Any springtime trip to the local farm supply store is certain to fill your ears with the sound of chirping baby chicks. More and more people are populating their yards or farms with chickens or other types of birds. Bird owners, especially poultry farmers, play an important role in preventing the spread of highly contagious viruses, like avian influenza (AI). In the United States, naturally occurring strains of AI are unlikely to affect human health. However, AI and other highly contagious bird diseases pose a serious threat to our economy and food supply.

It is important for all bird keepers to be vigilant about biosecurity, even those with small backyard flocks. Proper precautions will help minimize the risk of domestic poultry flocks acting as a reservoir for the genetic mixing of bird and human viruses. Believe it or not, improving poultry biosecurity is also an act of patriotism. Well-informed bird owners who take biosecurity seriously make the domestic poultry industry a more difficult target for bio-terrorists.

The following information on avian biosecurity has been supplied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) as part of their “Defend the Flock” initiative.  More information can be found through healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov or by contacting your avian or poultry veterinarian. You can also get updates from the “Defend the Flock” program by following them on Facebook (facebook.com/defendtheflock) or Twitter (twitter.com/Defend_theFlock).

(1) Keep Your Distance.

  • Restrict access to your property and your birds.
  • Consider fencing off the area where you keep your birds and make a barrier area if possible. Allow only people who take care of your birds to come into contact with them.
  • If visitors have birds of their own, do not let them near your birds.
  • Game birds and migratory waterfowl should not have contact with your flock because they can carry germs and diseases.

(2) Keep It Clean.

  • Wear clean clothes. Scrub your shoes with disinfectant.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before entering your bird area.
  • Clean cages and change food and water daily.
  • Clean and disinfect equipment that comes in contact with your birds or their droppings, including cages and tools.
  • Remove manure before disinfecting.
  • Properly dispose of dead birds.

(3) Don’t Haul Disease Home.

  • If you have been near other birds or bird owners, such as at a feed store, clean and disinfect car and truck tires, poultry cages and equipment before going home.
  • Have your birds been to a fair or exhibition? Keep them separated from the rest of your flock for at least two weeks after the event.
  • New birds should be kept separate from your flock for at least 30 days.

(4) Don’t Borrow Disease From Your Neighbor.

  • Do not share lawn and garden equipment, tools, or poultry supplies with your neighbors or other bird owners.
  • If you do bring these items home, clean and disinfect them before they reach your property.

(5) Know the Warning Signs of Infectious Bird Diseases.

  • Sudden increase in bird deaths in your flock
  • Sneezing, gasping for air, coughing, and nasal discharge
  • Watery and green diarrhea
  • Lack of energy and poor appetite
  • Drop in egg production or soft- or thin-shelled, misshapen eggs
  • Swelling around the eyes, neck, and head
  • Purple discoloration of the wattles, combs, and legs (can indicate AI – Avian Influenza)
  • Tremors, drooping wings, circling, twisting of the head and neck, or lack of movement (can indicate END – Exotic Newcastle Disease)

Early detection is important to prevent the spread of disease. 

(6) Report Sick Birds.

Don’t wait. If your birds are sick or dying call your local veterinarian, local cooperative extension office, the state veterinarian, or the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Veterinary Service’s toll-free hotline, 1-866-536-7593.