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Protecting Your Backyard Flock: A Comprehensive Guide to Avian Influenza in Australia

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As a backyard chicken keeper in Australia, you play a crucial role in maintaining the health of our nation's poultry population. A significant threat to our chooks is Avian Influenza (AI), also known as bird flu. This guide will provide you with essential information about AI, its impact on Australian poultry and most importantly, how you can protect your beloved backyard flock.

Understanding Avian Influenza

Avian Influenza is a highly contagious viral disease that affects birds, including our domestic poultry. It's caused by Type A influenza viruses and can be classified into two categories based on their ability to cause disease:

  1. Low Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (LPAI)
  2. High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (HPAI)

LPAI strains typically cause mild symptoms and are commonly found in wild bird populations worldwide, including those in Australia. On the other hand, HPAI strains can lead to severe disease with high mortality rates [2].

The Current Situation in Australia

As of July 2024, Agriculture Victoria is responding to the detection of avian influenza at eight Victorian poultry farms. Seven infected properties near Meredith have been confirmed to have a high pathogenicity H7N3 strain of avian influenza, while one infected property near Terang has been confirmed to have a high pathogenicity H7N9 strain [4].

It's important to note that Australia has successfully managed and eradicated nine outbreaks of HPAI between 1976 and 2021. One of these outbreaks was a devastating blow to our family farm in Keysborough back in 1977. The entire flock of 20,000 laying hens had to be destroyed and buried at the back of the farm. The most recent outbreak in 2020-2021 involved three different strains of avian influenza across three local government areas in Victoria [4].

Recognising the Signs of Avian Influenza

As a backyard chicken owner, it's crucial to be vigilant and watch for signs of disease in your flock. The last thing you want is for the wrong wild bird to come into contact with your chickens and pass on any diseases, particularly AI. Some common symptoms of AI include:

  • Sudden death
  • Lethargy or reluctance to walk, eat or drink
  • Droopy appearance or ruffled feathers
  • Head or limb swelling
  • Bruising of the wattle, comb, feet or skin
  • Respiratory signs such as panting, nasal discharge or sneezing
  • Diarrhoea
  • Unusual head or neck posture, incoordination, inability to walk or stand
  • Unusual reduction in egg laying [3]

Remember, these signs usually appear in several or all birds in a flock. If you notice any of these symptoms, it's crucial to act quickly and report them.

Protecting Your Backyard Flock

Now that we understand the threat of AI, let's focus on how you can protect your backyard chickens. Here are some essential biosecurity measures you should implement:

  1. Prevent Contact with Wild Birds


Wild birds, especially waterfowl, can be carriers of AI viruses. To minimise the risk:

  • Prevent your chooks from accessing ponds, creeks, puddles or water receptacles that can potentially be used by wild birds
  • Use mesh or netting where practical to separate your poultry and their food and water from wild birds
  • Make your chicken coop and run are wild bird and rodent-proof [1]

  1. Maintain Good Hygiene Practices

Cleanliness is key in preventing the spread of diseases:

  • Practice good hygiene at all times which includes washing your hands after touching eggs or chickens
  • Clean and disinfect feed and water containers regularly
  • Make sure that your chicken coop and run are dry
  • Use a deep litter system with wood shavings to break down all manure into bacteria-free compost
  • Use hemp in your nesting boxes to better retard the growth of bacteria and absorb moisture
  • Clean your shoes/boots or better still, use a dedicated pair of boots for use inside your coop or run

  1. Manage Water and Feed Safely

Ensure your birds have access to clean, uncontaminated water and feed:

  • Use treated (chlorinated), mains water or filtered water from a roof to remove any contaminants from bird, possum or rodent feces
  • Use a good tread-on or step-on feeder such as our ChookTred to prevent wild birds being attracted into your coop or run
  • Never throw scraps into your chicken coop or run. Instead, feed them on a hygienic scrap tray Remove any leftover scraps and drop them into your compost bin
  • Store litter and chicken feed securely in rodent and wild-bird-proof containers (preferably metal), to avoid contamination [1]

  1. Quarantine New Hens

When introducing new hens to your flock:

  • Quarantine any new hens for at least 30 days if at all possible
  • Monitor quarantined hens closely before introducing them to your existing flock
  • Always source birds from reputable producers or breeders whose bird health status you can ask questions about and be confident in the answers received [1][3]

  1. Limit Visitor Access

Restrict access to your chickens:

  • Do not permit visitors unrestricted access to areas where your chickens are kept and particularly if they also own chickens or birds
  • If visitors who own birds must enter, ideally ask them to wash their hands and change footwear

  1. Keep Records

  • Make notes of dates, suppliers, ages and breeds for any chickens that you bring home. This can be crucial in case of an outbreak [3].
  • Use leg rings as a useful way of keeping tabs on chooks that you have concerns about

What to Do If You Suspect Avian Influenza

If you suspect that your birds might have AI, it's crucial to act quickly:

  1. Immediately report any unexplained sick or dead birds to the VicEmergency Hotline on 1800 226 226 or the Emergency Animal Disease Hotline on 1800 675 888 [1][3]
  2. Do not move any of your chickens or equipment that they use
  3. Isolate the affected chooks from the rest of your flock if possible
  4. Increase your biosecurity measures to prevent potentially spreading the disease if your hens prove to have AI

Remember, Avian Influenza is a notifiable disease so if you suspect that you have an infection you will need to report it.

Egg Safety and Your Family’s Health

It's natural to be concerned about the safety of eggs during an AI outbreak. However, it's important to note that no food safety issues have been identified. Properly cooked eggs are quite safe to eat [1][4].

While cases among humans in direct contact with animals or birds infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses are possible, the current risk to the public remains extremely low [4].

Staying Informed

As the situation with Avian Influenza can change, it's important to stay informed. Regular updates are provided by Agriculture Victoria and other state agriculture departments. You can also find valuable information on websites such as:

  • Agriculture Victoria (
  • Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (

As backyard chicken keepers, we have a responsibility to protect not only our own flocks but also those of our our neibours and beyond. By implementing good biosecurity practices, staying vigilant for signs of disease and acting quickly if we suspect AI, we can play a crucial role in preventing the spread of AI.

Remember, your chickens rely on you for their health and safety. By following these guidelines and staying informed, you're not just protecting your backyard flock – you're contributing to the health of Australia's poultry population and the security of our food supply.





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