This week put many poultry keepers on alert when an outbreak of the Avian Flu was discovered in a Tyson plant in Tennessee. This was the first time this Virus has been detected in our state although there were outbreaks in other states in the country last year. The virus can be catastrophic to anyone that keeps poultry because the death toll is very high and very quick. During the years 2014 to 2015 in a large outbreak over 50 million chickens with the majority being laying hens were lost to the virus. This in turn drove the cost of eggs up substantially. With this recent outbreak in Tennessee alone 73,500 birds will be lost and 30 chicken producers within 6 miles of the Tyson location are quarantined. So what can you do to keep your chicken flock safe? First of all know what to look for in your flock and establish bio security principles if you haven’t already done so.
What is it and what are the symptoms?
The Avian Flu is a virus that is spread among water fowl, wild birds and also domesticated poultry. There are two types of categories for this illness. The low pathogenic avian influenza or LPAI is a milder form of the virus and the symptoms are generally just a lower egg production and ruffled feathers. The other category is a much more catastrophic strain called the highly pathogenic avian influenza or HPAI. The symptoms to look for in your birds affected with this strain are :
Blueness of the head or comb area
Less Roaming Activity
Reduction in the appetite
Excessive flock huddling and ruffled feathers
Fluid in the comb and wattles
Reduced egg production
Legs bleeding under the skin
Bio security and your flock….
So what are some of the steps that you can take to protect your existing flock? The CDC states that the virus is spread through the saliva, mucous and feces of infected birds. This may also include wild birds that fly into your enclosure and leave behind droppings on the ground or frequent your feeders or water containers.
Limit wild bird exposure- Whether it’s exposure to waterfowl or just game birds, limiting exposure of them to your flock is important. Move feeders and water containers inside the coop and try to cover the area where your birds will be with a top over the run if that is feasible for you to do. This will limit droppings from fly over birds. Try not to place wild bird feeders near your flock which will increase traffic of wild birds.
Limit adding new birds to your flock- This year since we are having an outbreak in the country I won’t order birds from a hatchery. If you do I would check with them to make sure they haven’t had any issues or if they monitor their birds regularly for the virus. There are many reputable hatcheries in the country. For our farm, I will just incubate and hatch my own birds this year and try to keep my flock more self contained. If you do add new birds quarantine them for 30 days and watch for illness before adding them to your existing flock.
Clean your coop- Clean coop more frequently and sanitize all equipment used when finished. Thoroughly sanitize all water containers and feeders. Spray coop down with a safe virucide when finished.
Don’t spread the germs yourself- Wear separate shoes that are only worn to take care of the chickens and then removed. If there seems to be an immediate threat with an outbreak close by you may want to go so far as to cover your shoes from one pen to the other to keep from spreading the virus on your own property. Also be careful with reusing egg cartons because the virus can be spread that way. Don’t allow others with chickens into your runs especially with shoes that they may have worn around their own birds. It’s also not unreasonable to keep visitors safely away from the boundaries where your birds are kept. Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water before and after caring for your birds
I know that many of these steps may sound drastic but this virus can work very quickly by wiping out your entire flock in as little as one days time. But all of that to say if you follow the tips above and keep a close eye on your girls the odds are that they will be just fine. Comparatively speaking there have not been a large number of flocks in the United States hit with the virus and due to the bio security measures and quarantine within 10 miles of a flock that is struck with the virus we are able to contain the flu fairly well.
If you do think that your flock has been affected with the virus you can have them tested for the virus at independent labs or get further information by calling the United States Department of Agriculture at 1-866-536-7593.