USDA APHIS reminds Americans to be diligent about biosecurity with poultryWritten by Natasha Wheeler
On Feb. 22, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) released Spotlight on Biosecurity for Birds to remind Americans about the importance of keeping sanitary conditions for their poultry.
“Domesticated chickens are the most numerous birds in the world, and the United States is the biggest poultry producing country in the world,” APHIS reports.
The number of backyard chickens also continues to grow, with an estimated three to six percent of Americans owning them.
“Anyone who raises or handles poultry, whether at a commercial farm or in the backyard, should be aware of the need to practice good biosecurity,” they continue.
APHIS noted that biosecurity includes all measures taken to prevent diseases from entering the flock or spreading to other flocks.
“We learned in the highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak that this disease is very costly. We spent close to $200 million alone on indemnity to reimburse the owners for birds that we had to euthanize as a result of this disease,” stated USDA APHIS Veterinary Services Deputy Administrator Jack Shere.
Nearly $600 million dollars were invested into cleaning and disinfecting premises where the disease had occurred.
“That’s a lot of money for taxpayers to bear,” he remarked. “It’s cheaper to prevent the disease than it is to fight the disease once we have the outbreak.”
USDA APHIS Veterinary Services Poultry Specialist Chrislyn Wood Nicholson added that avian influenza can impact many different species of birds, including chickens, turkeys, quail, pheasants and guineas.
“It affects basically anything that can fly, including falcons and eagles,” she said.
Waterfowl, such as ducks and geese are the exception, as they usually don’t exhibit any symptoms of the disease.
“Usually, waterfowl are natural carriers of the virus, but they don’t get sick. They fly around perfectly healthy and spread the disease to other types of birds,” she explained.
Avian influenza can also be spread by physical contact, such as if a person steps in feces while walking through a park or elsewhere outdoors.
“We can inadvertently and accidentally step in wild bird feces and have it on our shoes. If we have backyard poultry at home, we could bring that into our backyard poultry house and infect our chickens and they might die,” she commented.
Even a small amount of feces is highly infectious. One ounce, or enough to cover the surface of a dime, is enough to infect 1 million chickens.
“As we talk about cleanliness when we keep birds, our best advice is don’t bring it in and don’t take it out,” mentioned USDA APHIS Veterinary Services veterinary medical officer Kate Bowers.
She recommended everyone wash their hands and put their shoes in a disinfectant footbath before and after handling birds.
“We need to clean everything that comes in contact with our birds or their droppings, including tools, tires, shoes, cages or anything else that can transport the disease,” she added.
APHIS reported that the United States has been historically successful at preventing diseases.
“Good biosecurity practices are key to preventing diseases, whether we have a few backyard chickens or a large farm,” they said.