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Backyard Poultry Health and Safety

Practicing Good Hygiene and Monitoring Health

By: Erica Rankin | Category: Education | Issue: August 2022

Oklahoma State Department of Health Logo

OKLAHOMA CITY – Each year, as spring arrives, many people begin or continue raising backyard poultry flocks. These flocks have been gaining in popularity over the past several years and interest in them continues to grow.

“The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) wants to remind flock owners to learn about and practice essential prevention measures to minimize the risk of disease transmission, known as biosecurity,” said LeMac’ Morris, the State’s Public Health Veterinarian. “Biosecurity practices are vital in protecting not only your own birds, but neighboring flocks as well as our nation’s commercial poultry industry, from diseases like highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).”

HPAI is an influenza virus that can cause severe illness and sudden death in chickens. Wild birds are also susceptible to HPAI but are more resistant to the virus and rarely show signs of illness. However, while wild birds may appear healthy they can be carriers of HPAI which is deadly to domestic birds. Chickens exposed to wild birds carrying the HPAI virus are at greatest risk for developing this disease that can quickly become widespread to backyard and commercial flocks. Although rare, there are cases where humans have been infected.

“These are reasons why biosecurity practices are important for both commercial flock and backyard flock owners,” said Morris. “An outbreak in a backyard flock could threaten commercial flocks due to the human factor. For instance, the individual who delivers propane, the feed truck driver or the person who works on the commercial operation can carry the virus from their own backyard flock to a commercial flock resulting in an outbreak that may infect millions of birds.”

Examples of biosecurity practices to protect backyard flocks include, don’t set up bird feeders near chicken coops, keep feed covered to protect it from exposure to wild birds and rodents, avoid wearing boots and clothes used to bird hunt when caring for domestic birds and, if possible, house birds in a pen that prevents wild birds and predators from entering. It is also important to practice good hygiene and monitor children who are interacting with poultry by following these safety tips:

• Never eat, drink or put anything in your mouth while handling poultry.

• Wash hands with soap and water immediately after handling any type of bird. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 62 percent ethyl alcohol.

• Do not wash animal food and water dishes from a backyard poultry flock in the kitchen sink.

• Do not let children younger than five years of age handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry without supervision. Children younger than five years of age are more likely to get sick from exposure to germs like Salmonella.

o Symptoms of Salmonella are diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, headache, muscle aches, nausea and sometimes vomiting. Blood is sometimes found in the stool. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, but can last as long as two weeks.

“Following good biosecurity and hygiene practices can make a backyard flock a safe and enjoyable experience,” said Morris. “Raising poultry is a great 4-H or FFA project for youth and of course there is nothing better than home grown eggs for breakfast.” The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) protects and improves public health through its system of local health services and strategies focused on preventing disease. OSDH provides technical support and guidance to 68 county health departments in Oklahoma, as well as guidance and consultation to the two independent city-county health departments in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Learn more at

BY Erica Rankin-Riley with Oklahoma State Department of Health

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OSDH Poultry

For more information, contact:

Oklahoma State Department of Health

(405) 426-8000

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