Avian influenza FAQs for backyard poultry owners
Avian influenza is a highly infectious disease affecting many bird species including pet and farmed chickens and can result in significant deaths on poultry farms.
Good biosecurity is the key to protecting your backyard poultry against avian influenza.
What species are affected?
Domestic poultry, ducks, geese, turkeys, guinea fowl, quail, pheasants, emus and ostriches are most susceptible to avian influenza. Many species of wild birds, including waterfowl and seabirds can carry the avian influenza virus but usually show no signs of disease.
What do I need to do?
All bird owners need to be vigilant for any signs of avian influenza in their flocks. Owners of backyard poultry or free-range poultry should be especially cautious as they are more likely to be exposed to wild birds. Owners should report any unexplained sick or dead birds to the all-hours Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline 1800 675 888.
How do I protect my birds from avian influenza?
Implement good biosecurity measures to prevent wild birds from gaining access to the same food and water supplies as your poultry. This may include:
- preventing domesticated poultry from accessing open ponds, lakes, creeks or other watercourses used by wild birds
- purchasing poultry and birds, litter and feed from accredited sources
- quarantining new birds until comfortable they are disease-free
- separating poultry and their food and water from wild birds (e.g. by using netting)
- storing litter and feed securely to avoid contamination by wild birds
- practising good hygiene at all times
- not permitting visitors access to areas where poultry are kept
- maintaining facilities (e.g. poultry sheds) to ensure safe and hygienic containment.
Water supplied to poultry should not originate from sources where wild birds frequent. The following water sources are less likely to be contaminated:
- treated (chlorinated) mains water
- bore water that has been tested and is suitable quality for poultry; poultry have a low tolerance to saline water.
Talk to your veterinary practitioner if you need further advice about biosecurity measures for your backyard poultry.
What do I do if I suspect avian influenza?
Bird owners should be vigilant for signs of disease, especially where multiple deaths occur in poultry, or many birds are unwell.
Avian influenza is a notifiable disease.
Suspicion of infection must be reported to Agriculture Victoria on the all-hours Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline 1800 675 888 or to your local Agriculture Victoria Animal Health and Welfare staff.
Are my eggs safe to eat?
No food safety issues have been identified – properly cooked chicken meat and eggs are safe to eat.
Can I give my eggs to family and friends?
If you are giving eggs to family and friends please keep a record of who you are giving them to and the date. Use new cartons if possible or keep reused cartons away from your birds. Clean your chicken coop regularly and collect eggs daily. Discard any cracked or heavily soiled eggs and clean dirt off others with a soft cloth. Keep your eggs in the refrigerator and cook them thoroughly.
Can I continue selling my eggs privately?
You can sell eggs for human consumption, provided you comply with the Victorian Food Act 1984 and national Primary Production and Processing Standard for Eggs and Egg Product (the Standard) and all other obligations.
How can I keep poultry safe at bird shows?
While bird shows are a great opportunity for breeders and exhibitors to showcase breeds and compete for coveted titles, there's some risk of disease spread because of close contact among birds and handlers from different locations.
Basic and effective biosecurity measures at bird shows to help prevent the spread of diseases include:
- don't introduce any birds to the show if there's illness in the home flock
- clean and disinfect all bird equipment, cages and containers before and after shows
- judges and handlers should disinfect hands between birds where possible, while exhibitors should only handle their own birds
- ensure that show birds undergo a 14-day quarantine period before they're reintroduced to the home flock
- keep records of bird movements to assist traceback in the event of a disease outbreak.
See Keeping backyard poultry for more information on keeping your chickens safe from disease and what to do if you suspect disease.