Protect Your Flock From Avian Influenza

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According to the USDA, avian influenza was positively identified in a backyard flock in Leavenworth County, Kansas, on March 13, 2015. That’s a little too close to home for this country girl, so I have done a bit more research to educate myself on how to protect my own backyard flock from succumbing to this disease. 

Avian influenza is a respiratory disease of birds, including chickens, ducks, turkeys, quail, guinea fowl, geese and pheasants. Some strains are highly pathogenic and have very high (as much as 100 percent) mortality rates, and the USDA refers to them as HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza) viruses. More troubling is that some strains of the virus have, in the past, been able to cross from birds to humans.

There have been two strains recently identified in poultry in the United States – H5N8 and H5N2. So far neither of these have caused any human illnesses, which is the good news. The bad news is that the currently circulating viruses are deadly to poultry. Even if some birds survive, they are often euthanized to prevent further spread of the disease.

The disease is easily transmissible on equipment, clothing, manure, vehicles, etc. Avian influenza can survive in a moderate temperature environment for a very long time and can survive indefinitely in freezing temperatures.

There are some biosecurity measures we backyard poultry producers can implement to help protect our flocks. This is a very brief look at some things to do.

  1. Isolate your birds so they do not have contact with outside birds or with visitors.

  2. Routinely clean tools, cages, equipment, feeders and waterers with a 1:10 Clorox bleach to water solution. Most cleaners will kill HPAI viruses, but Clorox is economical and easy to find. Clorox is recommended vs. “generic” brands of bleach because it has research to prove it consistently contains the level of bleach required to kill viruses. Other bleach brands have been shown to have inconsistent amounts and are not reliable for use in these situations. Use foot baths when entering and exiting poultry containment areas.

  3. If you visit another farm with poultry or birds, be sure to clean your vehicle, use a foot bath to clean your shoes, and clean any other items that may have had contact with other birds.

  4. Isolate new birds from your existing flock for a period of time before introducing them.

  5. Avoid sharing tools and equipment with friends and neighbors.

  6. Know how to spot sick birds and isolate birds with possible symptoms quickly to help prevent spread to the rest of the flock.

    1. Sudden increase in bird deaths in your flock

    2. Sneezing, gasping for air, coughing, and nasal discharge

    3. Watery and green diarrhea

    4. Lack of energy and poor appetite

    5. Drop in egg production or soft- or thin-shelled misshapen eggs

    6. Swelling around the eyes, neck, and head

    7. Purple discoloration of the wattles, combs, and legs

  7. Report sick birds or suspicious bird deaths to your local extension office, your veterinarian, or you can call the USDA’s toll free hotline at 866-536-7593. The USDA has a program that will compensate poultry producers for losses incurred as a result of an avian influenza outbreak in their flock.

More extensive information can be found at the USDA’s website here.

A current list of areas with poultry that have tested positive for avian influenza can be found here.

Please note that if you have more questions, you should contact your local extension agent, your veterinarian, or the USDA.