Poultry Owners, Growers Advised To Make Biosecurity A Priority

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It has been one week since a case of highly pathogenic avian influenza was confirmed in a commercial poultry farm in New Castle County, forcing its flock to be depopulated. Shortly before that, HPAI was confirmed in wild birds in the Atlantic Flyway.

Now, the message from the Delaware Department of Agriculture is for farmers and poultry growers to focus on biosecurity – several steps that can be taken to protect the flock.

According to DDA:

Avian influenza is an airborne respiratory virus that spreads easily among chickens through nasal and eye secretions, as well as manure. The virus can be spread in various ways from flock to flock, including by wild birds, through contact with infected poultry, by equipment, and on the clothing and shoes of caretakers.

The following precautions are suggested:

  • Keep your poultry away from wild ducks, geese, and their environment, including ponds, lakes, and swampy areas.
  • Restrict small flocks from sharing their habitat with wild waterfowl by maintaining outdoor enclosures with solid roofs and wire mesh or netted sides. Repair any holes or tears that would allow birds or rodents to enter.
  • Provide feed and water in an indoor or covered area. Change it daily and promptly clean up any spilled feed so as not to attract wildlife.
  • Wear designated farm shoes when working with your birds or use disposable shoe coverings each time you enter your flock area. If you have multiple chicken houses, have a dedicated set of footwear that you keep in each house. Use footbaths before entering a chicken house.
  • Wash your hands before and after working with your birds to reduce the chance of spreading infectious particles.
  • Clean and disinfect any equipment or bird housing/coops before bringing them onto your property. Avian influenza virus can survive in manure for several months, especially with high moisture and low temperatures.
  • Starlings, songbirds, vultures, and other raptors can be carriers of avian influenza and not show signs of disease. Consider hanging a bird deterrent in the doorway of poultry houses while doors are open when working in the poultry house.
  • Wash your vehicles and trailers after visiting other poultry facilities and go through a car wash before you return home.
  • Keep visitors to a minimum. Only allow those people who have direct responsibility in taking care of your flock to come in contact with the birds. Keep track of everyone who comes onto your property at all times by using a logbook. If they had contact with other poultry, have pet birds, or had contact with wild birds (e.g., hunting), do not let them come in contact with your flock.

When adding birds to your flock, make sure to purchase them from a reputable source. The baby chicks purchased at local farm stores come from NPIP certified flocks tested and shown to be free from avian influenza. When they are two weeks old, these chicks will typically leave the store with their new owner, so they are considered low-risk for having the disease. However, once they are about three weeks old, they are more susceptible to contracting the virus from their new environment. Make sure to keep new birds or returning show birds separated from established home flocks for 30 days.

No matter the size, all poultry farms should be monitoring flocks for any signs of increased mortality. Pay particular attention to see if any birds show signs of respiratory illness or distress, such as sneezing, gasping for air, coughing, and/or runny nose. Other signs of HPAI in poultry can include swelling around the eyes, neck, and head; purple discoloration of the wattles, combs, and legs; tremors, drooping wings, circling, twisting of the head and neck, or any combination; watery, green diarrhea; lack of energy, poor appetite; and a drop in egg production, or soft or thin-shelled, misshapen eggs.

Backyard flock owners who notice any of the signs of HPAI in their flock should contact the Delaware Poultry Health Hotline at 302-698-4507 or send an email to poultry.health@delaware.gov with contact information, size of flock, location, and concerns. Backyard flock owners will be contacted if a sample needs to be taken. Do not take dead or sick birds to a lab to be tested or move them off-site.

Commercial poultry producers should follow the procedures of contacting the company they grow for when they notice signs of disease.

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