Urgent bird flock protection for highly pathogenic avian influenza

April 22, 2022

Garfield County, CSU Extension, state and federal partners join counties statewide in strong advisories for protecting all bird species following two western slope incidents and others in Colorado for infection from highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1. Migrating wild geese, ducks and other fowl are carrying HPAI pathogens and disseminating the catastrophic illness to flocks of birds that are domestically raised.

U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory (NVSL) confirmed April 9 that a Pitkin County backyard operation had 35 of 36 birds become ill with the disease, and in an April 20 release that a commercial operation in Montrose County had to depopulate a vast 60,000 bird flock from spread of the disease.

“While Garfield County does not have any confirmed cases, we are urgently asking people to take immediate measures to protect their flocks,” said Colorado State University Extension County Director Carla Farrand.

She advises that producers who find a sick domestic bird must report any suspicious disease events in poultry flocks to the State Veterinarian’s office at 303-869-9130. If it is after hours, the voicemail message will indicate which veterinarian is on call. For backyard producers, who have sick birds or birds that have died from unknown causes, help is available at the Colorado Avian Health call line at CSU, 970-297-4008.

Signs of illness in birds include:

  • Extreme depression
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Decrease in feed or water intake
  • Swelling or purple discoloration of head, eyelids, comb, wattle, and hocks
  • Decrease in egg production
  • Sudden, unexplained death

“We are working together as a team with local, state and federal partners to provide a safe opportunity for backyard flocks to grow and survive and thrive,” said Farrand. “We do not have commercial meat raising operations in Garfield County, but there are families with 20 or more birds in the Colorado Department of Agriculture programs raising and selling eggs as producers we also are alerting.”

Protective measures for flocks that should be taken immediately are:

  • Cover coops and runs to keep birds inside
  • Wash hands before entering coops and do not handle other people’s birds
  • Wear dedicated flock clothes and shoes
  • Avoid feed stores and other places with poultry
  • Avoid parks and other places with waterfowl
  • Don’t share equipment, and regular disinfect equipment in contact with poultry
  • Don’t attract wild birds with feeders*, feed birds inside coops, clean up feed spills, remove standing water

*All residents – not just producers or backyard operators – are asked to avoid feeding wild birds.

“CSU Extension is working with CSU Avian Flu Lab to make sure that we are educating our community about the best things to keep their back yard poultry safe,” said Farrand. “It will take urgent action to protect domestically raised turkeys, quail, pheasants, geese, and peacocks – all types of birds are of concern. Defend your flocks!” Farrand suggests keeping tame or pet birds indoors until all threat of disease passes as well.

“For backyard chicken producers to get general information on this virus, how it spreads, how to prevent it, and monitoring – we recommend viewing a video webinar,” said Farrand. Bird owners seeking more resources, like biosecurity plans, signage, and webinars, can visit the USDA’s Defend the Flock website or visit PoultryBiosecurity.org.

The US Department of Agriculture confirmed detection of HPAI in wild birds in Sedgwick County in late March. Colorado’s State Veterinarian advised issuing an emergency rule suspending all poultry shows, including meets, sales, swaps, and competitions. The state’s Agricultural Commission approved this emergency rule on March 30. The rule extends until June 30 at the earliest, unless renewed or ended at an earlier date by vote of the Ag Commission and a recommendation of the State Veterinarian.

Members of the community who encounter dead birds in the environment are asked to contact their nearest Colorado Parks and Wildlife office for testing.

Bird owners struggling with stress or anxiety around HPAI can contact Colorado Crisis Services by calling 1-844-494-TALK (8255) or texting TALK to 38255. Farmers and ranchers can receive a voucher for six free sessions with an ag-competent provider through the Colorado Agricultural Addiction and Mental Health Program.