University of Maryland Extension

State Veterinarian Offers Tips for Backyard Flock Owners Attending Poultry Events

State Veterinarian Offers Tips for Backyard Flock Owners Attending Poultry Events

State Veterinarian Advises Backyard Flock Owners Attending Poultry Events to Protect their Flocks -  Offers tips to reduce the risk of exposure to disease.

 ANNAPOLIS, MD (October 4, 2013) – Fall is a time for many poultry events such as swap meets, exhibitions, backyard poultry swaps, and backyard poultry tours. Risk for poultry disease increases when a large number of poultry from different flocks come to one place. Backyard flock owners who participate in these events should take precautions to protect their flocks and reduce the risk of exposure to disease. While birds are susceptible to a number of diseases, the most commonly passed among backyard flocks are: Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG), Mycoplasma synoviae (MS), Infectious Bronchitis Virus (IBV), and Infectious Laryngotracheitis (ILT).


“Poultry is one of Maryland’s most important agricultural commodities, and we want to keep them all healthy, whether they are commercial, or fair and show, or backyard flocks,” said State Veterinarian Guy Hohenhaus, DVM. “Take precautions to ensure a positive and successful experience raising poultry. Most importantly, if you take birds to a place where poultry gather, or purchase new birds, be sure to quarantine the birds for 30 days before joining with an existing flock. Too often, flock owners will infect their entire flock by introducing a few new birds right after buying them, and unfortunately many of the birds in the flock, new and old, may die.”


What if Your Chicken Gets Sick or Dies?

Despite the best efforts of some flock owners, chickens sometimes do get sick and die unexpectedly. Veterinarians who treat pets may not treat poultry or livestock, but your local veterinarian can refer you to someone who treats birds, or you can contact a board certified avian veterinarian. To find a board certified avian veterinarian in Maryland, go to the Association of Avian Veterinarians website at  If many birds in your flock suddenly die, or if birds have signs of an unusual or severe disease, call MDA Animal Health Program at 410-841-5810 to report the problem and for further assistance.


Unusual signs that may indicate your chicken is sick and should be reported include:

             Sneezing, gasping for air, coughing and nasal discharge

             Watery and green discharge

             Lack of energy and poor appetite

             Drop in egg production, soft or thin shells, misshapen eggs

             Swelling around the eyes, neck and head

             Purple discoloration of wattles, combs and legs

             Tremors, drooping wings, circling, twisting of the head and neck or lack of movement.


Quarantine any new or sick birds. Healthy flocks can be diseased, even lost entirely, by one sick chick. Keep new chicks quarantined for at least 30 days until you’re sure they are healthy. If you see signs of illness in new or old birds, contact a veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment. Many birds may be carriers of disease, so just because a bird gets better does not mean that the bird won’t infect other birds with the same disease. For instance, Infectious Laryngotracheitis is a Herpes virus that remains in the bird after it recovers from initial illness, and may reappear or shed anytime, but particularly when the bird is stressed (as happens when transported to exhibitions).


Test poultry before exhibition. All animals, not just poultry, shown at exhibitions must meet animal health requirements. Some requirements are different for in-state and out-of-state animals. For more information on exhibition requirements, visit:


Remember the following tips when purchasing birds at a backyard poultry event:

             Ask if the flock is tested. At a minimum a poultry flock must be tested for Salmonella Pullorum- Typhoid (PT) to be at a poultry swap or exhibition. Out–of–state flocks must also be tested for Avian Influenza (AI).

             Look for obvious signs of disease – sneezing, swollen eyes or faces, nasal or ocular discharge, abnormal breathing like wheezing or gasping, mites or lice.

             Take notice of the conditions of the birds for sale. Are the cages clean? Is there food and water available for the birds? If they aren’t taken care of properly while they are for sale there is a good chance they aren't taken care of in general.

             Keep good records – know who you bought birds from – this information will help trace and stop spread of disease

             Quarantine new additions for 30 days – even from sources you trust. Many diseases take weeks to show. Keep quarantined birds away from your flock.

             Practice good biosecurity. CLEAN hands, boots, clothes, equipment, and housing before and between handling flocks to prevent disease spread.


Register your flock. There are currently more than 4,300 flocks registered in Maryland, including more than 200 in Baltimore City. The registry is confidential, free and easy. To register, visit:


Additional information:

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