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The Importance of Being Earnst

(About Your Bio-Security)

I can't speak for other parts of the country, but here in northern New England the Avian Flu - also known as H5N1 - shook up things quite a bit this spring. There were those who denied it, those who freaked out about it and those who simply tightened up their already-existing bio-security programs a little and moved on.

We have actually gotten hit pretty lightly, all things considered. Only about 900 domestic birds - out of the over 40 million affected - have been in my home state of Maine as of this posting. Still, it was a hard reminder for some how important bio security can be when dealing with poultry or livestock.

Avian Flu is by no means the only disease concern in poultry. I regularly see people who have introduced seemingly healthy birds directly into their flock, only to have respiratory issues, Cocci or bug problems sweep through their entire flock. This is why quarantine of new chickens is recommended for at least a week when adding to your flock. Some even recommend keeping the new birds isolated for up to 30 days while looking for signs of illness or infestations.

Recently, we brought home some new turkey poults. They looked great, the seller gave them an extra look-over them over even as she handed them to me and I saw no reason for concern. Still, better safe than sorry.

Good decision on our part! The day after arriving, one of the poults began this odd behavior:

This odd tilting and swollen eye continued for days. This poult was separated out, and I watched the others carefully for any signs of respiratory issues or concerns. Luckily, the seven days passed and they were right as rain.

Even Big Eye showed no signs of increased illness. However, it struggled to eat and needed assistance - depth perception was obviously off and while eventually it was able to pick it's head back up - a good sign - the swelling continues to look rather startling.

We have decided that the issue is an injury, rather than illness. So why bring this up in an article on biosecurity if there was nothing wrong? Quite a number of reasons.

First, we didn't know there wasn't anything wrong. If they had been placed with our other birds and then began showing signs that could have been illness, we would have had to quarantine the whole flock. Ethically, there could have been no chick, hen or egg sales until we had the entire flock tested which would probably have resulted in a massive vet bill.

If we hadn't been watching, we might not have realized the baby was injured, resulting in us not treating it and/or the other birds picking on it. It would not have been able to get the extra attention to get food and water until it got back on it's proverbial feet.

Finally, we got lucky that nothing was wrong. M gallisepticum, for instance, is common in domestic turkeys - both in backyard flocks and industrial hatcheries. Infected birds remain infected for life, meaning that while my chickens would be unlikely to die from the disease, I could never sell them. Turkey mortality is higher, meaning the money I spent on the poults might have been wasted.

This is only one of a huge number of possible diseases that can be carried to you flocks - or someone else's - on your shoes, hands or clothing after handling infected birds or walking through their yard. I once had a shop teacher in middle school who used to say (paraphrased) "If you don't take safety precautions it may not get you the first time, or the second time or even the second-hundred time, but eventually it will get you."

So, take simple precautions.

  • Isolate new birds from your flock for 7-30 days and sanitize your hands before and after working with them.

  • Have specific "barn boots" that don't go to the feed store or other areas where you might pass along an infection to another flock - or bring one home to your own flock

  • Keep a bucket of sanitizing solution near your run or coop. Stand in it before and after leaving the area where you keep your chickens. This will keep your shoes reasonably safe when moving between areas.

  • At the very least, hose off your shoes between chicken yards if you have poultry or waterfowl in different spots on the property.

Your birds will thank you.

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