How I can keep my animals healthy? The first step to maintaining healthy animals is to practice good biosecurity and hygiene practices. This includes purchasing new animals from certified sources and knowing the herd/ flock status of the sources and health status. Another important practice the separation of the new animals and your current ones, there would ideally be a 14-30 day isolation period to prevent the transmission of diseases between resident animals and new animals. It is recommended to make sure livestock have regular vaccinations, routine veterinary care, and are closely monitored by owners for signs of illness. If signs of illness are detected, the separation of healthy animals from sick animals is crucial in stopping the further spread of diseases.
What practices can improve on small-scale and backyard livestock and poultry? In a recent study (Pires et al, 2019) in four western states in the US, 83.8% of small-scale and backyard livestock and poultry owners reported that they isolated sick animals from healthy ones and 76.6% kept newly purchased animals in quarantine. Other biosecurity practices were reported at a lower rate, such as the quarantine of returning (e.g., from fairs, shows) animals (49%), rodent/pest control (57.3%), wearing dedicated clothes when handling sick animals (49.5%), avoiding livestock contact with wildlife (50.7%) or limiting visitors (22.5%) (Pires et al, 2018).
Summary. Backyard livestock and poultry owners should do their best to prevent contamination and disease spread. Purchasing the animals from reputable sources, maintaining a clean space for the animals, separating sick from health animals and proper sanitation efforts all play a collaborative part in the prevention of diseases and promotion of animal health and public health. Many sources such as published through different outreach outlets and are available online as well as veterinarians exist for how to properly maintain a backyard farm. It is important that backyard owners be aware and utilize the information out there and do what is best for themselves as well as the population. For more information, come back for more as this is the first of a series of articles that will cover backyard livestock and poultry.
- Pires, Alda F. A., et al. “Assessment of Veterinarians' Engagement with Backyard Poultry and Small-Scale Livestock Operations in Four Western States.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, vol. 257, no. 2, 2020, pp. 196–209., doi:10.2460/javma.257.2.196.
- Pires, Alda F. A., et al. “Small-Scale and Backyard Livestock Owners Needs Assessment in the Western United States.” Plos One, vol. 14, no. 2, 2019, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0212372.
- Jennifer McDougle: Veterinarian, Animal Health Branch, Tulare District Office
Virulent Newcastle disease is a highly contagious and deadly virus in birds; the virus is found in respiratory discharges and feces. Clinical signs in birds include:
- Sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge, green watery diarrhea, depression
- neck twisting, circling, muscle tremors, paralysis, decreased egg production
- swelling around eyes and neck, sudden death.
It is essential that all poultry owners follow good biosecurity practices to help protect their birds from infectious diseases such as virulent Newcastle. These include simple steps like washing hands and scrubbing boots before and after entering a poultry area; cleaning and disinfecting tires and equipment before and after moving them on/off the property; and isolating any sick birds. New or returning birds from shows should be isolated for 30 days before placing them with the rest of the flock.
For backyard flock owners, biosecurity measures include using dedicated shoes and clothes when caring for birds and not to use/wear those clothes/shoes in other areas.
In addition to practicing good biosecurity, all bird owners should report sick birds or unusual bird deaths through California's Sick Bird Hotline at 866-922-BIRD (2473). Additional information on VND and biosecurity for backyard flocks can be found at https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/ahfss/Animal_Health/Newcastle_Disease_Info.html
Click here for more information regarding vaccination of backyard birds.
Sick or dead backyard birds can be submitted to CAHFS laboratories for post-mortem examination ($20 plus shipping and handling). Information on this program can be found at:
For additional information on who to contact for issues regarding backyard poultry, see:
Virulent Newcastle disease is NOT a food safety concern. No human cases of Newcastle disease have ever occurred from eating poultry products. Properly cooked poultry products are safe to eat. In very rare instances people working directly with sick birds can become infected. Symptoms are usually very mild, and limited to conjunctivitis and/or influenza-like symptoms. Infection is easily prevented by using standard personal protective equipment.