Owners of backyard hens can follow safety tips to protect their chickens from bird flu. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Owners of backyard hens can follow safety tips to protect their chickens from bird flu. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

By Cindy Hadish/Homegrown Iowan

Almost daily in recent weeks, reports about Iowa poultry farms infected with bird flu are announced by the state.

More than 25 million chickens and turkeys have been affected in 60 farms, including a smaller backyard chicken flock added to the list this week in Sioux County.

In addition, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship announced an order yesterday to cancel all live bird exhibitions at county fairs, the Iowa State Fair, and sales of birds at livestock auction markets, swap meets and exotic sales, due to avian influenza.

Rebecca Mumaw, who leads chicken classes in Cedar Rapids and was a driving force behind the ordinance to allow hens in the city, said bird flu has been added as a topic in the classes, due to the high level of concern.

“In the class we advise to watch your birds carefully for signs of disease, such as reduced egg production, respiratory symptoms such as sneezing and runny nose and eyes, runny stools and swollen neck and throat,” Mumaw said.

Owners of backyard flocks are advised to call their veterinarian or the State Epidemiologist if they notice any signs of disease, and should isolate any sick birds. The Iowa Department of Public Health, State Public Health Veterinarian, Deputy State Epidemiologist can be reached at: (515)-281-4933.

Because the virus can spread from wild birds, Mumaw said she has removed all wild bird feeders from her yard.

She keeps a pair of garden shoes that she only wears outside in the garden, to help prevent spread from visiting places that might be infected.

Mumaw and her husband also wash their car, especially the tires, before returning home from places that might be infected, such as a fair, park or another poultry facility.

“I think many backyard chicken owners are little too confident their birds won’t get sick,” she said. “It is true that isolated flocks are less likely to get sick, but some people have bird feeders close to their coops and freely allow people to visit which can increase the risk of infection.”

Backyard flocks in Iowa have been infected, Mumaw added, so it can happen to anyone.

“A few simple steps will not only help protect your birds, but also help prevent the spread of this destructive virus,” she said.

Here are tips discussed in the chicken classes:

  • Protect the birds by keeping them from exposure to water fowl (such as sharing a pond with ducks or geese)
  • Consider removing wild bird feeders from your yard.
  • Keep a pair of shoes just for taking care of the birds that do not get worn anywhere else or into the house.
  • Disinfect any shoes/clothing you may wear home after being around other birds.
  • A good car wash is also a good idea if visiting another poultry facility, fair or park where there may be waterfowl.
  • Ask yard visitors to disinfect their shoes before entering the yard and don’t allow them into the coop or to handle the birds.

The class uses recommendations as laid out by APHIS and the USDA, including the website for avian flu in Iowa:

This video boils down poultry protection into 3 steps:

Following is the announcement released May 21 by the state:

DES MOINES – The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship today announced an order to cancel all live bird exhibitions at county fairs, the Iowa State Fair, and other gatherings of birds due to avian influenza. The Department’s order begins immediately, is effective through the end of 2015, and also prohibits live birds from being sold at livestock auction markets, swap meets and exotic sales.

Iowa has over 25 million birds and more than 60 farms impacted by H5N2 highly-pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). The purpose of the Department’s directive is to minimize the risk of potential further spread of the virus to other poultry.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Iowa Department of Public Health consider the risk to the public related to HPAI H5 infections to be very low.  No human infections of the virus have ever been detected and there is no food safety risk for consumers.

“We are asking producers and bird owners to increase their biosecurity measures and we feel this is a needed step to further minimize the risk of spreading the virus,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey.  “The scale of this outbreak has been unprecedented, so we think it is important we take every possible step to limit the chance that this disease will spread any further.”

Officials with the Department have spoken with leadership from the Iowa State Fair and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach this week to discuss the situation.

“We have been working in conjunction with our state veterinarian to monitor the situation,” said Gary Slater, Iowa State Fair CEO/Manager. “We strive to provide safe and healthy competition for all the animals at our State Fair and know this decision was made in the best interest of our exhibitors and our poultry industry.”

“Iowa State University Extension and Outreach 4-H’s priority is youth and their learning experiences,” said Mike Anderson, Extension 4-H State Livestock Specialist and State Fair 4-H Livestock Superintendent. “Some 4-H’ers will be disappointed that they won’t be able to exhibit their poultry projects at fairs this summer, but we’re exploring alternate learning opportunities to offer them at fairs and will share more details as plans develop. This is a great example to the public, fair-goers, and the consumer that the animal health, animal well-being and the safety of the poultry industry is at the forefront of our young people’s practices. Through our annual Food Safety and Quality Assurance curriculum, we have educated youth for many years on these and other topics such as biosecurity and the potential for diseases to spread.  The education and learning practices are being put into action in the real world.”

The Iowa Turkey Federation and Iowa Poultry Association both recommended that bird exhibitions be cancelled this year due to avian influenza.  Iowa leads the nation in egg production and is in the top ten in turkey production.

More information about the avian influenza situation in Iowa can be found at www.iowaagriculture.gov/avianinfluenza.asp.