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Poultry Producers: How Is Your Flock Faring?

If you’ve seen higher-than-usual mortality in your flock lately, or signs of respiratory illness in your birds, please read on to learn more about Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI).

We know, another pandemic, and you’re already sick and tired of dealing with the human pandemic. But this one could destroy the businesses of any poultry farmers around you, and could mean the loss of many backyard flocks too. The good news is that you can get compensation for the birds killed as a result of HPAI, and the information you report about a sick flock will not be shared to any other agency. 

Please show solidarity with your fellow flock owners by educating yourself and reporting signs of flock illness following the information below.


CCE Flock Talks Presents: HPAI in New York

Monday, March 7, at 7 p.m.

Join Cornell Cooperative Extension and Dr. Chad Wall, Field Veterinarian for NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets, for this webinar to learn about the current outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, the threat it poses to NYS poultry production. This event is for Small Production Flocks as well as Backyard/Hobby Flocks.

Topics covered include symptoms of the disease, keeping your poultry safe, and what will happen if the disease is found in your flock or a flock near you. The update will leave ample time for Q&A — bring your questions!


While there are currently only three confirmed cases, it is anticipated that there will be many more. The states with wild bird positives (297 cases) now include Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, and Alabama. Cases will increase across the northeast as wild waterfowl migrate northward in the coming months. Commercial flocks in Delaware, Indiana, and Kentucky have been affected, as have backyard flocks in Virginia, Maine, New York, and Michigan. We are asking our poultry producers to keep an eye out for suddenly high mortality and to be prepared to report any suspicious whole flock illness.

What is Avian Influenza (AI)?

Avian Influenza is a highly contagious poultry virus that has the potential to cause large financial losses to the U.S. poultry industry. A highly pathogenic strain (HPAI), H5N1, last hit the U.S. in 2014-2015 and was considered the nation’s largest animal health emergency. Over 200 cases of the disease were found in commercial flocks, backyard flocks, and wild birds. More than 50 million birds were affected and subsequently died or were euthanized on more than 200 farms in 15 states.

Where does it come from?

Waterfowl, both wild and domestic, act as carriers. Since the outbreak of 2014-2015, scientists have been monitoring wild bird populations, and waterfowl hunters send their harvested birds in for testing. Wild waterfowl regularly carry low-pathogenic strains of the virus, but it can easily mutate to a highly pathogenic strain, as we’ve seen this year.

If it’s been mainly identified in wild birds, and it’s not yet in NYS, why should I be concerned?

Wild birds follow one of four migratory routes. NYS is located in the Atlantic Flyway, which includes the states with current HPAI findings. It is anticipated that as birds migrate north in the spring, we’ll continue to see the cases in wild birds move with them. It also means that there is an increased potential for the virus to establish in poultry flocks along this route.

How does it spread?

HPAI lives in the respiratory and/or intestinal tract of birds. It can be picked up from contact with infected feces, surfaces, or through the air, though aerial transmission from farm to farm is unlikely. It can be transported on infected feed, clothing, or equipment. Once on the farm, the disease is readily passed from bird to bird, infecting an entire flock quickly.

Which flocks are affected?

Flocks of any size, from backyard to commercial, and any species can be affected.

Any birds can be affected, but birds other than waterfowl react most strongly to the virus. Poultry infected with HPAI may show one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Sudden death without clinical signs
  • Decreased egg production or soft-shelled or misshapen eggs
  • Swelling of head, comb, eyelid, wattles, and hocks
  • Purple discoloration of wattles, comb, and legs
  • Nasal discharge, coughing, and sneezing
  • Discoordination
  • Diarrhea

A high level of mortality without any clinical signs is known to be a hallmark of the virus. In some cases, expect 100% of the flock to die within a few days. Regardless of how the disease presents, a large portion of the birds in a flock will be affected. Waterfowl may carry the virus but not show symptoms.

What do I do if I think I have HPAI in my flock?

Report it! If your birds are sick or dying, it’s important to report it immediately so that we can stop the spread to any other flocks. You can call:

What can I do to manage it?

Because there is not a vaccine currently available in the U.S. for this disease, keeping it out through biosecurity is going to be the best course of action. The easy-to-follow biosecurity principles below can go a long way to keeping your birds safe from disease:

  • Establishing an “all-in, all-out” flock-management policy
  • Protecting against exposure to wild birds or water or ground contaminated by wild birds
  • Closing bird areas to nonessential personnel or vehicles
  • Providing employees with clean clothing and disinfection facilities and directions for their use
  • Thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting equipment and vehicles (including tires and undercarriage) when entering or leaving the farm
  • Banning the borrowing or lending of equipment or vehicles
  • Banning visits to other poultry farms, exhibitions, fairs, and sales or swap meets (if visits must occur, direct workers to change footwear and clothing on their return)
  • Banning bringing birds in slaughter channels back to the farm

 A version of this article originally appeared on the CALS News website. It was contributed to by CCE Livestock Specialist Amy Barkley. Additional information can be found in this fact sheet from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and on the USDA website. If you have any questions about this disease, please contact Amy Barkley at (716) 640-0844 or amb544@cornell.edu. The information used to create this article is shared by the United States Department of Agriculture – Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS).

New York Extension Disaster Education Network (NY EDEN) is a collaborative educational network based at Cornell University and dedicated to educating New York residents about preventing, preparing for and recovering from emergencies and disasters. NY EDEN is working with New York State Agriculture and Markets to provide resources and updates to poultry producers.

Kacey Deamer

Kacey is the Cornell Small Farms Program’s communications specialist. In this role, she manages all storytelling and outreach across the program’s website, social media, e-newsletter, magazine and more. Kacey has worked in communications and journalism for more than a decade, with a primary focus on science and sustainability.