What Can I do to Protect My Birds?

September 23, 2022

On September 15, 2022, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture released a statement that a strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) had been confirmed in a backyard poultry flock in Obion County. To protect the health of other domesticated birds in Tennessee, the State Veterinarian, Dr. Samantha Beaty DVM, has ordered an immediate halt to poultry shows, exhibitions, and sales statewide.

What does that mean for us? Well, for the 47 kids who participated in the popular 4-H Chick Chain project this year, it means they won’t get to exhibit the chickens they have cared for since they were 2-day old baby chicks, at least not for the time being.

It’s a shame because these young people have worked hard raising and caring for these animals, but as Dr. Beaty pointed out in her press release, “This was not an easy decision. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture understands and values the importance of livestock competitions and sales. Poultry is a vital part of Tennessee’s thriving agriculture industry, and we are taking this step to safeguard that sector for the long term.”

While I am disappointed for the kids, I know it is critical that they and all owners of backyard and commercial poultry flocks do their part to limit the spread of this virus. To keep your birds healthy, practice good biosecurity and hygiene. Here are some tips from the University of Tennessee Animal Science staff:

1. Keep your distance – Restrict access to your property and your birds. Allow only people who take care of your birds to come into contact with them. If visitors have birds of their own, do not let them near your birds. Make sure poultry pens are bird-proofed and don’t allow pets or wildlife in poultry areas.

2. Keep it clean – Wear clean clothes, scrub your shoes with disinfectant, and wash your hands thoroughly before entering your bird area. Clean cages and change food and water daily. Clean and disinfect equipment that comes into contact with your birds or their droppings, including cages and tools. Remove manure before disinfecting. Properly dispose of dead birds.

3. Don’t haul disease home – If you have been near other birds or bird owners, such as at a feed store, clean and disinfect car and truck tires, poultry cages, and equipment before going home.

4. Don’t borrow disease from your neighbor – Do not share lawn and garden equipment, tools, or poultry supplies with your neighbors or other bird owners. If you do bring these items home, clean and disinfect them before they reach your property.

5. Know the warning signs of infectious bird diseases – While not an exhaustive list, some signs to watch for are a sudden increase in bird deaths in your flock, respiratory symptoms such as sneezing, gasping for air, coughing, and nasal discharge, diarrhea, lack of energy and poor appetite, drop in egg production or soft- or thin-shelled misshapen eggs, swelling around the eyes, neck, and head, and purple discoloration of the wattles, combs, and legs.

6. Report sick birds – Poultry owners are encouraged to closely observe domesticated birds and report a sudden increase in the number of sick birds or bird deaths to Dr. Beaty’s office by calling 615-837-5120 or by calling USDA at 1-866-536-7593.

I’m proud of our 4-H members for their work in this year’s Chick Chain project, but even more so for their willingness to be a part of keeping this important sector of Tennessee agriculture healthy. You can

find more information about the response to this incident and resources for bird owners online at www.tn.gov/agriculture/businesses/animals/animal-health/avian-influenza.html.