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Protecting Backyard Chickens from Avian Influenza

Protecting Backyard Chickens from Avian Influenza

AUBURN, Alabama–Migratory water fowl are on the move, and with them, the threat of avian influenza. Alabama Cooperative Extension System scientists point out avian influenza is spread by migrating water fowl such as ducks and geese.

However, Dr. Joe Hess, an Alabama Extension poultry scientists, said backyard flock owners can follow some easy biosecurity guidelines to help ensure their birds’ health.

“Good hygiene and common-sense practices help prevent disease,” said Hess.

Purchase from Reputable Source

“People should buy chicks from outlets like feed and seed stores or directly from a mail-order company,” said Hess, who is also an Auburn University professor of poultry science. “These outlets sell chicks from suppliers that are certified disease-free, helping ensure people begin their flocks with healthy chicks.”

Keep Your Distance

Protect Backyard Chickens from Avian InfluenzaOther people and birds—including new birds you’ve just bought and wild birds—can carry diseases. Limit contact visitors have with your birds.

If visitors own birds, do not let them enter your bird area or have access to your birds. Avoid visiting farms or other households with poultry.

Place feeders in covered locations where wild birds cannot gain access. This reduces the potential for diseases carried in wild birds’ droppings.

Keep It Clean

“People can pick up germs on shoes and clothing,” said Hess. Reduce the potential of exposing birds to disease by keeping a set of clothes and shoes to wear only around your birds.

Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before entering the coop or handling birds. Then wash hands again after handling birds.

Keep cages clean. Change food and water daily. Clean and disinfect equipment that comes in contact with birds or droppings.

Don’t Bring Disease Home

Tires, poultry cages and equipment can harbor germs. If you travel to a place where birds are present, clean and disinfect these items before returning home.

“If you take birds to a fair or exhibition, keep those birds separated from your flock for at least two weeks after the event. New birds should be kept separate from your flock for a month.”

Know Poultry Disease Warning Signs

Poultry diseases can be swift moving and deadly. Early detection is important.

“Check how birds are eating, their energy levels and how they look daily,” said Hess.

What to Look For

  • Sudden drop in egg production or misshapen eggs
  • Swelling of head, eyelids, combs and hocks
  • Diarrhea
  • Purplish discoloration of combs and wattles
  • Difficulty breathing and nasal discharge
  • Tremors, drooping wings or other movement problems

Report Sick Birds

Hess reminds backyard flock owners that it is critical to report sick poultry.

“State officials need to know if small flocks are having disease outbreaks to prevent spread to other small flocks or to commercial operations.”

Report sick poultry or suspicious deaths to the State Department of Agriculture and Industries at (334)240-6584.


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