With fall migration ongoing, many backyard poultry breeders and fanciers are concerned about avian flu. That includes flocks of ducks, geese and turkeys used primarily for herding training and trialing. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services has a comprehensive plan for dealing with avian flu – both on a backyard and commercial basis.
At this time, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) do not feel that there is a human risk from the versions of avian flu which have devastated domestic bird populations. They are continuing surveillance however. Infected birds spread the virus via nasal secretions, saliva and feces. There does not need to be direct contact between birds – for example, a wild bird can drop feces and then a domestic bird comes in contact with the fecal material. Chickens and turkeys tend to show more clinical signs with some infected ducks not appearing to be ill at all. Some versions of the avian flu are highly pathogenic while others are of low pathogenicity. The current interactive map shows no active infections at this time. However, with bird migrations gearing up this is expected to change.
So what is a bird owner to do? The University of California at Davis offers some recommendations for backyard birders. Consider using foot baths with daily changes of disinfectant or “bird area only” boots for doing your bird chores. If you hunt waterfowl, keep the clothes and boots you wear doing that separate from your “chore clothes”. Try to discourage wild birds from coming near your flocks. This can be difficult if the birds share a pond or fields where they forage. Draining ponds is a somewhat drastic suggestion but might be necessary in some areas.
Isolate any new birds you add to your flock for about 30 days. If you have visitors (or in the case of herding establishments, students or trial competitors) who have flocks at home, use the disinfectants freely and suggest “clean” boots or shoes. Get your birds from known, reputable sources. If you purchase birds from another herder, ask about any recent bird illnesses or deaths.
North Carolina State recommends using three parts bleach to two parts water as a disinfectant solution. Clean any crates used for transport as well as feed and water containers regularly. Even with disinfectants, consider skipping poultry shows and fairs. New York State cancelled all poultry exhibits this year to avoid disease spread.
If you have any unexpected deaths among your flock, a necropsy should be done. Many states offer free necropsies at their state diagnostic laboratories for backyard flocks. Ask your veterinarian to check for you if you have any dead birds.
With luck and some precautions, backyard flocks and herding flocks can avoid this devastating outbreak.