Over the past couple of months, I have been following a situation in the Pacific Northwest. A flock of backyard chickens was diagnosed with Avian Flu. As a backyard chicken keeper, I have always known that this could develop in backyard chickens but it is not very common. So why and how did this happen? How did this chicken keeper figure out what was going on with their flock?
In the United States, there are four main migratory flyways that birds use to travel. These are the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific. As birds migrate, they run the risk of spreading diseases to all fellow birds. One very important thing to understand, is that some birds that travel all four of these flyways originate from a place called the Arctic refuge. Here the refuge functions like a big petri dish, where lots of these strains of flus can be shared between cohabitating birds. As the birds then fly down these flyways, the possibility exists that those disease are then spread exist.
Since the fall of 2014, three types of highly pathogenic avian flus were identified in wild birds that traveled along the Pacific Flyway and it has quickly spread to wild and domesticated birds due to migration. At the time of this publication, these three strains have been determined not to affect humans, but they could easily mutate to humans if the situation is not managed appropriately. This is where backyard chicken keepers need to be vigilant. Most likely, these backyard chicken keepers’ chickens were exposed to the secretions or dropping of migrating birds on their property and then became infected and ill. Even though they are in Washington State and Idaho right now, this does not mean that it cannot happen in your very own backyard.
Signs and Symptoms:
Death typically occurs within 24-48 hours of infection. Some ducks can be carriers but not show symptoms. The incubation period can be from a few days to a few weeks.
Blue discoloration and swelling of the comb, wattles, and head.
Red discoloration of shanks and feet.
Internal muscle and organ damage.
Bloody discharge from nose and mouth.
Nervous system issues.
Consider halting free-ranging until this flu dissipates.
Keep a designated pair of shoes just for use with the chickens.
Keep wild birds away out of your chicken run by covering open runs and keeping food sources away.
Consider stopping feeding wild birds and removing bird baths temporarily.
Do not use the same tools to clean bird baths or work in the garden with your flock.
Disinfect the coop and tools regularly.
Cook all poultry and eggs to proper temperatures.
Do not move or ship poultry without proper state permits or if any of the birds in your flock appear ill.
If you hunt wild game: Do not eat, drink or smoke when handling wild game. Cook it to proper temperatures and disinfect all tools used clean the game.
If you believe that your flock could possibility be infected, do not move or relocate them.
Immediately call your local state poultry inspector for further investigation and testing.
It is important to know that between 2005 and 2011 only about 10% of those wild birds that were tested for avian flus came back positive. To learn more about avian flu, click here. For a further discussion and background about the avian flu, how it is spread, and how they are classified, click here.
About the author: Melissa is a backyard chicken keeper, beekeeper,gardener, crafter and cook. She can be found sharing on her own blog,Tilly’s Nest, as well as on Country Living Magazine, HGTV, Grit, Community Chickens, and Keeping Backyard Bees. Her first book, A Kids’ Guide to Keeping Chickens, will be available March 2015 from Storey Publishing.
The photos used in this article were used under the Creative Commons licensing agreement.