US Poultry Industry Manual - Biosecurity: Response to highly contagious foreign animal disease in game birds

Learn more about how to handle a FAD disease in game birds

Editor's Note: The following content is an excerpt from Poultry Industry Manual: The Foreign Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Plan (FAD PReP)/National Animal Health Emergency Management System (NAHEMS) Guidelines which is designed to provide a framework for dealing with an animal health emergency in the United States. Additional content from the manual will be provided as an article series.

Biosecurity concepts for game birds

While many biosecurity measures are shared between commercial avian species, there are unique aspects in game bird production that need to be addressed in the event of a contagious foreign animal disease outbreak.

Game bird production facilities often incorporate breeding birds, hatcheries, growing birds, and sometimes hunting preserves all on the same premise. If exposure to a highly contagious foreign animal disease would occur, there is the possibility of significant economic loss to producers as the disease most likely could not be contained within one building or between various types of birds located on the same premises. If depopulation were necessary, not only would commercial flocks be affected, but next year’s breeding stock replacements would also have to be destroyed.

For preventative biosecurity purposes, game bird producers can reduce disease risks by separating breeding facilities, hatcheries, commercial bird production and hunting preserves on different premises with separate personnel caring for them. In particular, the breeders and next years’ breeders should be isolated from commercial birds since they are very expensive to replace.

Flight-ready game birds may be sold in a wide geographic area. To reduce time required, and to minimize transportation costs, multiple farm and premises deliveries are often arranged. A single large truck may visit multiple customers and premises at a time, unload a number of birds at each location, and then return with soiled crates and vehicle back to the farm. To minimize disease risk, growers should ideally unload bird deliveries off-site at mutually agreed locations, instead of driving onto each farm and potentially contaminating themselves by unloading birds for customers. All vehicles and crates should be cleaned and disinfected prior to returning to the home farm.

Mixing of mallard duck production and upland game bird production is a potentially risky practice. Waterfowl are commonly exposed to low-pathogenic strains of avian influenza but rarely suffer any noticeable ill effects. If there is enough direct or close indirect contact between upland game and waterfowl, cross-infection of diseases may occur. While Avian Influenza cross-infection is the primary concern, other diseases such as avian cholera might also occur.

Some producers that raise both mallards and other game birds have successfully controlled disease by keeping ducklings and upland game birds far apart physically and confining ducklings under netting. However, ideally, raised-for-release waterfowl and upland game birds should be kept separate. Furthermore, poultry, such as chickens and turkeys, should not be mixed with waterfowl and upland game birds.

Biosecurity for hunting preserves

Birds delivered to hunting preserves rarely survive beyond a few weeks and the risk of disease spreading from these preserves to commercial poultry is very low. Mixing of bird deliveries should be minimized for the sake of bird health and for the preserve owners. Only the number of game birds needed should be obtained to reduce the need for extended holding.

Guidelines on handling upland game birds and waterfown in the event of a suspected case of notifiable avian influenza (NAI) or any exotic/notifiable disease event

Mild forms of Avian Influenza (AI, North American strains) are considered endemic in waterfowl and shorebirds. Serotypes that affect these birds are variable, and most produce little to no clinical disease in their hosts. Low pathogenicity avian influenza infections in upland game birds are uncommon. Similar to poultry, low pathogenic strains of avian influenza may or may not result in positive antibodies in exposed birds with or without mild respiratory disease symptoms. Upland game bird infections with AI are usually the consequence of close contact with wild or domestic waterfowl. Preventing avian influenza in upland game birds is important. The National Poultry Improvement Plan has added avian influenza surveillance and testing for upland game bird and raised-for-release waterfowl. For more information, please contact the following website:

Response to a Highly Contagious Foreign Animal Disease in Game Birds

Depopulation methods are challenging in game bird facilities because breeders and flight birds are housed outdoors. Herding them together and moving them into an enclosed space would be necessary to achieve euthanasia via CO2 gas or foam methods. Small groups of game birds could be euthanized by trained teams using cervical dislocation.

Disinfecting outdoor pens involves cleaning and disinfecting feeders, drinkers, and nest boxes. Netting material is best destroyed because it is very difficult to disinfect properly. Lastly, vegetation should be mowed down and the soil tilled and composted. Brooder houses can be cleaned and disinfected similar to commercial poultry buildings. Whatever methods are utilized, placement of sentinel birds on the premise should be used to verify that the virus has been effectively destroyed in the environment.

Guidelines for routine handling and processing of upland game birds and water fowl to prevent disease transmission by avian influenza (H5N1) or other zoonotic diseases

Human infections with an avian influenza virus are extremely rare. The H5N1 virus, which has infected domestic poultry, game birds, and wild birds in Asia, primarily has resulted in illnesses and occasionally deaths in people exposed to droppings, blood, or discharges from sick or dead birds as well as from consumption of under-cooked meat. Fortunately, this AI virus strain is not known to exist in the Americas. Several recommendations are suggested for hunters or those who process game bird meat to prevent AI infection. These guidelines are also helpful to prevent other zoonotic diseases from birds to people as well:

  1. Do not butcher game birds that have been found sick or dead.
  2. Do not eat, drink, or smoke while handling or butchering game birds.
  3. Wear rubber gloves when cleaning game birds and wash hands thoroughly after cleaning is completed.
  4. Wash tools and surfaces with soap and water followed by disinfecting the area with a 10% bleach solution.
  5. Cook game birds to an inside temperature of 165°F.

Reference: "USDA APHIS | FAD Prep Industry Manuals". Aphis.Usda.Gov. 2013.

The manual was produced by the Center for Food Security and Public Health, Iowa State University of Science and Technology, College of Veterinary Medicine, in collaboration with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service through a cooperative agreement.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

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