Backyard homesteaders have long advocated for self-sustaining practices that reduce dependance on global supply chains.
Living a homesteading lifestyle means growing what food you can, investing in your community, and celebrating a simpler set of values and priorities. But just because you produce food locally doesn’t mean you’re entirely immune from outside threats to your food supply
Currently, a bird flu virus is rapidly spreading across the U.S., largely propagated by migrating wild birds, quickly becoming the country’s worst outbreak. Already, the virus killed over 37 million chickens and turkeys.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports HPAI has occurred in wild waterfowl and backyard poultry as well as in commercial poultry flocks.
The crisis is impacting egg-laying hens and turkeys the most and chickens raised for meat, known as broilers, haven’t been as affected.
Under guidance of the federal government, farms must destroy entire commercial flocks if just one bird tests positive for the virus, to stop the spread.
Number of commercial and backyard birds affected since Feb. 8 2022
By the end of 2015 season, bird flu took the lives of about 50 million animals and cost the federal government over $1 billion. The deaths this season are already tracking above previous outbreaks at 37 million chickens and turkeys. The U.S.’s flock of egg-laying hens totals more than 300 million birds.
“We all need to maintain really high awareness that the environment is contaminated,” said Beth Thompson, a veterinarian at the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. The weather “needs to warm up and dry out to kill that virus that’s sitting out there.”
In response to the spread, the poultry industry has beefed up its biosecurity around poultry houses, installing sound canons to repel wild birds, carwashes so farm trucks won’t bring contamination from one farm to another, and requiring farmers to change their clothing and shoes before entering barns.
How To Protect Your Backyard Flock From Bird Flu
If you are a backyard flock owner, now is the time to review your biosecurity plan. USDA has the following biosecurity tips.
One: Avoid attracting wild birds to your residence.
- Cover or enclose any outdoor feeding areas for poultry.
- Promptly clean up any feed spills.
- Avoid visiting any ponds or streams, especially with pets.
- Consider reducing large puddles and standing water that may be a nice resting place for migratory birds.
- Separate your flock from wildlife and wild birds. Use an enclosed shelter and fence outdoor areas. Smaller mesh hardware cloth can keep out wild birds and allow your flock outdoor time.
- Caretakers shouldn’t have contact with other poultry or birds prior to contact with their birds. Restrict access to your poultry if your visitors have birds of their own.
- Keep different species of poultry and age groups separated. These traits can make poultry more or less prone to disease.
- Prevent your birds from having contact with other birds that could introduce HPAI.
Two: Prevent spreading disease between neighbors
- Don’t share equipment or reuse materials like egg cartons from neighbors and bird owners.
- Make sure you separate your birds from your neighbor’s birds.
- Limit who visits your birds at home. If someone else must visit your birds, Ask them about what other bird contact they have recently had.
- Ask them to wash their hands and wear clean clothes and footwear
Three: Keep your poultry housing clean
- Keep feeders and waterers clean and out of reach of wild birds. Clean up feed spills.
- Change feeding practices if wild birds continue to be present.
- Use dedicated or clean clothing and footwear when working with poultry
- Clean and disinfect equipment that comes in contact with your birds such as shovels and rakes.
- Clean and disinfect poultry housing and equipment often to limit contact of birds with their waste.
- Evaluate your cleaning practices.
Signs of illness
Detecting HPAI early is key to limiting the spread. Sadly, one of the first signs of HPAI is sudden, unexplained death. In 2022, most HPAI cases report poultry drinking less water before unexplained death.
- Egg layers may show signs of depression, have ruffled feathers, and be quieter than normal. Other signs may include purple or dry combs.
- Turkeys may be quiet and depressed, lay down more than normal, and have swelling around their eyes.
- Waterfowl do not always die from HPAI or show signs of illness, but they can carry the virus and spread it to other birds.
See the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website for up-to-date information on HPAI detection in the U.S.