MSU Extension offers safety tips for backyard poultry flocks

People need to be aware of threats to their own birds as well as their possible impact on commercial poultry production.

Story updated June 9, 2015. Michigan State University Extension experts have assembled resources and information to help answer frequently asked questions that poultry owners, 4-H families and consumers may have about avian influenza.

Michigan State University Extension has hatched some useful tips to improve biosecurity for domestic poultry flocks. The guidelines are designed to protect backyard flocks from highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).

On June 8, 2015, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced the state’s first confirmed cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N2 in the state. The disease was found in free-ranging Canada geese in Macomb County. The USDA keeps track of outbreaks throughout the United States. Regular updates are posted on the avian influenza reporting section of their website. The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, is monitoring the spread of avian influenza throughout the United States.

The virus that causes avian influenza, which is common in wild birds, has mutated into a new strain, H5N2, which is deadly to domesticated poultry. Infected birds have a high mortality rate and usually die quickly after they are infected.

 “People need to be aware not only of the threats out there to backyard flocks but also the backyard flock’s ability to hurt commercial poultry production,” said Darrin Karcher, MSU Extension poultry specialist. Michigan is currently in the top 15 states in turkey and egg production in the nation, and a domestic epidemic could spread and pose a serious threat to commercial production.

Karcher has three recommendations for owners of backyard flocks to detect disease issues:  monitor their birds’ feed intake, measure water consumption, and pay close attention to the birds’ behavior.

Domestic poultry owners can also take additional steps to protect their flocks by changing their shoes and clothes before they interact with their birds. MSU Extension also recommends limiting contact with neighboring flocks, especially while the H5N2 virus is spreading.

If people believe they have been in contact with sick birds, they should stay away from their own flocks for at least 72 hours. New birds should also be quarantined for 28 days before being introduced into flocks. If people travel with their birds to 4-H events, fairs or other events where live poultry are present, they should quarantine those birds when they get home before reintroducing them to the flock.

If a bird is acting droopy or sick or there is a change in comb color, that could be a sign that it has contracted H5N2. Any changes or abnormalities should be reported to MSU Extension, a local veterinarian or the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD). If your backyard poultry flock has a high death loss or consistent pattern of death loss in a short period of time, report it to MDARD at 800-292-3939; (after hours) 517-373-0440. 

Visit the United States Department of Agriculture’s Healthy Birds page for more information. 

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