Bird Flu and You - What you need to Know as a Backyard Chicken Keeper

You may have seen, and heard about Avian Influenza, or the bird flu, in the news lately. Currently, here in the US, the bird flu has been responsible for the decimation of many large scale factory chicken farms (both farms that produce eggs and meat) and turkey farms. Thankfully, this viral disease has been kept under control due to drastic measures taken when flocks are tested and found positive to have the bird flu.

There has been one downside to this - aside from the significant losses that bird farmers have had to endure so far this year. The price of grocery store eggs, chicken meat, and even turkey have already begun to rise or probably will rise. Specifically in the state of Minnesota, who produces the largest amount of turkey and turkey products in the US, is already feeling the effects as the state relies on the commerce that comes from turkey sales.

So, what should you know as a backyard chicken keeper? As most backyard chicken flock keepers might already realize, there’s a good chance that you won’t feel much of the effects on your pocketbook, especially when it comes to eggs. Currently, some large retail grocery store chains area already not only increasing their prices on eggs, but also rationing them as well. If anything (and this is only speculation), backyard chicken keepers might enjoy a slight reduction in the price of feed. But it’s guaranteed that backyard chicken keepers will be spared the increase in the price of eggs at least.

As far as you and your flock, there has been no human infection in the US of the bird flu and there probably won’t be. And interestingly, there have been only a handful of infections in “backyard chicken flocks”, which all happen to be very large flocks of over 100 birds. Most backyard chicken keepers have less than 20 chickens, and no flocks of that size have had any reported cases of bird flu infection. In fact, Mother Jones recently did a story on the phenomenon.

In short - you do not have to be worried about getting sick from the bird flu. And, there’s a good chance your backyard flock is going to be safe too. You can add to the security of your loved birds by practicing good biosecurity at home, and doing some simple things that will boost the immune systems of your birds helping them fight off infection. Here are some easy things you can be doing to help keep your chickens safe:

  • Keep everything clean. Wash food and water containers daily with regular soap and water. Disinfect tools such as rakes and brushes in a bucket of bleach and water solution by dipping them in daily after use. Don’t share equipment or tools with other chicken keepers unless everything has been disinfected first.

  • Wash your hands before and after you interact with your birds, and change your clothing. You can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer too.

  • Have a separate pair of shoes that you wear into the coop and don’t wear them anywhere else. Regular rubber rain boots are a good choice.

  • Purchase birds only from healthy flocks that you know, or from hatcheries or NPIP certified flocks. If you’re purchasing adult birds and are adding them to your existing flock, quarantine them away from your flock first. Two weeks is normally sufficient time. An unused dog kennel is all you need.

  • Try to avoid having chicken keepers outside interact with your flock and try to be courteous yourself and avoid interacting with the flocks of others. While it’s fun and exciting to have chicken keeper friends, visiting flocks is actually a great way to spread disease.

  • Keep your coop and run dry and clean by changing bedding or dressing with new clean bedding regularly. Make sure your coop has good ventilation.

There are some things you can do in conjunction with good biosecurity. Boosting the immune system of your birds is actually pretty easy (and fun). Adding certain “treats” and using herbs in the coop - even using herbs to make homemade cleaning products for daily use in the coop, will help boost immune systems naturally. Try planting some perennial herbs around the coop for an added bonus. Here are some excellent herbs to grow and try around your chickens:

  • Monarda: Bee Balm, or Monarda, is a beautiful, very tough and hardy perennial that has excellent medicinal qualities. An antibacterial, anti-viral, calming herb, Bee Balm calms with it’s scent and also repels bad insects. Grow around the coop perimeter or harvest leaves and slightly crush them to add to nest boxes or add right to the coop’s bedding material. Blue Stocking is a great size for coop plantings and blooms in a lovely violet. Easy, fast maturing, colonizes nicely.

  • Thyme: Thyme is a proven anti-viral herb that comes in two forms- upright growing thyme (the kind you often seen for culinary uses) and creeping thyme. Creeping thyme is just as effective medicinally as upright thyme as a powerful herb for the immune system. It grows fast and is super hardy. Add thyme right into the nesting material for best effect. Try our Creeping Red Thyme around the coop too, to attract good insects and for harvest.

  • Mint: Mint is an excellent herb. It’s not only delicious, it’s also a fantastic calming herb (great for reducing stress in humans AND chickens), is a great addition to natural cleaning products, and is one of the best insecticides and rodent repellents available- even more potent than many chemical products when preventing insect invasion. Best of all, it’s an aggressive grower, ideal for trying inside of the chicken run or just outside. Add mint leaves in satchels around the coop or again into nest boxes where the hens will help not only crush them to release their aroma and oils, but also where they’ll be with them the most. Chocolate mint has a beautiful pink bloom that butterflies love too - and has a slight chocolate quality to its scent. Delicious!

And in so in short, as a backyard small chicken flock keeper you really have nothing to worry about. But this is a great time to practice excellent biosecurity around your flock and your friend’s flocks. It’s also a great time to practice gardening with some fabulous herbs, and using them in your natural health routine - for you and for your much loved birds!