MSU Extension urges backyard poultry owners to keep their flocks safe

Proper handling and good sanitary practices will protect birds from avian influenza and other diseases.

EAST LANSING, Mich. – The discovery of avian influenza in wild geese in Macomb County this week has small-flock poultry owners on high alert. Michigan State University Extension experts say that proper handling and good sanitary practices will protect birds from avian influenza and other diseases.

“Biosecurity is not just for large farmers,” said Darrin Karcher, MSU Extension poultry specialist. “When it comes to keeping birds safe from disease, it is equally important for small flocks. Those housed outside are especially vulnerable to risk of contact with wild birds, their feces and feathers.”

Karcher says the accidental transmittal of the virus from wild birds to domestic poultry, such as chickens and ducks, can be avoided by following a few simple rules.

“No. 1 is to keep your birds in the coop to limit their exposure to wild birds. Also, have clothes and one pair of shoes that you wear in your coop and nowhere else,” he said. “Walking through an area where an infected wild bird has been and then walking into your own coop could be a devastating mistake.”

Karcher also advises people to wash their hands before and after handling their birds, to clean and disinfect all equipment before new birds are introduced, and to keep visitors away from their flock.

The latter can be hard for 4-H’ers who want to show their birds off to friends and neighbors, said Katie Ockert, MSU Extension animal science educator.

“I know 4-H’ers are disappointed they can’t show their birds at their county fair,” Ockert said, referencing a June 1 order from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development cancelling all poultry shows until further notice. “But to keep their birds healthy, they also need to be careful not to let others handle their birds. That can be a tough order for kids who are proud of their animals, but it’s necessary for the safety of their birds.”

Acting droopy or sick, or a change in comb color, could be signs that a bird has contracted avian influenza. Report any changes or abnormalities in your birds to a local veterinarian. 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 for detailed information on how to keep birds safe from disease. For alternatives to showing live birds at county fairs and other events this summer, visit

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