‘Better safe than sorry’ Poultry owners urged to protect their flocks against mysterious bird disease

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HELMSBURG, Ind. — By now you’ve heard of the mysterious illness effecting songbirds across the country. 

Crusty eyes, neurologic signs, birds dropping dead in the Hoosier state as well. There’s growing concern that this mysterious condition could also spread to chickens. 

One chicken farmer says keeping their flocks away from their flying cousins is harder than you may think. 

“It’s very difficult. I come out here and I shoo the birds out, but they fly into their barns,” Harmony Hollow Silkies Owner Rebecca Richards said. “I’m really trying to take every precaution that I can.”

Putting it in terms we can easily understand, the Indiana State Board of Animal Health says backyard chicken farmers need to, “socially distance” their birds from their feathery neighbors. 

“We don’t know what’s happening to the songbirds,” Public Information Director of the Indiana State Board of Animal Health Denise Derrer said. “We’re telling poultry owners to keep their birds far away from wild birds and try to deter any kind of contact as much as they possibly can.”

Because birds of a feather flock together, following the boards guidance in keeping them apart, is going to be a challenge. 

“Let me ask them how do you manage that when you have birds flying in and out and all over,” Richards said. “Especially with my birds out free ranging, I believe they have to be able to get out and get the fresh air and grass, clover and things that they need. It’s just so hard.”

Richards grows and sells a unique breed of chickens, Bearded Silkies. 

“They’re my heart. They are my absolute heart. These chickens are unique, and they are very cuddly. They’re just the best,” Richards said. “Losing one… It would… it would break my heart because they aren’t just my little pets… but they are my extra income.”

Richards, like other backyard poultry farmers, has to keep her guard up for predators. She’s installed and buried fencing around her yard to keep her flock safe, but the fence doesn’t prevent birds from flying in. 

“I can’t blame the birds, they fly into the barn to pick up extra grain or to find shelter,” Richards said. “It’s just making my life more difficult because I don’t want to lose any of my chickens to this… It would break my heart if I lost one of my little birds.”

Luckily there have been no confirmed cases between wild birds and any other pets – let alone chickens but the Indiana State Board of Animal Health says it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

“There haven’t been any reports that we can definitively tie to it. Not at all yet but our advice is be cautious because we don’t know if there’s something that can still cross over into the poultry species,” Derrer said. “Right now, we don’t have any reports or any knowledge that there’s a threat to any other species. Either to humans, or other types of animals but just to be precautious, we’d recommend that you not let your pets go catching wild birds and letting them eat them and that type of thing.”

The Indiana State Board of Animal Health say they are not concerned with any potential spread in large scale poultry farms because their facilities are built to keep wild birds out more effectively than backyard chicken farmers do. 

If you have poultry of your own and notice unusual behavior or an unexpected death, you’re asked to call the USDA Healthy Bird Hotline at 866.536.7593

If you see a dead song bird with crusty eyes, you’re asked to report it to the Indiana DNR.

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