Recently H5N1 has been found in the United States along the East Coast. H5N1 is a concern to anyone who owns anything avian. But when it comes to backyard flock keepers, there are a few ways that we as poultry keepers can combat this to ensure the safety and health of our birds.
Biosecurity is going to be your biggest ally in protecting your chickens against H5N1. If you’re new to the poultry world, this may be a whole new word to you.
Biosecurity should be practiced year-round, but in certain circumstances like this, it is best to tighten up some areas. With viruses and bacteria, it is very easy for it to spread in ways that many people don’t account for. With H5N1, it can spread to your chickens through contact with infected birds and on surfaces of things like shoes or tires.
Avian influenza can also spread through water. So how do we stop the spread or you bringing it in? The answer is biosecurity.
“Flockdown” in the Coop & Run
There are many different ways to practice biosecurity. Your coop and run are going to be your main focus when something like this occurs. If you do free range your birds, you need to have a backup plan when they need to be placed in “flockdown.”
Flockdown is a word that we use to describe locking down your flock in an area that doesn’t allow birds, mice or other pests into it. You need to make sure that it is roofed so that materials (like wild bird droppings) cannot drop into your coop and run.
Wild birds can carry H5N1 and other pathogens that don’t affect them but can be deadly to your chickens. Covering your runs during times like these do not have to be perfect. They only have to keep the bird droppings out of your coop and run area. Tarps work just fine for the short term.
If you use fencing with larger holes, chicken wire or netting are cheap and quick alternatives to make sure that wild birds cannot get into your run. Wild birds can find many resources within your coop (straw, feed, water) and having access to that is not the healthiest option for your flock—especially during times when biosecurity needs to be strict.
After both of these are attended to, we also need to look at other areas.
Designate Some Coop Shoes
You, as the caretaker, can track things in on your clothes, hands and shoes and not even realize it. So establishing a pair of “coop shoes” is good practice.
Coop shoes are a pair of shoes that you specifically use for only your flockdown area. If you have more than one coop that you have to walk across a yard to get to, implementing more than one pair as coop-specific is a good option.
This ensures that you don’t step in a bacteria or virus and track it inside your lockdown area.
I also implement a shoe dip to further protect my chickens against H5N1 and other pathogens. You can make these very easily with a container you can fit your foot inside.
Simply pour a 50/50 water/bleach solution in it and dip your shoes before you go into your coop.
If there’s mud on your shoes, you will need to remove that. I help do this by getting a cheap shower scrubber and putting it into the container.
I keep this container right outside my coop area so it’s easily accessible and carry the 50/50 solution out with me. When you empty your container, you will need to do so down a drain.
The 50/50 solution needs to be kept fresh.
Your clothes can also track things, including the avian influenza virus, on them. Changing your clothes after visiting town or another farm ensures you aren’t tracking things in.
Your feeders and waterers do not need to be set outside. The items you use in the coop need to stay in the coop unless you are cleaning them.
By doing these simple things, you can be proactive when high pathogenic avian influenza or Newcastle is found in the States. It is not a time for panic but definitely a time to be proactive about your flock’s health.
If you would like to track H5N1, the USDA does have a website to do so. You can also find more biosecurity ideas at the Defend the flock program through the USDA.