How to keep fowl safe from Avian Influenza (also known as H5N1 or Bird Flu) is a guide written with the pathogen in mind and its ability to cross-infect both into humans and into other animals. Because of its viral nature, you should always wear protective clothing including N95s while working with these animals.
How to keep fowl safe from Avian Influenza
WARNING: Wearing a bandana, neck gaiter, or balaclava provides almost no protecting what-so-ever from viruses. Wearing one of these could get you sick from Avian Influenza. While some might think it’s safe enough, if you do get sick (very unlikely), the mortality rate is currently around 56% (source) for humans and 90% for birds. Once you get sick, it could be transmitted to other animals, humans, or back into your flock.
You should have at each site where you are raising fowl various items to keep your fowl safe from outside conditions. Please have at minimum the following:
- N95‘s or P100 (mask & filter) – when handling your fowl or cleaning their bedding.
- We recommend wearing waders to deal with any flock, for their ease of cleaning. Alternatively, you can change your clothes/overalls and wash them often.
- Use protective arm gloves to physically handle the fowl.
- A bleach bucket and brush to clean your boots, waders, and arm gloves when going in or out of the bird coop.
NOTE: Once you open your container of Bleach, it loses most of its effectiveness after 1 month!
Avian Influenza can survive a long time
Thirty (30) days is how long the virus can stay alive in 68 °F (20 °C). At 39.2 °F (4 °C), the virus can stay alive for 1 year (source). In other words, the carcasses of any birds infected with Avian Influenza, need to be burned or buried with no way for them to be accessed before at least 1 year. It’s impossible to keep fowl safe from Avian Influenza if you leave their carcass out. Any chance that any creature can have access to the carcass is a chance for cross infection. We have already seen bears, mink, raccoons, deer/elk and of course other fowl get sick from the virus.
According to a 2010 study, they found that once the virus is out of a host, it can survive for between 2 weeks and 2 months. This time is dependent on which surface it is on, and the temperature or weather conditions.
Transmission of Avian Influenza
Avian Influenza travels in bird droppings released in the wild. Once the poop lands, other animals can get sick by smelling the poop or drinking from water sources that sick animals have infected.
Do not have a pond or feeder in your yard. This is a sure way to attract other animals who may be sick. Once the area is infected, it is easily transmitted to your flock or other animals nearby, including squirrels who have a way of breaching your defenses. You will need to clean any shared water sources for your flock with bleach at least once a week.
WARNING: Flying insects can transmit the virus. While bugs would likely keep your flock “happy” and create enjoyment for them to hunt, you should know that they can, in fact, spread the Avian flu.
Avian Influenza Symptoms in Fowl
- Sudden death without any signs
- Lack of coordination
- Purple discoloration of the wattles, combs, and legs
- Soft-shelled or misshapen eggs
- Lack of energy and appetite
- Swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, wattles, and hocks
- Nasal discharge
- Decreased egg production
- Coughing, sneezing
Watch each of your flock for signs of infection to keep fowl safe from Avian Influenza. You will need to separate them immediately from other fowl if symptoms occur. Additionally, save and bag any carcass. Wash the outside of the bag away from your flock with a bleach solution, and take it to a veterinarian or the Department of Health in your area to be tested.
TIP: Has your flock stopped laying eggs suddenly? Try feeding them goat feed instead!
Quarantining your flock
The best overall way to keep fowl safe from Avian Influenza is to keep your flocks completely away from other animals. This means you need to raise them in a building or structure, and not give them free-range. This structure, however, can be made of plexiglass, so the birds can see out. Plexiglass will not allow the virus to get in, and its roof can be washed without fear that it can infect your flock.
Inside your structure, you can also have grass and other fauna. You might even consider designing a way to allow bugs in, including flies for the birds to eat, lessening your feed cost. Bugs are highly nutritious for your flock and will help you to produce more eggs. Just be sure that you can keep out other birds and critters and shut the “windows” that allow bugs in, before cleaning the outside of the area.
Tip: Is dust a problem? Use a humidifier or even a swamp cooler. This will make the dust heavy, causing it to float to the ground.
When you feed your fowl, please ensure that you spread the feed on the ground. This allows your flock less interactions which have a chance of spreading infection. If you put your feed in troughs, it is more likely that one sick bird, could infect the entire flock, by leaving the virus behind.
Keep fowl safe from Avian Influenza Conclusion
Cleanliness and quarantining your flock is the ONLY way to ensure that your flock will survive the bird flu now infecting hundreds of millions of fowl. Open range raising is no longer a viable option. Keeping your flock in a secure area, where nothing including viruses and bacteria can get in, is a must. It would also be a good idea to buy your feed in advance and allow it to sit for at least 2 months before giving it to your birds. If your bag was infected, waiting will allow it time to die.
You must wear PPE and have a bleach bucket to clean your gear, allowing it to dry inside a Clean room or Mud room. Your flock needs protection from every outside source. If you have multiple buildings, then having multiple outfits for each person is also a must. We can only keep fowl safe from Avian Influenza by demonstrating smart protocols.
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