Backyard chicken-keeping tips will keep your birds thriving.
A boy feeds a chicken from his hand.
From urban hens in Wisconsin to 4-H chicken projects in Florida, the backyard poultry revolution is sweeping the nation. Whether you keep chickens for meat or eggs, breed show birds or game birds, have a big flock or a couple of hens, health is an important priority. Practicing the fundamentals of offering your birds sufficient space, clean quarters, healthy, uncontaminated feed, and clean water will go a long way to keeping chicken diseases at bay, and if you take it a little further, you can create a zone of biosecurity around your fowl that’s tough to penetrate.
According to Dr. Fidelis Hegngi, senior staff veterinarian with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, in some countries, infectious poultry diseases such as High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (HPAI), commonly called AI, and Exotic Newcastle Disease (END) can cause serious problems for flock owners. While these poultry diseases are not normally a threat to people, they can make birds sick and even kill them. Low Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (LPAI) occasionally does break out in North America; there is some worry that it could mutate to HPAI – guarding against AI infection of any kind will protect your flock from most other diseases, too.
The best insurance against AI and other infectious diseases involves taking a few precautions known collectively as backyard biosecurity. Hegngi says backyard biosecurity includes a broad range of practices that can protect your birds from contracting disease – cleanliness is critical. His tips for keeping things clean include:
Hegngi also advises chicken owners to practice a “keep it away” policy, restricting access to a flock, especially if visitors have poultry of their own.
Tips for keeping away outside diseases from your home flock include:
“Bird owners should know the warning signs of bird diseases such as AI and END,” Hegngi says, “because early detection can help prevent their spread.”
Some key signs to look for are:
“Early detection of a problem can help protect the health of your flock,” Hegngi says. “USDA/APHIS maintains a website with biosecurity information and a host of free resources to help.”
Check out this free government resource (with sections on poultry, pet birds and wild birds, and specific pages for Avian Influenza and Exotic Newcastle Disease) for informational DVDs, pamphlets, fact sheets, brochures and a downloadable calendar.
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