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Small Scale and Backyard Poultry Owners Should Remain Vigilant to Protect Against Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza

By Katie Ockert

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) continues to be a concern and it is important for bird owners to increase biosecurity practices and remain vigilant in monitoring their birds’ health.  

HPAI is a highly contagious virus that can be spread directly by infected wild birds/animals or indirectly through any items that have come into contact with the virus such as equipment, vehicles, feed and the clothing and shoes of animal caretakers. Implementing biosecurity practices can help reduce the risk of exposure and infection. Michigan State University Extension suggests the following on farm practices: 

Prevent contact in between wild birds and domestic birds 

  • Removing standing water 
  • Fencing off natural ponds and vegetative areas around barns and pasture/free ranging areas  
  • Reducing food sources for wild birds 
  • Covering animal carcasses  
  • Plugging holes where wild birds can obtain access into and out of coops  
  • Removing wild bird perching areas  

Implement on farm biosecurity practices 

  • Wear clean clothing and footwear while caring for animals 
  • Practice good personal hygiene by frequently washing hands with soap and hot water  
  • Regularly clean and disinfect tools and equipment used on the farm 
  • Limit farm visitors: if service professionals must come on the farm, identify a specific area for parking away from animal housing and provide visitors with disposable foot coverings
    • Do not visit neighboring flocks. If you must, wear different clothing and footwear than you wear with your flock 
    • Limit exposure to your flock from anyone who has had contact with other flocks of birds. 
    • Keep a visitor log that includes date individuals visited your flock and their contact information
  • Separate, or ideally isolate, any newly acquired animals for a minimum of 14 days and monitor new animals for signs of illness 
  • Know the signs and symptoms of illness  
  • Care for new, separated, isolated or sick animals last 

To create a comprehensive farm biosecurity plan, visit the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Defend the Flock resource center for more information and detailed biosecurity checklists.  

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, birds infected with HPAI may exhibit one or more of the following symptoms: 

  • Lack of coordination 
  • Low energy or appetite 
  • Purple discoloration or swelling of the head, comb, wattles, eyelids, and/or hocks 
  • Reduced egg production, or soft-shelled/misshapen eggs 
  • Nasal discharge, coughing, or sneezing 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Sudden death with no prior signs  

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) notes that HPAI is not evidenced by one bird showing symptoms or dying while the remaining flock continues acting normally. Small flock and backyard poultry owners should take notice when two or more birds die within a 24-hour period and the rest of the flock is exhibiting symptoms of HPAI. 

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