Small Farms Program
Iowa State University Extension & Outreach
The avian influenza outbreak of 2015 was the largest animal health emergency in the United States history. Not only were 211 commercial flocks affected, but 21 backyard flocks for a total of 49,700,000 birds affected. Although no one knows exactly how the flu spreads, health officials do know certain practices contribute to the spread of the disease. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) recommends the following six practices to help to ensure a healthy backyard flock.
- Keep your distance. Restrict access to your coop and your birds. APHIS suggests fencing your birds into a run with netting on top. This protects the birds from wild birds that might be transmitting diseases and provides protection from predators. Shutting your chickens in at night prevents predators from easy access and a property owner should check for holes under fencing and in the coop regularly.
- Keep it clean. Wear clean clothes into the chicken area with shoes dedicated to the purpose of feeding and watering your chickens. Wash your hands before and after chores and clean your coop regularly. Change the food and water daily to reduce manure buildup in these areas. Poultry may have salmonella germs in droppings, feathers, beaks and feet that can easily spread with human contact. Salmonella symptoms in humans will appear within 12-72 hours of contact and can last 4 to 7 days.
- Don’t haul disease home. Don’t borrow or lend equipment from any other neighbors with chickens. Keep new birds away from your existing flock for at least two weeks. A healthy chicken coop is one secure from rodents and predators, well ventilated and easy to clean.
- Don’t borrow disease from your neighbor. Don’t share tools or supplies from anyone else with poultry. Clean and disinfect all your equipment. Don’t share wood shavings or paper products with anyone else.
- Know the signs of illness. If you notice sneezing, couching, nasal discharge, diarrhea or poor appetite, your birds require further assessment. Signs of avian influenza include swelling around the eyes, neck and head, purple discoloration and a sudden increase in bird mortality. Signs of Exotic Newcastle disease include tremors, listing of the head and overall lack of movement.
- Report sick birds. If you suspect Avian Influenza or Exotic Newcastle disease, contact your local or state veterinarians, USDA or APHIS. The direct line for USDA to report sick birds if 866-536-7593.
For more information on backyard biosecurity, visit USDA APHIS - Biosecurity for Birds or the Iowa Poultry Association toolkit.
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