Tips for Keeping Avian Influenza at Bay in Commercial and Backyard Flocks

Young chickens, photo USDA ARE D3069-12

Routinely practicing biosecurity steps is key to keeping commercial and backyard flocks healthy. Photo courtesy USDA ARE.

With avian influenza looming as a threat, Tennessee poultry producers are urged to keep a wary eye on their birds. This includes commercial producers as well as producers who keep small flocks in their backyards.

“Biosecurity means doing everything you can to protect your birds from disease,” says Dr. Lew Strickland, University of Tennessee Extension veterinarian. “As a bird owner, keeping your birds healthy is a top priority. Your birds can become sick or die from exposure to just a few unseen bacteria, viruses, or parasites. In a single day, these germs can multiply and infect all of your birds.”  

Strickland says if commercial and backyard producers will routinely perform some simple safety steps, they can decrease the risk of disease like avian influenza from entering their flocks and, once present, of persisting in soil, droppings and debris. “Practicing biosecurity is an investment in the health of your birds,” he said.

The basics of biosecurity boil down to these six steps:
  1. Keep your distance.
  2. Keep it clean.
  3. Don’t haul disease home.
  4. Don’t borrow disease from your neighbor.
  5. Know the warning signs of infectious bird diseases.
  6. Report sick birds.

Of these steps, Strickland says keeping an operation clean can be among the most daunting and demanding. “Wear clean clothes, scrub your shoes with disinfectant, and wash your hands thoroughly before entering your bird area.” Strickland says. “Also, clean cages and change food and water daily. Clean and disinfect equipment that comes in contact with your birds or their droppings, including cages and tools and remove manure before disinfecting.”  He adds that you must properly dispose of dead birds.

Strickland also says bird owners should know the warning signs of disease:

  • Sudden increase in bird deaths in your flock
  • Sneezing, gasping for air, coughing, and nasal discharge
  • Watery and green diarrhea 
  • Lack of energy and poor appetite
  • Drop in egg production or soft- or thin-shelled misshapen eggs 

Another key to preventing the spread of infectious bird disease is prompt reporting. “If you think you have a problem,” says Strickland, “
don’t wait. If your birds are sick or dying, call your local cooperative extension office, local veterinarian, the State Veterinarian, or U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Veterinary Services office to report. USDA operates a toll-free hotline (1–866–536–7593) with veterinarians to help you.” Strickland says there is no charge for this service. The Tennessee State Veterinarian’s office can be reached by phone at 615-837-5120

Producers can also contact Strickland at 865-974-3538, or by email at

More information and a complete biosecurity checklist is available online at this UT Department of Animal Science webpage.

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Dr. Lew Strickland, 865-974-3538, or