Archive for May 26th, 2015

Avian Flu and Backyard Flocks

With the avian flu outbreak, I’ve gotten a number of questions about how it will affect backyard flocks.

First, this strain of avian flu is not the H5N1 strain, which is deadly to humans. From the CDC’s website: “Highly pathogenic avian influenza A (H5N1) viruses have never been detected among wild birds, domestic poultry, or people in the United States.”

Now, back to the birds. The key to protecting your flock is biosecurity. You can read more about avian flu and protecting your birds on the following links:


Avian Influenza Basics for Urban and Backyard Poultry Owners

Do I need to be worried about bird flu if I keep chickens?

The most important thing you can do is keep your birds isolated from other flocks of chickens. This is the same advice I give to folks for protecting your flock from any disease.

  • Limit travel to other flocks.
  • Do not allow visitors who have chickens to access your birds.
  • Keep a dedicated pair of footwear that you use in your coop only.
  • Prevent contact with wild birds.
  • If you must bring in new birds, take them from reputable sources only.
  • Quarantine new birds for 30 days before introducing them to yours.

More likely than not, your backyard birds will be just fine.

Coop Ideas

Thinking about building a coop? Here are some great ideas with instructions! I love the Hobbit Hole coop.

Fluffin’ Butts video tutorial on how to dust for external parasites

I can across this hilarious video the other day. This guy is a stitch! [As a side note, when I’ve dusted my birds, I’ve held them upside down by the legs with one hand, away from my body, put the powder in the butt feathers (fluff), worked the powder down through the bird’s body, and then put powder under the wings as well.]

If your birds have lice, you may want to use a dusting powder (he mentions pyrethrin/permethrin). Pyrethrins are insecticidal compounds that occur naturally in certain flowers. They can also be synthetically produced (called permethrin). They are low-toxicity pesticides and are biodegradable. For chickens, the compound is formulated as a powder, which can be placed in the fluff and under the wings. The powder will kill adult lice and mites. It will not kill the eggs on the feather shafts and so must be reapplied seven days after initial treatment. Apply 2-3 times after initial treatment, seven days apart.

Signs of lice infestation include red, irritated skin (esp. on the back end); dirty vent feathers; lack of energy; bald spots; ragged feathers; and (most obvious) spotting lice or eggs on the bird. The adult lice are about 1/16 of an inch long, pink, and quick moving. (You may find them walking on you after you handle your birds, but humans CANNOT get poultry lice.) Lice deposit their eggs in the fluffy feathers near the bottom of the shaft. Louse eggs look like clumps of gray, matted material starting at the base of the feather shafts, close to the body. 

Northern fowl mites/Red mites look like tiny red, pin-prick dots on the birds. If the bird has mites, you may see scabs around the vent area. Mites generally like to live in the cracks of wooden coops. They will come out at night to feed on the birds. If the coop has a mite infestation, the birds may not want to go into the coop at night.

You can prevent lice/mite infestations by limiting the birds’ contact with wild birds and providing places for them to dustbathe. Adding some wood ash or 90% sulfur powder to the dustbath area will give your birds some extra relief.  Some believe that putting some diatomaceous earth (DE) in their favorite dusting spots; however, I’ve spoken to avian veterinarians who have cautioned against the use of DE because they believe that inhalation of DE can harm the birds’ respiratory system.

Pyrethrin/permethrin sprays or powders can treat an infestation, but be sure you follow the instructions on the label. You can also use injectable or oral Ivermectin, again following the label. Talk with an avian veterinarian before you attempt intramuscular injections; you can seriously injure a bird if the needle is not inserted properly into the muscle.

Be sure to clean the coop thoroughly if your birds have external parasites. Mites can be especially difficult to get rid of. Spray all cracks, and you may want to caulk cracks as well.

It is best to treat the flock as soon as you notice lice/mites on the birds, to prevent a heavy infestation.