A dead chicken in the Bay Area has the Modesto area’s poultry industry worried

A potential threat to the Modesto area’s poultry industry, known as virulent Newcastle disease, has been detected in Northern California for the first time.

A veterinary clinic in Redwood City diagnosed the disease in a backyard chicken late last week, said Steve Lyle, director of public affairs for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, in an email Monday.

The owner has a Hayward address, but Lyle said the department has not yet determined where the chicken had been housed.

The finding prompted the California Poultry Federation, based in Modesto, to remind commercial and backyard flock owners of prevention measures. They include restricting access to the birds and cleaning equipment and clothing used in raising them.

“Now that it’s up to Northern California, that makes everybody very nervous,” President Bill Mattos said by phone Monday.

Newcastle does not affect meat or eggs but is almost always deadly to poultry. An outbreak in Southern California since last year is expected to require euthanasia of about 1 million birds in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.

Poultry numbers are far larger in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. Stanislaus County chicken farms brought about $255 million in gross income for meat in 2017, according to the county agricultural commissioner. Chicken eggs were worth another $43 million.

Merced County reported about $375 million for meat chickens and $70 million for eggs in 2017.

Both counties also are major producers of turkeys, which are less common in backyards but still a concern with Newcastle.

The ailment, previously known as exotic Newcastle disease, did major damage in Southern California in 2004 but did not get to the north state. Quarantines are imposed in infected areas to restrict the movement of poultry and require reporting of sick animals.

Poultry can catch Newcastle from other birds or from the shoes and clothing of people who spend time around the animals. Because of this and other avian diseases, the industry for years has restricted the public from the farms and barred employees from raising their own backyard birds.

Infected poultry can be reported to the CDFA Sick Bird Hotline, 866-922-2473. More information is at

John Holland covers breaking news and has been with The Modesto Bee since 2000. He has covered agriculture for the Bee and at newspapers in Sonora and Visalia. He was born and raised in San Francisco and has a journalism degree from UC Berkeley.