and newly laundered clothes. You may also ask them to use shoe covers or a footbath containing an approved disinfectant. Have them clean off large clumps of material before using the footbath.
- Keep your birds separated by age and species. Some species and ages are more susceptible to certain disease-causing organisms.
- Quarantine new birds for at least 30 days.
- Keep a coop diary and log any changes (egg laying, symptoms, weight loss/gain, etc.)
- Observe your birds and know signs of illness.
- Report sick birds or high death rates over a short period of time.
Clinical Signs to Watch For
How do you know if your birds are sick? Watch for the following signs. These signs may not necessarily point to avian flu, but the first two especially are cause for immediate action.
- Sudden death with no clinical signs
- Many birds dying in a short period of time
- Lack of energy or appetite
- Stumbling or falling down
- Lack of coordination
- Nasal discharge, snicking, sneezing
- Legs, wattles, and comb turning purple
- Swelling around the face (head, comb, wattles, eyelids)
- Drop in egg production
- Misshapen or soft-shelled eggs
Report sick birds immediately. Contact your state’s animal health official immediately if you suspect avian flu. Follow the instructions they provide. You can also call the USDA toll-free at 1-866-536-7593.
What to Have on Hand
Keep the following readily available so you can effectively put them to use.
- Shoe or boot covers
- Disposable plastic gloves
- A disinfectant approved by U.S. EPA for use against avian influenza and other poultry diseases
- Information on signs to watch for
- Contact information of state or federal officials involved with poultry health
What to Do if a Bird Dies
Collect and preserve the body immediately. Place it in a plastic bag and cool the core by putting it in the refrigerator or in a cooler containing loose or bagged ice.
Contact your state’s animal health official immediately if you suspect avian flu. Follow the instructions they provide. You can also call the USDA toll-free at 1-866-536-7593.
More Information from the USDA
Check out the USDA’s Defend the Flock Resource Center for more information. It includes checklists, videos, and other resources at no charge.