Poultry flocks across the United States and in Canada, were annihilated by a fast-moving, über-deadly avian influenza virus in 2015, 2016, 2017, and again in 2022. While Bird Flu has primarily affected commercial poultry populations in the US in recent years, this following information is intended to arm you with the tools you need to help protect your flock from Avian Influenza and the many other diseases that could affect your pet chickens.
WHAT IS AVIAN INFLUENZA?
Avian influenza (AI, also known as bird flu) is a highly contagious, infectious bird disease caused by various strains of the influenza virus (Type A). Bird flu is spread primarily by migrating waterfowl via their droppings. Anyone or anything that comes in contact with infected droppings can transmit the virus to other birds. “[Bird flu] rides the wind, lives in water, can attach itself to clothes, tires, shovels, manure spreaders…..anything.”1 Avian influenza should scare the heck out of all backyard chicken keepers.
Some of the bird flu viruses infect humans, but most do not. While there is not currently a concern for human health with the H5N2 virus, bird flu viruses have mutated in the past. All backyard chicken keepers, farmers and commercial poultry growers play a role in controlling and limiting the impact of avian influenza.
FLOCK IMPACT OF BIRD FLU
Regardless of flock size or ownership, when avian influenza is confirmed, the birds that have not already died from the virus are euthanized. For example, in 2017 a Minnesota commercial turkey barn containing ~15,000 birds was reduced to 100 in a number of days from the virus- the survivors were immediately quarantined and humanely euthanized. The result would be the same for a backyard flock. There is no such thing as reducing losses in backyard flocks with avian influenza, so there is no need for discussion of survivors being carriers- once the virus is confirmed, the entire flock is euthanized.
BIRD FLU SYMPTOMS
- Sudden death without any clinical signs
- Lack of energy and appetite
- Decreased egg production and/or soft-shelled or misshapen eggs
- Swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, wattles, and hocks
- Purple discoloration of the wattles, combs, and legs (looks like bruising)
- Runny nose, coughing, sneezing
- Stumbling or falling down
WHAT TO DO ABOUT BIRD FLU
Good biosecurity practices limit the risk of bird flu.
ISOLATE your birds from potential bird flu carriers coming from high risk locations including all poultry yards, poultry swaps, poultry shows, livestock auctions, fairs and feed stores.
Potential bird flu carriers include: people, (including you and other poultry keepers) clothing, shoes, equipment, (shovels, tractors, wheelbarrows, car tires) and all wildlife.
Don’t attract wild birds to the area with food or water, including open chicken feeders, drinkers, standing water, wild bird feeders and bird baths.
Never bring birds into your flock that have lived on a different property!
Only add to your flock with day old chicks obtained from an NPIP certified hatchery.
Avoid visiting other chicken yards, farms, poultry shows, ag fairs, chicken swaps, auctions or other places live birds are found during a crisis.
CLEAN & DISINFECT Any potential carriers entering the chicken yard from high risk areas should be cleaned & equipment, disinfected. Require visitors to change clothing and wear disposable shoe covers and wash hands before entering the yard. Change your clothes, wear clean shoes & wash hands when returning home from high risk areas.
I use un-activated Oxine to disinfect (1/4 teaspoon per gallon of water). Oxine is 200x more effective than chlorine bleach & safer. It quickly biodegrades into common table salt. Learn more about Oxine here and here.
Alternatively, use bleach solution in a 3:2 ratio (3 parts bleach, 2 parts water).
QUARANTINE newly acquired birds properly. Better yet, don’t bring birds that have lived on another property into the flock at all, particularly from a swap meet, auction or a seller that is not NPIP certified. It’s just not worth the risk of losing your entire flock.
Be aware of the symptoms of avian influenza (above) and report sick birds IMMEDIATELY to any of the following:
- Your chickens’ veterinarian (list of board certified avian vets HERE)
- Your state veterinary diagnostic laboratory (*MA lab HERE, NH lab HERE)
- Your state veterinarian (list HERE)
- The USDA’s Veterinary Services at 1-866-536-7593
- Your state Agricultural Extension Service’s poultry agent (list HERE)
Sources & Further Reading:
1 Avian Influenza Again
2 Avian Influenza
3 Avian Flu Found on Turkey Farms Supplying Butterball
4 Deadly bird flu strain hits commercial turkey operation in west-central Minnesota
5 USDA Animal Health Monitoring & Surveillance- Avian Flu Information & Resources
6 USDA-Protect Your Birds from Avian Influenza
7 USDA Confirms Highly Pathogenic H7N8 Avian Influenza in a Commercial Turkey Flock in Dubois County, Indiana
1/15/16 UPDATE: The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has confirmed the presence of highly pathogenic H7N8 avian influenza (HPAI) in a commercial turkey flock in Dubois County, Indiana. This is a different strain of HPAI than the strains that caused the 2015 outbreak.
1/9/17 UPDATE: The USDA’s APHIS confirmed the first case of H5N2 of Eurasian Lineage in a wild mallard duck in Montana. The same precautions apply with particular emphasis on avoiding wild waterfowl.
3/5/17 UPDATE: The USDA’s APHIS confirmed the presence of highly pathogenic H7N9 avian influenza (HPAI) of North American wild bird lineage in a commercial chicken breeder flock in Lincoln County, Tennessee.
3/6/17 The Tennessee state veterinarian confirms that a flock of chickens at a commercial poultry breeding operation has tested positive for H7N9, a low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI)