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Avian Flu and Biosecurity

Once again, fear of Avian Flu (HPAI) grips the avian community. The cost in 2015 was $3.3 billion. How are you preparing your farm and flock?

Learn the avian flu warning signs, and steps you can take to keep your birds safe and healthy this season.

As the old saying goes - if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. The information in this article is meant to provide a starting point and ideas for you to develop your own avian flu plan. First, you should know what you're looking for.

Symptoms

  • Sudden increase in bird deaths in your flock
  • Sneezing, gasping for air, coughing, and nasal discharge
  • Watery and green diarrhea
  • Lack of energy and poor appetite
  • Drop in egg production or thin- or soft-shelled, misshapen eggs
  • Swelling around the eyes, neck, and head
  • Purple discoloration of the wattles, comb, and legs (avian influenza)
  • Tremors, drooping wings, circling, twisting of the head and neck, or lack of movement (exotic Newcastle disease)

Don't lose your mind if you hear a bird sneeze. Look for several of these symptoms before jumping to conclusions. It might be a regular cold. When you have a good reason to suspect, it's time to quarantine.

Isolate/Quarantine

The idea of quarantine is to create enough of a barrier between sick and healthy birds that transmission is not possible. Regular people don't have CDC biohazard quarantine facilities available to us. The next best thing is a shed or barn that can be closed off from other birds, yet remain ventilated. When visiting your birds in quarantine, try not to track mud, dirt or chicken manure on your shoes. Many people take off their shoes before entering or leaving a quarantine area. Remember to wash your hands. Be mindful of items you carry into and out of the quarantine area. If items are leaving the area, wash them with bleach before allowing other birds to come into contact. Don't allow food or water from the quarantine area to mix or become available to non-quarantined birds.

This quarantine not only applies to you and your birds, but also your chicken buddies. If you've got birds in quarantine, you need to stay away from other flocks and likewise, if you have friends with sick birds - don't invite them over for dinner. You may be spreading the infection between your two flocks. It travels not just on your hands and boots - but car tires too!

Cleanup

Being a virus, there is one tried and true way to kill it - bleach. Remove and destroy any environment that could harbor the virus. Clean out and burn any litter in a coop that the sick bird may have come into contact with. When the coop is cleared, spray it down with dilute bleach water. Do the same for areas the sick chicken may have frequented. If you think it might have been infected or contaminated - spray it with dilute bleach. Not sure how to dilute bleach? It's easy, 1/2 cup of regular bleach to 1 gallon of water. This ratio is strong enough to kill virus, and thin enough to flow through a spray bottle nozzle. Will it still bleach your clothes? Yes

Prevention

I'm tackling prevention before treatment because I want to point out a reality that you should come to terms with immediately. Avian flu is a killer. There is a good chance that the sick bird will die. I believe that treatment is worth it, but I'll save that explanation for the next section. Let's deal with your healthy birds first. As advanced as science has become, there is still no cure to a viral infection. Avian flu is no exception. The best you can do is strengthen the immune systems of your birds. Healthy birds are less likely to become ill, and more capable of fighting the symptoms until the virus runs its course. The best way to make your birds strong and healthy is through proper nutrition.

Examine your feed program and compare it to this table. If you're missing something, find a source for your birds. Nutrition is the key to health!

The Merck Vet Manual gives us a convenient table of chicken nutritional requirements, which should translate well to other fowl species. Look for the link to this manual below and you may find more nutritional information for other species. One size does not fit all, but this should be a good start.

Age (wk) 0–6 6–12 12–18 18 to 1st Egg
White-Egg Layers
Body weight (g)b 450 980 1,375 1,475
Protein 18 16 15 17
Arginine 1.0 0.83 0.67 0.75
Lysine 0.85 0.60 0.45 0.52
Methionine 0.30 0.25 0.20 0.22
Methionine + cystine 0.62 0.52 0.42 0.47
Threonine 0.68 0.57 0.37 0.47
Tryptophan 0.17 0.14 0.11 0.12
Calcium 0.90 0.80 0.80 2.00
Phosphorus, available 0.40 0.35 0.30 0.32
Brown-Egg Layers
Body weight (g)b 500 1,100 1,500 1,600
Protein 17 15 14 16
Arginine 0.94 0.78 0.62 0.72
Lysine 0.80 0.56 0.42 0.49
Methionine 0.28 0.23 0.19 0.21
Methionine + cystine 0.59 0.49 0.39 0.44
Threonine 0.64 0.53 0.35 0.44
Tryptophan 0.16 0.13 0.10 0.11
Calcium 0.90 0.80 0.80 1.8
Phosphorus, available 0.40 0.35 0.30 0.35
a Requirements are listed as percentages of diet. Nutrient levels should be adjusted to meet specific strain requirements, level of feed intake, and body weight and skeletal development.
b Average body weight at end of each period.

Treatment

First, let's discuss the nuclear option, and why you may want to avoid it.

The USDA is known to kill entire flocks without testing at the suspicion of avian flu infection. From an evolutionary perspective, a natural immunity to avian flu may have been killed many times over. Immunity comes from the survivors. Killing the entire flock ensures there are no survivors, and ensures there is no natural immunity.

As for prevention, treatment begins with nutrition. A sick bird doesn't eat well, so you may need to resort to doping the water with vitamins. Anything you can do to keep the bird fed and boost nutrient intake will be beneficial to recovery.

It's all about hydration and nutrition.

Keep your quarantine environment clean, dry and warm. If you can keep the temperature above 95 degrees, the virus dies on surfaces after 2 days - preventing re-infection.

In Summary

Please, take this information and continue to research until you have a plan that you're comfortable with. Avian flu in the wild means that you may be blindsided with a whole flock getting sick. There are a few steps you can take to give your birds the best possible chance to survive.

Now get to it!

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