Small Flocks and Avian Influenza

This article provides information on small flocks and how avian influenza impacts small flock poultry operations, specifically in regards to the Pacific Flyway, while the general message is applicable elsewhere.

Based on reports of infected flocks, the current avian influenza virus shows little discrimination among the species it targets. Canada alone has reported significant die-offs of wild Snow and Canada geese; ducks of various species, including many divers; sea birds, including gulls; raptors; scavengers; and more recently detections in mammals, such as mink, racoons, skunks, and foxes. The indiscriminate nature of this virus further complicates response activities, and also increases the onus on small flock holders to increase their biosecurity and vigilance to prevent the introduction of the virus.

Many holders of small flocks have various species in their care, ranging from domestic poultry to waterfowl, pigeons, doves, psittacines, and various other species. The multi-species nature has an unfortunate effect of increasing exposures to the disease as many species can, and should, be housed in appropriate, outdoor settings. While keepers must always do their best to protect the animals in their care from predation, this threat is a new one and requires a different approach.

small flocks and avian influenza

Waterfowl seem to be a particularly vulnerable introductory pathway in the small flock detections on the Pacific coast. Nearly all of the small flock holders impacted in British Columbia, for example, have been attributed to also allowing waterfowl to free range and interact directly with wild transient waterfowl and access a shared water body. Unfortunately, this very significant fact has not been well communicated to holders of these species, nor do the regulatory agencies seem willing to make this attribution in their communication products. The reality is that this seems to be the most vulnerable point, aside from a direct introduction by humans, to most small flock holders.

Please consider this and take this threat very seriously if the disease is known to be present in your area. Some jurisdictions have been regulating the removal of managed birds from open ponds, which may seem daunting to many, but also is a very strong measure that owners can take to protect their birds and flocks from exposure.  Flock owners should do everything they can to ensure their birds are protected, and this may require alternative housing measures to keep birds away from this point of direct contact. This would be a recommended practice until the wild bird detections in your area have stopped, and a period of time has elapsed to allow for the reduction of any environmental contamination. Consult local agricultural extension offices for help in navigating how and what this may look like for your region.

Small Flocks and Avian Influenza by Clayton Botkin P. Ag B.Sc. (Hons), APA Licensed Judge #1234