As chicken enthusiasts have undoubtedly heard, New York poultry and domestic fowl are experiencing an influx of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) – a deadly disease that can quickly wipe out backyard and commercial flocks. The epidemic has been raging since February, spreading across the state and impacting 10,000 birds in Dutchess, Fulton, Monroe, Orleans, Suffolk and Ulster counties. Meanwhile, wild birds impacted by HPAI have been identified in Cayuga, Seneca, Suffolk and Wayne counties.
Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) livestock and beginning farm specialist Amy Barkley initially provided background on the outbreak, and to answer these frequently asked questions, teamed up with small farms and livestock specialist Nancy Glazier.
Where is NYS now regarding outbreaks?
As of April 19, 2022, New York has seen the disease in eight domestic flocks: One of which was commercial, one of which was captive wild birds, and the remainder of which were backyard flocks. Over 10,000 birds have died or have been euthanized. These positives started in the eastern region of the state but have moved westward over the spring season. The most recent cases in domestic flocks were identified in the first week of April.
Is HPAI affecting the cost of eggs or chicken meat?
HPAI is one of the factors currently influencing the cost of eggs and poultry meat. Laying hens have been hit hardest, with about 7% of the national laying flock affected as of April 22. Meat chickens and turkeys have been affected to a much lesser extent. The price increases that we’re currently seeing are in part due to our nation’s reduced poultry populations, but also in part due to rising input costs such as feed and fertilizer.
There’s a ban on live fowl shows, meets, swaps, auctions and sales in NYS. Why, and what does that mean for the public?
On March 25, Commissioner Ball and NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets announced that the state would be proactively banning all live fowl shows and exhibitions to stop the potential spread of HPAI. On April 14, the ban had been expanded to include all fowl auctions and other events where people can purchase, sell, swap or trade fowl. The reasoning behind this update was the same as the original notice from March: to limit the congregation of poultry from different farms and homesteads to reduce the spread of disease.
At this time, the ban does not include individual farms selling poultry, farm supply stores, chicks being shipped into the state from hatcheries, poultry processors that operate under a 5A or USDA Exemption, or live bird markets.
While both bans are in place until further notice, the situation will be re-evaluated at the end of May.
What is the advice regarding bird feeders? Should New Yorkers take down their feeders?
While the spread of bird flu through songbird populations is low, experts agree that there is a potential for the disease to be spread on songbirds that come in direct contact with infected waterfowl or poultry. For this reason, we recommend that anyone who has poultry at home or who works with poultry take down their wild bird feeders until the threat of the disease has passed. Those who don’t have poultry at home are welcome to keep them up. More information can be found on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website.
For people who were hoping to get into backyard chickens, is this a bad year to start keeping chickens?
Starting a new flock or adding to an existing one is always exciting! Even with the threat of HPAI, this isn’t a bad year to start keeping poultry so long as biosecurity practices are followed to help keep your new charges safe.
Poultry owners can choose to purchase their poultry through farms and hatcheries that are National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) certified. These farms have routine testing for common poultry diseases and have biosecurity plans in place to keep their stock healthy. Participating farms can be viewed on the NPIP website.
More generally, poultry owners should take measures to keep the disease out of their flocks by limiting the potential contact with wild birds and their secretions (respiratory droplets, feces), which are known to transmit the virus. This can be achieved through:
- Keeping wild birds and domestic poultry away from each other through methods including keeping poultry in a coop or run with a solid top; not letting poultry range where wild birds frequent; and not allowing poultry to use communal water sources such as streams and ponds
- Wearing poultry-specific footwear in your poultry housing that has not been around wild birds or other poultry
- Limiting the caretakers of the flock to those essential for their care and disallowing visitors into the flock
- Not sharing equipment between farms or homesteads.
We want to make a special note that while waterfowl are known to carry the disease without showing symptoms, that does not mean that their risk of contracting it is higher than other poultry. For this reason, there are no recommendations against keeping domestic waterfowl.
We’re almost to summer, does that mean this outbreak is almost over?
You may have heard that HPAI is a disease of the cooler season months and that cases may die down in summer. Unfortunately, this isn’t guaranteed and we’re still in the spring migration, which is a time when this disease has the highest chances of spreading. This disease originates in wild bird populations and is transferred through their feces and respiratory secretions to other wild birds and domestic poultry.
We are keeping a close eye on the disease and will let you know when it is safe to resume poultry activities as normal. In the meantime, you can find updates through the Cornell Extension Disaster Education Network (NY-EDEN), which is coordinating information response and dissemination, your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office, and the NYS Department of Ag and Markets.
What do I do if I think I have HPAI in my flock?
If you have suspicious illness that affects multiple members of your flock, we ask that you report it to one of the following entities:
- NYS Department of Agriculture & Markets: 518-457-3502
- USDA (United States Department of Agriculture): 866-536-7593
- Your local Cornell Cooperative Extension Office
Remember that this disease is both respiratory and digestive, and can result in symptoms such as:
- Death without an apparent cause
- Lack of energy or appetite
- Sudden drop in egg production or eggs with malformed shells
- Swelling of head, comb, eyelid, wattles and hocks
- Purple discoloration of wattles, comb and legs
- Nasal discharge, coughing and sneezing
We understand that this is a challenging time, but together, we will get through it. If you are a flock owner or community member with questions, please reach out to your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office for assistance. Media inquiries can be directed to Cornell Cooperative Extension Communications at cce-communications [at] cornell.edu.
CCE specialists Amy Barkley and Nancy Glazier contributed to this article.
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