Backyard Chickens & Avian Influenza: What to Do About Bird Flu

This article is intended to arm backyard chicken keepers with the tools they need to defend against this rapidly-spreading bird flu in North America.
Poultry flocks in Canada, Kansas, Washington, Oregon, California, Minnesota, Missouri, Idaho, Arkansas and Wisconsin were annihilated in 2015 by the highly contagious, fast-moving and über-deadly H5N2 avian influenza virus. 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.

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 below 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)

To view an interactive map of confirmed cases of avian influenza in North America in 2017, click HERE.
Avian influenza (AI, also known as bird flu) is a highly contagious, infectious bird disease caused by various strains of the influenza virus. 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.

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. 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.
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

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. In Minnesota recently, a 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.

Regardless of flock size or ownership, when avian influenza is confirmed, the birds that have not already died from the virus are euthanized.
This bird was euthanized & tested negative for AI.

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
  • Diarrhea

Practicing good biosecurity limits the risk of bird flu spreading.

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.
High-risk locations include 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 bird feeders or bird baths.
Control the rodent and fly populations in the chicken yard.

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.

Poultry Veterinarian, Dr. Annika McKillop, properly attired to treat her patients at home.
Poultry Veterinarian, Dr. Annika McKillop, properly attired to treat her patients at home

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).
Avoid bringing pathogens back to your chicken yard on clothes, boots, animal carriers/cages and shared farm equipment. Clean and disinfect & footwear worn in high risk areas such as other chicken yards, poultry swaps, etc.
QUARANTINE newly acquired birds properly. Better yet, don’t bring new bird into the flock at all, particularly from a swap meet, auction or a breeder that is not NPIP certified. It’s just not worth the risk of losing one’s entire flock.
Bird flu, Limit the risk. Properly quarantine newly acquired birds. Better yet, don't bring new bird into the flock at all, particularly from a swap meet, auction or a breeder that is not NPIP certified.IDENTIFY & REPORT BIRD FLU VICTIMS
Obtain necropsies of birds that die of unknown causes. (see state veterinary pathology labs link below)
Chicken Necropsy preparations
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)

Visit WattAgNet.com to track AI Outbreaks in North America.
Track avian influenza outbreaks in North American poultry at www.WattAgNet.comSources & Further Reading:
Avian Influenza Again
Avian Influenza
Avian Flu Found on Turkey Farms Supplying Butterball
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

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Comments

avatar
NeoCyborg Sniper
Guest

i have two pet ducks and i always keep the cage clean. i have nothing to worry about because they would never be affected by avian influenza right?

D.L.
Guest

Thank you for this information.

Erica Sutton
Guest

Love your blog. Always very informative.

Don Chavez
Guest

There is no way to keep wild birds out of my run, so free range and hope. But I live in NM so I hope I’m safe.

Charlotte Bellows
Guest

good read ! lot to learn

Jill bednaryczk
Guest

Thank you!

Jill bednaryczk
Guest

I have chicks ordered for April delivery. I’m worried that there will be a bird “travel ban” of sorts to keep the bird flu at bay. Anyone think this is very likely? I’m considering cancelling my order and getting chicks locally NOW before they are picked over and before state vets/USDA (whoever) could possible say “no moving chickens”. Anyone have an educated guess or suggestion about this????

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