Poultry producers reminded to be on alert for avian influenza

With fair season over, backyard poultry owners may feel the threat of avian influenza has weakened. To the contrary, poultry producers should remain vigilant this fall, learning about the disease and taking proper precautions to keep their flocks healthy.

Poultry producers can reduce the risk of avian influenza by implementing biosecurity tips such as these. Photo credit: ANR Communications | MSU Extension
Poultry producers can reduce the risk of avian influenza by implementing biosecurity tips such as these. Photo credit: ANR Communications | MSU Extension

Amidst a nationwide epidemic of highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development  cancelled  all poultry exhibitions, shows and swaps earlier this year. Since that time, the widespread panic over HPAI seems to have lifted, as the summer months offered some relief from the virus due to higher temperatures and the end of the spring migratory season. However, now that fall is in full swing, the risk factors for HPAI are once again extremely high. Michigan’s cooler temperatures and position amidst the North American Flyway – the path that migrating birds take as they head south for winter – elevates the potential for the disease to spread via wild birds. As a result, poultry producers are encouraged to be vigilant in their biosecurity efforts.

Symptoms of avian influenza

According to the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, avian influenza viruses can infect chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, ducks, geese and guinea fowl, as well as a wide variety of other birds. Migratory waterfowl have proven to be a natural reservoir for the less infectious strains of the disease, known as low pathogenicity avian influenza.

Symptoms of avian influenza include:

  • Sudden death without clinical signs.
  • Lack of energy and appetite.
  • Decreased egg production.
  • Soft-shelled or misshapen eggs.
  • Swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, wattles and hocks.
  • Purple discoloration of the wattles, combs and legs.
  • Nasal discharge.
  • Coughing and sneezing.
  • Lack of coordination.
  • Diarrhea.


There are many things that you can do as a flock owner to take precautions when there is concern about your birds’ health. Practicing proper and appropriate biosecurity practices at home will help prevent the spread of disease. Simple practices can be used on- and off-farm, including:

  1. Wash your hands after handling animals.
  2. Clean your equipment. Keeping feed and water dishes clean and sanitized will help minimize contamination.
  3. Wear clean clothing and footwear when interacting with your birds and clean them immediately after contact has ended.
  4. Avoid direct contact with migrating fowl. This can include limiting access to bodies of water such as ponds, streams and lakes where migrating fowl may have contact.
  5. Keep birds that are new to the farm separate from your flock for 28 days to ensure they are not sick.

Look for additional articles from Michigan State University Extension that detail how you can increase biosecurity practices on your farm to protect your animals.

Keep up to date!

Learning about proper flock health and issues that are currently occurring in the industry is extremely important and can help you develop an action plan for your flock. MSU Extension’s HPAI  website can provide you with information and updates about the virus. In addition, social media can help keep you up to date as well. Be sure to “like” the Michigan Department of Agriculture and the Michigan 4-H Poultry Program’s Facebook pages to receive the most current information.

To learn more about Michigan 4-H Animal Science Programs, please visit their website.

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