February 01, 2017
By Maggie Lawrence
Marshall County’s Mallory Chandler is just one of many young participants in the Alabama 4-H Chick Chain.
Small flock owners can follow some easy guidelines to help protect their birds’ health.
“People should buy chicks from outlets like feed and seed stores or directly from a mail-order company,” said Dr. Joe Hess, an Alabama Extension poultry scientist. “These outlets sell chicks from suppliers that are certified disease-free, helping ensure people begin their flocks with healthy chicks. Always buy birds from a reputable source.”
Backyard biosecurity helps safeguard flocks, Hess said. Good hygiene and common-sense practices help prevent disease, he added.
Keep Your Distance
Other people and birds—including recently purchased chickens and wild birds—can carry diseases. Poultry owners, backyard bird owners or anyone owning birds should limit contact with each other and their property.
Feeders should be placed in covered locations inaccessible to wild birds to reduce potential for diseases carried in wild bird droppings.
Keep It Clean
“People can pick up germs on shoes and clothing,” Hess said. “Reduce the potential of exposing birds to disease by keeping a set of clothes and shoes to wear only around your birds.”
Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before entering a coop or handling birds. Wash again after exiting the coop.
Keep cages clean. Change food and water daily, and clean and disinfect equipment that comes in contact with birds or droppings.
Don’t Bring Disease Home
Tires, poultry cages and equipment can harbor germs. If visiting where birds are present, disinfect items before returning home.
“If you take birds to a fair or exhibition, keep those birds separated from your flock for at least two weeks after the event,” Hess said. “New birds should be kept separate from your flock for a month.”
Know Warning Signs
Poultry diseases can be swift moving and deadly, and early detection is important, Hess said.
“Check how birds are eating, their energy levels and their daily appearance,” he said.
• Sudden drop in egg production or misshapen eggs
• Swelling of head, eyelids, combs and hocks
• Purplish discoloration of combs and wattles
• Difficulty breathing and nasal discharge
• Tremors, drooping wings or other movement problems
Report Sick Birds
Hess reminds backyard flock owners that it’s critical to report sick poultry.
“State officials need to know if small flocks are having disease outbreaks to prevent spread to other small flocks or to commercial operations,” he said.
Report sick poultry or suspicious deaths to the State Department of Agriculture & Industries at (334) 240-6584.