You’ve heard about highly pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in the news unless you’ve been hiding under a rock! Wondering what this means for chicken keepers? Here are five key takeaways.
1. Your flock can’t contract Avian Influenza from My Pet Chicken’s chicks.
Let’s address the pink elephant in the room first. Our breeder flocks are kept in the most biosecure manner possible and are frequently tested for illness, both by our flock management team and by state NPIP officials. Furthermore, HPAI doesn’t quietly linger in infected flocks – it’ll make itself known within a matter of hours or days and causes utter devastation. In other words, there’s no wondering if our breeder birds could be infected: we’d know. And our flocks are healthy. (As are most other hatchery’s flocks, for that matter.)
In fact, several states have banned all poultry purchases except from reputable sources like ours. See more on this in #5.
2. Isolate your flock from wild birds, and practice good biosecurity
Droppings and fluids from wild birds are what spread avian influenza, so this is the first and most important rule for you to follow. This means you can’t allow your flock to drink from or bathe in water sources that wild birds could access, and you can’t allow your flock outdoors unless your run is covered or has an impervious roof.
Why? Because HPAI is a death sentence for your flock.
If that means you have to keep your flock indoors all the time, so be it. Within a period of just 10 days, the current strain of Eurasian H5 Avian Influenza spread to five states: Maine, New York, Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, and South Carolina. If you free-range your birds, or allow them out into uncovered runs, you’re taking a terrible chance.
But don’t think you need an engineer to redesign your setup. Heck, isolation could be as easy as covering your existing poultry run with a brand new tarp.
And don’t forget to follow the other key biosecurity practices, too. (We know, we know – you already know all about them, but it always bears repeating!)
3. Don’t worry; you won’t catch avian influenza from your flock.
Nobody in the US ever has, in fact. We wrote a whole manifesto on this; read it here if you’re worried.
4. Prepare for an egg and meat shortage (and higher prices).
Within just ten days, highly pathogenic avian influenza went from zero to being found in several commercial flocks in five different states, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of commercial turkeys, chickens, and layer hens. It’s unlikely to stop there: the 2015 bird flu outbreak resulted in the deaths of 50 million chickens across the USA, and this strain has already resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of birds in Europe. What this means, not just for poultry keepers like us but for every American, is that there won’t be enough eggs and poultry meat to satisfy demand. Of course, this will result in even higher prices at the grocery store than we’re already paying.
So how can you prepare for that? By increasing your own flock. Unlike most people, you already have the facilities, equipment, and know-how to raise birds. Whether it’s because you might not be able to afford grocery store eggs once higher prices set in, because you may be able to help feed your neighborhood when there are shortages, or even because you could fetch record high prices for your extra eggs, we can’t think of a better time to grow your own flock than right now.
5. Only purchase poultry from reputable sources, and stay away from other people’s flocks.
Who doesn’t love scoring some special or hard-to-find breeds online? Or scooping up a group of hens whose owner is moving? For now, you must resist the temptation. Don’t acquire birds from neighbors, friends, your local breeder, or some rando on Facebook. You shouldn’t sell your birds to other people, either.
In fact, states are starting to ban such activities. The Georgia Department of Agriculture, for instance, just announced that the following activities are suspended until further notice: “exhibitions, shows, sales (flea markets, auction markets), swaps and meets pertaining to poultry and feathered fowl.”
However, you can purchase from NPIP-approved flocks like ours. Why? Because the USDA and State Departments of Agriculture recognize that our breeder flocks are registered and regularly tested for all manner of illness, including Avian Influenza. In fact, purchasing from a reputable hatchery or hatching from your own flock is the only safe way to acquire birds at the moment.
There you have it, friends. Just be smart, be safe, and go ahead and get yourself some more chickens and ducks. (Come to think of it, how’s that any different from what we do every day?)