As avian flu is found in wild birds along the Atlantic Flyway, poultry farms warned of risks to flocks

16 November 2023- The Maryland Department of Agriculture has partnered with the Maryland Farm Bureau and the Delmarva Chicken Association to remind all poultry farmers to remain vigilant and practice enhanced biosecurity on their farms as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) continues to confirm findings of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in wild birds in the Atlantic Flyway.  

“As we are in peak migratory season, it is vital to review and implement your enhanced biosecurity measures to keep your flocks safe,” said MDA Secretary Kevin Atticks. “From commercial poultry growers to backyard flock owners, it is crucial for everyone to take proper steps to isolate their birds and wild waterfowl migrating along the Atlantic flyway.”

During this time of year, migratory waterfowl moving through Maryland present a heightened risk for HPAI, which is a potentially devastating disease for poultry operations. HPAI is caused by an influenza type A virus, which can infect poultry (chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quails, domestic ducks, geese, and guinea fowl) and is carried by free flying waterfowl such as ducks, geese and shorebirds. 

“Chicken growers know they are on the front line of defense against HPAI outbreaks, and they take that role seriously,” said Holly Porter, Delmarva Chicken Association’s Executive Director. “From using dedicated footwear in each chicken house to ensuring wild birds and scavengers don’t have access to spilled feed, everyday biosecurity measures can ensure their flocks, and our food supply, stay protected.”

Growers are urged to follow these minimum guidelines to maintain a sanitary, biosecure premise:

  • Restrict access to poultry by posting “Restricted Access” signage, securing the area with a gate, or both.
  • Take steps to ensure that contaminated materials on the ground are not transported into the poultry growing house or area.
  • Provide the following items to anyone entering or leaving any area where poultry are kept:
    • Footbaths and foot mats with disinfectant;
    • Boot washing and disinfectant station;
    • Footwear change or foot covers.
  • Cover and secure feed to prevent wild birds, rodents or other animals from accessing it.
  • Cover and properly contain carcasses, used litter, or other disease-containing organic materials to prevent wild birds, rodents or other animals from accessing them and to keep them from being blown around by wind.
  • Allow MDA to enter the premises during normal working hours to inspect your biosecurity and sanitation practices. 
  • Report any unusual bird deaths or sudden increases in very sick birds to the MDA Animal Health Program at 410-841-5810 or after-hours to 410-841-5971. Also contact the USDA at 866-536-7593. 
  • Read up about HPAI and biosecurity measures on the MDA website.

“Proper biosecurity plans are important to prevent the spread of disease and protect animal lives,” said Maryland Farm Bureau President Wayne Stafford. “Farmers are reminded to remain vigilant in their biosecurity measures and are encouraged to evaluate and tighten their on-farm practices.”

USDA APHIS’ website for its Defend the Flock program has many valuable resources available for poultry owners, including a variety of instructional videos, to help mitigate the risk of HPAI on their operation.