Backyard Poultry & Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza: Keeping Your Flock Safe

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As we prepare for the upcoming 4-H poultry shows, we must address the elephant in the room. Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) is a disease that is very detrimental to domestic poultry including ducks, turkeys, and chickens. Wild birds such as waterfowl are also susceptible to HPAI, but they do not see the mortality domestic birds have with this disease. This disease causes mortality in a flock (up to 95%) in a short period of time, so poultry producers and backyard hobbyists should try their best to keep their flocks safe using strict biosecurity measures.

Biosecurity involves putting measures in place to prevent the introduction, or the spread of diseases and other harmful pathogens to animals. Poultry owners, both large and small, should implement a biosecurity plan to protect their flock. Some of the measures you can take to protect your flock include quarantining new birds, preventing contact with wild birds, and preventing foot and vehicle traffic from other farms. If you go to another farm, or go bird hunting, shower and change clothes before interacting with your own flock. To learn more about biosecurity, follow the link below to an article written by one of the North Carolina Area Specialized Poultry Agents.

As we continue through the remainder of the winter until migratory birds return north, here are a few of the clinical signs of HPAI so you can monitor the health of your flock:

  • Sudden death without clinical signs;
  • Lack of energy and appetite;
  • Decreased egg production or soft-shelled or misshapen eggs;
  • Swelling of head, comb, eyelid, wattles, and hocks;
  • Purple discoloration of wattles, comb, and legs;
  • Nasal discharge, coughing, and sneezing;
  • Incoordination; or
  • Diarrhea

(USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service(APHIS))

The need for biosecurity does not go away when the migratory birds head back to their nesting grounds. Diseases are always present and a producer should always keep biosecurity at the front of their mind.

For 4-H members who are planning to participate in upcoming poultry events, it is important to keep your current flock separate from your 4-H birds you receive for shows and other projects. We do not want to introduce either group of birds to pathogens that could make them sick. House these birds in a separate coop or pen if possible.

USDA APHIS article To learn more about Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza.