Bird Health Awareness Week

Anyone who has followed this blog at all knows that my two main professional  passions are poultry health and welfare.  Since these two issues are so closely interdependent, anything that improves one will often improve the other.  In this vein, I am forwarding some information that I came across from our friends to the south.

Most agricultural organizations, including all the ones I work with, are very aware of the relationship between small, backyard flocks and professional farms in the area.  The farmers spend a lot of time, effort and money maintaining biosecurity to keep their flocks healthy, but the fact remains that any diseases circulating in backyard flocks is a threat to the people who make their living by caring for hens.  For this reason, most of the poultry groups are willing to extend expertise and advice to the people who keep hens as a hobby.   I hope the following information helps anyone with an interest in poultry, whether their flock is small or large.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture issued the following news release:

Bird Health Awareness Week is Feb. 24 through March 2, and the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) Animal Health Section urges owners ofbackyard poultry flocks – or those thinking of starting one – to make sure they follow our six steps for keeping poultry healthy.

“Poultry is one of Maryland’s most important agricultural commodities, and we want to keep them all healthy, whether they are commercial, or fair and show, orbackyard flocks,” said State Veterinarian Guy Hohenhaus. “Bird Health Awareness Week is a good time to remind everyone of the important but easy steps they can take to have the most positive and successful experience raising poultry. It is also a good time to remind people that they must register their flocks with MDA so that we can contact them and help them if a disease outbreak were to occur. “

The following are MDA’s Six Steps to a Healthy Flock.

Step 1. Select Healthy Birds. MDA urges citizens to purchasechickens only from hatcheries that are certified by the USDA’s National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) and hold a permit from MDA. NPIP hatcheries follow strict biosecurity practices, maintain detailed records of where their chicks come from, and have had their sites and chickens tested for particularly debilitating diseases. Anyone who sells or distributes hatchingeggs, live poultry and anyone who operates a hatchery in Maryland must meet NPIP standards and hold a permit from MDA. Residents are warned not to buy chicks that are sold online and delivered through the mail by uncertified and unapproved hatcheries. The practice is not only illegal but can be deadly to your flock. Find an NPIP hatchery. (»)

Step 2. Register your flock with MDA.Backyard flock owners, who generally keep birds as pets or for private use of theireggs, are required, by law, to register their location with MDA. In the event of a disease outbreak, MDA will immediately contact all flock owners who might be infected and provide them with information and instructions about the specific precautions they need to take to keep their birds and families healthy. Flock owners not on the registry may never know a disease is rampant until their flock dies. Flock owners who are not registered put their neighbors’ flocks – and maybe even the state’s poultry industry – at risk. The Maryland General Assembly created the mandatory poultry registration program in response to the 2004 avian influenza outbreak on Delmarva. There are currently 3,948 flocks registered in Maryland. The registry is confidential, free and easy. For more information and to register (») .

Step 3. Clean hands, boots, clothes, equipment, and housing to prevent disease. Raising flocks ofchickens, like raising any other pet, requires a certain amount of effort and vigilance if the animals and their owners are to stay healthy. Flock owners need to follow basic bio-security measures from the beginning to ensure their birds and families stay healthy. For more information about biosecurity measures. (»)

Step 4. Quarantine any new or sick birds. Healthy flocks can be ravaged, even lost entirely, by one sick chick. Keep new chicks quarantined for at least 21 days until you’re sure they’re healthy. Veterinarians who treat pets do not usually treat poultry or livestock, but there are avian vets in Maryland who can be contacted if your flock is sick. To find an avian veterinarian, go to the Association of Avian Veterinarians website. (»)

Step 5. Test poultry before exhibition. All animals, not just poultry, that are shown at exhibitions must meet animal health requirements. Some requirements are different for in-state and out-of-state animals. Poultry, for instance, must be tested for PullorumTyphoid prior to an exhibit. For more info on exhibition requirements. (») [1].pdf)

Step 6. Report sick birds to MDA Animal Health. Despite the best efforts of some flock owners,chickens sometimes do get sick and die unexpectedly. MDA urges flock owners to report sick birds to the agency if more than one bird in a flock is ill since that could be the start of a devastating outbreak. Call MDA Animal Health Program at 410-841-5810 to report an unusual disease in a flock. Unusual symptoms that may indicate your chicken is sick and should be reported include:

– Sneezing, gasping for air, coughing and nasal discharge

– Watery and green discharge

– Lack of energy and poor appetite

– Drop in egg production, soft or thin shells, misshapen eggs

– Swelling around the eyes, neck and head

– Purple discoloration of wattles, combs and legs

– Tremors, drooping wings, circling, twisting of the head and neck or lack of movement.

Want to learn more?

– Visit the MDA website (»)

– Visit the USDA’s Animal Health website for more information: (»)

– Participate in USDA’s Animal Plant Health and Inspection Service’s free webinar, “Growing Chicks Into HealthyChickens: Getting Ready for Spring,” on Thursday, Feb. 28 at 2 p.m. Register here. (»)

– For regular tips on how to keep your birds safe and healthy, follow the APHIS’ Biosecurity for Birds campaign on Twitter @Healthy_Harry

Mike the Chicken Vet


9 responses to “Bird Health Awareness Week

  1. Mike,
    You have GOT to be kidding me!
    “The farmers spend a lot of time, effort and money maintaining biosecurity to keep their flocks healthy, but the fact remains that any diseases circulating in backyard flocks is a threat to the people who make their living by caring for hens.”

    Quite the reverse! It’s CAFOs and “Industrial farming” of living beings that develops and spreads disease. Blaming backyard chicken raisers means you have ties to Big Ag and will lie for money.

    • Caren;

      There is no doubt that I work with farmers who make their living from laying hens. I also do quite a lot of work with backyard flocks, and municipalities who are trying to find a way to have people house hens in their jurisdiction. It is this type of misinformation about disease that I am trying to counter. Diseases exist. The fact is that there is MUCH less disease in laying hens now than there was in the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s, etc. It is true that if a disease gets into a flock of hens, it will spread throughout the barn quickly, but overall, the number of sick birds, birds who die in production and number of infections has been decreasing steadily on professional farms for decades.

      I know for a fact that many diseases that would be devastating to professional flocks are circulating in backyard flocks. This is not due to poor care of the backyard flocks, but due to the way they are housed, with contact to wild birds, and much more environmental contamination. It is very important to keep these diseases out of professional barns, for the good of the hens AND the farmers. I am in no way blaming backyard flocks for any diseases that are in professional farms, although I do know of several instances where this type of infection has occurred. I am just saying that backyard flocks are a risk factor for hens, and that the industry is investing resources to try to help backyard henners keep their flocks healthy to minimize the risk.


  2. Caren, in my opinion, missread the statment. (paranoia) Mike did not imo suggest back yard flocks were primarily, usually or even often responsible for poultry health issues on industrial scale; or large or small poultry farmes. He said they could. Big difference!


    • Thanks for the comment Bob;

      I was afraid that my post was poorly written. If the general public knew how much the professional farmers invested in things like boot dips, disposable coveralls for visitors, rodent control, and cleaning and disinfection, all in the attempt to minimize disease exposure, they would be surprised. Every aspect of the environment that might effect their flock is examined and every effort is made to do whatever is possible to help protect the flock. It’s not a case where backyard flocks are a huge risk, but they are a component that professional farmers feel they can improve upon by giving advice and resources to the chicken fanciers.


  3. I think it is usually migrant waterfowl that spreads disease to either commercial or backyard flocks (thinking AI here primarily). Either way, I would much rather eat eggs from a commercial operation with a low SE prevalence than backyard flock with no biosecurity, manure management, food safety, or refrigeration. Why is industrial production bad when they have lots of money to invest in programs to prevent, reduce, and erradicate disease and contamination.

    • I agree, Mike;

      The problem is, we can both be accused of being BIG AG. The thing is, the only people who know about what really happens on modern farms are the people who are directly involved with them….ie the people who are part of “the system”. Anyone who is outside of the agriculture has NO exposure to what farming is actually like. The images seen by the public are generally supplied by people with agendas, and there is an incredible amount of extremist views (I admit that the agricultural groups are guilty of this too….the images sent out by the farmers are always “sunshine and butterflies”, while the images sent out by activists are always the absolute worst they can find or contrive). Sadly, when someone like me tries to describe the situation as accurately as I can, I am accused of misrepresenting the truth. It is very convenient for people to throw up the “you are a spokesperson for the evil empire, and therefore a liar”, but if anyone is truly interested in what agriculture is actually like, I will gladly talk about the reality (good and bad), and provide evidence to back up my statement. I hope that most readers take what I say at face value, and if they have questions, or disagree with me, let me know…..if you keep an open mind, I will do the same, and some valuable discussions can happen.


  4. Hi Mike,
    Just spent the last hour looking through your bog. Great work!
    I was wondering if we could colaborate on a post. I keep 3 chickens in my Toronto backyard. I started a blog back in February because there is a lot of misinformation or inadequate information on how to properly raise a few hens in the city. I have done a lot of work & research for my blog, but I am in need of a “medical connection” since I am NOT qualified. Please feel free to visit my blog I would appreciate the feedback (good or bad). I hope we can connect.

    • Hi Rick:

      Thanks for checking out my blog. Feel free to contact me about any joint posts that might work. My biggest problem is finding subjects to talk about that are not repetitive, or that don’t turn my blog into an “animal welfare” and professional farming blog. I appreciate that the questions and concerns that originate in the backyard flock are different from those that I work with every day. I am really interested in the passion and inventiveness of backyarders, but, like you said, much of their work goes for naught as they base decisions on poor or incorrect information. I like your blog, and appreciate the insight into first hand experience with a small flock. Enjoy your hens, and hope spring brings you lots of eggs!


  5. HI DR i have a question and dont know how else to ask you. What is the best treatment and how often for tapeworns in a backyard flock?. I have never had any sort if worms and have now got tapeworms. I have treated with fenbendazole and it has been 5 days and there are still live lavae or eggs in thier droppings can I treat agakn sooner than 10 days ? Any other advice? Than you Cheryl

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