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This is USDA-APHIS Bird Health Awareness Week

USDA-APHIS celebrates Bird Health Awareness Week Feb. 21-27 with a webinar, Twitter chat, new YouTube videos and more to help spread the word about the importance of biosecurity in keeping your backyard flocks healthy.

Webinar & Twitter Chat

Register today for a free webinar on Thursday, February 25 from 2-3 PM EST.  The webinar will feature poultry experts, including an APHIS veterinarian, a CDC veterinarian and the Chicken Whisperer.  Learn about biosecurity, health and safety, and tips on choosing and raising backyard birds.  Register here today.  After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing the information you need to join the webinar.

We are also running a concurrent Twitter chat using #chickenchat2016.  If you have questions for our experts, you can submit them in advance on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag - or ask them live on Twitter during the chat!


APHIS continues to seek photographs of backyard poultry to feature in future editions of the Biosecurity for Birds calendar.  Submit high-resolution photos of your birds by March 1 to be considered for the 2017 edition. Photos received after March 1 will be considered for the 2018 calendar.  Submit your photos here today.  Guidelines for photo submissions are available on the entry form.


APHIS posted brand new videos on its YouTube page on Monday to kick off Bird Health Awareness Week.  Be sure to check them out and share them with other bird enthusiasts!

Healthy Harry and our experts hope you will be able to join in our Bird Health Awareness Week celebration!

Spotlight On: Biosecurity for Birds (long version)

Board of Agriculture approves fee for avian flu testing of commercial flocks

The N.C. Board of Agriculture on Feb. 16 approved a new fee for rapid avian influenza tests conducted by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. The fee, to be paid by the commercial poultry industry, will help the department continue to meet the growing demand for testing. The test will continue to be free for owners of backyard and hobby flocks.

Dr. Sarah Mason, the department’s director of poultry health programs, told board members the fee is necessary because federal funding that supports avian influenza tests has remained flat for several years while laboratory costs and the test load have increased.

The department expects to implement the fee in April and is also seeking additional funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to offset costs. The exact amount of the fee will be determined by the amount of federal funding awarded, but will be between $6 and $12 per test. An analysis by Mason showed that other Southern states charge as much as $38 for an avian influenza test.

At the meeting, the board also approved a request from the N.C. Farm Bureau, N.C. State Grange and N.C. Agricultural Foundation to hold a referendum on continuing the Nickels for Know-How program. The program supports agricultural research and is funded through an assessment of 15 cents per ton of commercial feed and fertilizer purchased by farmers. The foundation plans to hold the referendum Nov. 17.

Year round culprit: Mycoplasma in Small Flocks

Have you ever brought new birds into your established flock and discovered that the new birds or your own flock become sick after a week or two of placing the two groups together?  The disease culprit might be infection with Mycoplasma organisms, either Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG) or Mycoplasma synoviae (MS).  This organism is one you should become familiar with and guard against its introduction to your flock.

Mycoplasma organisms are smaller than bacteria and have no protective cell wall, making it necessary that they attach very closely to the bird’s respiratory tract cells. When they attach, they cause damage to those cells, which alters the bird’s ability to fight infection. Mucus in the windpipe normally functions to move disease organisms the bird might breathe upward through the windpipe and out of the bird’s respiratory tract. After exposed to mycoplasma, this no longer works effectively. The mucus becomes thicker and less able to flow upward. In addition, the Mycoplasma can damage the cilia in the windpipe, those cells that have tiny finger-like projections on their surface that beat back and forth to move the mucus up and out.  The result is that other disease organisms like E coli as well as the Mycoplasmas can move down into the lungs and air sacs, causing difficulty breathing due to infection. The Mycoplasma organisms also can penetrate the cells and move through the bird’s bloodstream to enter other organs, like the ovary or joints, for example. Once Mycoplasma enter the joints they cause lameness in the birds. This is particularly associated with MS. Both MG and MS, if they infect the ovary, can result in infection of the eggs the bird lays. Chicks from MG or MS infected hens will frequently be infected themselves.

Mycoplasma infections can be hard to treat and nearly impossible to cure. Once birds are infected they typically are infected for life, though they may recover from the initial illness. After recovery they become carriers of Mycoplasma infection. Thus, when you add new birds to your flock that appear healthy but maybe carriers of Mycoplasma, you flock may become ill within a week or so. This can work in reverse if your flock has been affected in the past, causing infection of any new birds added to the flock. 

Mycoplasma organisms are easily killed by disinfectants, heat and sunlight as they must be living inside an animal to survive for very long.  Outside a chicken they typically can live no longer than up to 3 days.

What should you do if your flock becomes infected?  Antibiotic treatment works in many cases to bring birds through the illness, though some birds will succumb to the disease.  Any recovered birds are likely carriers for life. 

Commercial poultry companies worked hard in the past to rid their flocks of this organism, sometimes through treatment of fertile eggs with antibiotics before incubating them, producing Mycoplasma-free chicks.  However, there are still sporadic outbreaks of Mycoplasma in commercial poultry even now, and some flocks have to be destroyed to prevent the spread of illness through the eggs they lay.  For this reason, commercial farmers work to keep their flocks from being exposed to any outside poultry or wild birds that might be harboring Mycoplasma.  They do so by using biosecurity methods like building bird-proof barns, requiring that employees who enter the houses have no contact with other flocks, and wearing clean coveralls and boots whenever they enter a poultry house.

Though small flocks are frequently housed outside and can be exposed to wild birds who might be infected, there are biosecurity steps that a conscientious flock owner can use to protect their flock.  Always buy from reputable breeders when purchasing new stock.  Though they are rare, some exotic breeders do have flocks that are NPIP certified MG and MS Clean.  Once you have your flock established, protect them by setting aside dedicated clothing and shoes worn only when working with your birds.  Do not allow visitors into your flock who have been in contact with other flocks.  Do not share equipment with other flock owners unless it is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between flocks.
Finally, if you are unfortunate enough to have an infected flock, many will come through the infection with treatment and regain their health.  There is no danger to humans in being around these birds or by eating their eggs as MG and MS do not infect humans.  If you have further questions about Mycoplasma, feel free to call us.

Follow NCAgriculture:

Informational posters:

USDA-APHIS Biosecurity guide for poultry and bird owners (PDF)

USDA-APHIS 6 ways to prevent poultry diseases (PDF English & Spanish)

USDA: What to expect if you suspect HPAI (PDF)

HPAI: A Guide To Help You Understand the Response Process (PDF)


We've had almost 3,500 small/backyard flocks owners register with the State Veterinarians' office since Aug. 1.

This will faciliate getting information to all flock owners in case HPAI is introduced to North Carolina.


Help spread the word!

Please share this newsletter with anyone who works with poultry or their suppliers. Download a poster for your place of business. Or share the website with a fellow enthusiast.

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Steve Troxler, Commissioner of Agriculture

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