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MSUE offers safety tips for backyard poultry flocks

EAST LANSING, MI -- Michigan State University Extension has hatched some useful tips to improve biosecurity for domestic poultry flocks. The guidelines are designed to protect backyard flocks from highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).

According to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, 13 states have confirmed cases of HPAI, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Iowa and Missouri. Many experts fear that the waterfowl migration season could cause the disease to spread to Michigan next.

The virus that causes avian influenza, which is common in wild birds, has mutated into a new strain, H5N2, which is deadly to domesticated poultry. Infected birds have a high mortality rate and usually die quickly after they are infected.

"People need to be aware not only of the threats out there to backyard flocks but also the backyard flock's ability to hurt commercial poultry production," said Darrin Karcher, MSU Extension poultry specialist. Michigan is currently in the top 15 states in turkey and egg production in the nation, and a domestic epidemic could spread and pose a serious threat to commercial production.

Karcher has three recommendations for owners of backyard flocks to detect disease issues: monitor their birds' feed intake, measure water consumption, and pay close attention to the birds' behavior.

Domestic poultry owners can also take additional steps to protect their flocks by changing their shoes and clothes before they interact with their birds. MSU Extension also recommends limiting contact with neighboring flocks, especially while the H5N2 virus is spreading.

If people believe they have been in contact with sick birds, they should stay away from their own flocks for at least 72 hours. New birds should also be quarantined for 28 days before being introduced into flocks. If people travel with their birds to 4-H events, fairs or other events where live poultry are present, they should quarantine those birds when they get home before reintroducing them to the flock.

If a bird is acting droopy or sick or there is a change in comb color, that could be a sign that it has contracted H5N2. Any changes or abnormalities should be reported to MSU Extension, a local veterinarian or the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD). If your backyard poultry flock has a high death loss or consistent pattern of death loss in a short period of time, report it to MDARD at 800-292-3939; (after hours) 517-373-0440.