Bird Flu Top Five Tips for Backyard Chicken Owners

What's Bird Flu?

Bird flu is a kind influenza that emerged about 10 years ago and has killed about 370 people worldwide.  While the death toll is modest in numbers, the death rate of those who do catch it is frightening, approximately 60% of those infected died of their illness. 

Victims of the 1981 Influenza Outbreak that Took 20-40 Million Lives

This initial strain of bird flu, called H5N1, did not spread easily to people. In fact, most cases of the illness resulted from contact between people and infected poultry.  However, health officials have always feared that the virus might mutate into a strain that would be more infectious and pass more readily from human to human. This could create the potential for pandemic like the influenza virus of 1918 that killed between 20-40 million people worldwide.

The H5N1 Virus. Photo courtesy of the CDC

New News Isn't Great

A report in the New York Times on April 24 reports a new strain of Bird Flu called H7N9 is spreading in China. Like it's predecessor H5N1, this new strain does not appear to spread easily from person to person; only one know case of human-to-human transmission exists of the 110 known cases. 

However, the mutation of the original virus into a second variant does raise concern that future. Viruses that mutate into new forms easily may mutate into ones that can spread from person to person more easily. So the report of a new strain of bird flu raises fears about if and when bird flu could become a real threat.

While there's no need for panic now, there is plenty of reason to be concerned.  Chinese Government officials are working to contain the spread of the disease and The Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta has received samples of the virus from China and are attempting to develop a vaccine.

Wild Birds & Backyard Chickens

As it's name implies, Bird Flu is really a disease that effects birds. The virus can pass between birds in their saliva and in their droppings. The disease can move from wild bird populations to domestic birds if the two come into contact with each other. The disease can be spread by migrating birds to domestic bird populations and then from the domestic wild birds to commercial poultry flocks and our own backyard chickens.

Therefore, wild birds represent a potential avenue for Bird Flu to find it's way into backyard flocks. A future mutation of Bird Flu that easily infects people could follow this avenue of infection and would be a serious health concern.

Regulatory agencies in the U.S. don't track ownership of poultry by backyard chicken keepers. However, USDA is currently doing surveys in a number of urban areas to determine what percentage of urban households keep chickens. This survey is motivated in part by concern about the potential spread of Bird Flu.

American Crow. Photo by Wsiegmund

Five Tips for Backyard Flock Owners

Although backyard chicken owners are not in immediate danger, we should begin adopting best practice now in order to limit potential infection of our flocks and our families. The recommendations are common sense practices to prevent the spread of all types of diseases including Bird Flu.  Here are five practices we recommend implementing today:

  1. Build an Enclosed Run -Free ranging is popular among flock owners, but this practice brings our chickens into direct contact with wild birds. Right now the dangers aren't great enough to recommend ending free ranging, but flock owners have an obligation to be prepared. Even if you want to continue to free range your birds, you should build an enclosed run to separate your birds from the wild ones. In the event of a serious infection, you would be able to quickly isolate your birds. This seems like a responsible approach to us.
  2. Clean Up The Water Supply - Since bird flu is passed by transmission of the virus in feces, it makes sense to keep water sources for your flock free of chicken and wild bird droppings. A chicken waterer that uses poultry nipples such as the BriteTap chicken waterer, is a good way to make sure your flocks water is clean and safe to drink.
  3. Buy A Spare Pair of Shoes/Boots - If you show your birds, consider buying another pair of shoes that you wear only when outside your property.  That way you don't accidentally track viruses and germs back with you and inflect your flock. 
  4. Keep Visitors from Spreading Diseases Too - I think the risks are still too low to ask all visitors to your home to wear disposable plastic shoe covers. However, if your friends have birds of their own, or if they are visiting you as part of a "chicken coop tour," you should absolutely insist that these folks wear shoe covers or to apply sanitizer to their shoes.
  5. Buy Good Stock - Make sure you buy your chicks from reputable hatcheries that follow basic bio-security practices. If you're not sure, ask them before making a purchase.
It Pays To Be Vigilant. Photo by M.M. Karim
Posting sponsored by, makers of the BriteTap automatic poultry waterer. The BriteTap waterer shields water from dirt and poop. The water stays clean and there are no messy pans for you to wash out. 


  1. Experts are concerned about the speed with which the virus is spreading faster than its mutation and the possibility of infection has to be passed from person to person.
    According to the World Health Organization H7N9 is one of the most lethal influenza viruses can stand on the threshold of a new global pandemic. Mankind has no immunity to the new strain of flu in more than 90% of the clinical forms of the disease are severe, and scientists have not been able to invent a vaccine.


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