Are your chickens protected?
Do you know the best practice procedures to keep your chickens healthy? We'll explain what biosecurity is, and how you can use biosecure methods to protect your flock from infectious diseases and what to do during any disease outbreak.
Here is everything you need to know about biosecurity for backyard chickens!
What is Biosecurity for Backyard Chickens?
Biosecurity is just a technical term for commonsense procedures to protect your backyard chickens from getting sick. A biosecurity plan and procedures will help you prevent contagious or infectious illness such as Newcastle disease and the potential spread of exotic threats such as avian flu or avian influenza, as it is formally known.
The 2015 H5N2 avian flu outbreak in the United States led to the death of more than 43 million birds from March to May of that year.
Threats to Flock Health
Local wildlife can spread disease. Wild birds, mice, rats and even insects can spread illness around your chicken coop, the feed mill where your chicken feed is made, or when your chickens graze around a wild bird feeder.
In fact, many chicken diseases are shared with and spread by wild birds, including Newcastle and Marek's disease. Some birds travel between continents and can bring diseases such as avian flu as they migrate.
Skipping quarantine spreads disease. Adding new birds to your flock without appropriate quarantine measures is a huge risk to the health of your entire flock.
There are many horror stories of chicken owners losing their flock after buying birds from Craigslist, a swap, or some other source and not following proper quarantine measures.
Contaminated shoes, clothes, and even dirty tires spread disease. When you travel to other coops, county fairs, and swaps you may not realize that tiny trace amounts of dirt or manure can spread illness.
Your shoes and vehicle tires can carry diseases back home. For good biosecurity, use a pair of designated coop and your yard only boots and try to keep some distance between your chickens and vehicles.
Air, water, bedding, and feed may be sources of illness. Typically, many illnesses travel as a virus or bacteria from wild birds, mice, insects, or other sick chickens.
However, contaminated water, bedding, manure, and feed (exposed to wild birds or vermin either before or after purchase) could also spread disease.
Best Biosecurity Measures for Backyard Chickens
If there is an outbreak of illness near you, particularly a fatal illness, you must take serious immediate measures to protect your flock from transmission vectors: vermin, wild birds, visitors including delivery trucks or visitor vehicles, and contaminated feed. You may have to shelter your birds in the coop for a time.
Think of any location or item that may be a point of contact you have with other chicken owners, other chickens, wild birds, or rodents. These locations or items are potential sources of exposure.
Control foot and vehicle traffic.
Get a pair of chicken coop boots to wear to the coop, and don't wear them off your property. If you wear coop boots to the feed store or a poultry show, you run the risk of bringing home a disease from some other flock owner. It might seem persnickety, but very small amounts of dirt or manure can transmit disease.
So, coop boots for the coop, and don't wear street shoes to the coop. You want to be careful about friends, family, and visitor footwear.
Keep some distance between birds and vehicles if possible, particularly in the event of an outbreak. On large poultry farms, vehicles are restricted on farm roads, and even get washed before entering and exiting.
Quarantine new birds.
Always always always quarantine new birds for 30 days at least 36 feet from the main coop and wash hands, change coveralls and shoes, or disinfect shoes between flocks. It doesn't matter whether or not you think your new birds are healthy. Always quarantine. Watch for signs of illness during this time, and evaluate for parasites too.
There are common horror stories of people bringing apparently healthy birds home and losing their entire flocks because they didn't quarantine. Also, new birds should come from a certified NPIP breeder or hatchery. NPIP stands for National Poultry Improvement Plan, and is a voluntary government program for poultry breeders. NPIP tests and monitors poultry disease and recommends biosecurity practices.
Keep any wild bird feeders away from coop or where chickens free range.
Secure your coop and feed against vermin.
Feed is the number one attractant for vermin. Put bags of chicken feed in metal bins, and consider treadle feeders to keep food unavailable (except to chickens). Weatherstrip, or trim your coop with hardware cloth to minimize openings to 1/4-inch or less.
For a video tutorial, the Oregon Department of Agriculture has a great video on biosecurity. Check it out:
What does a sick chicken look like?
Signs of ill birds with potentially contagious diseases include birds with swollen eyes, purple discoloration, nasal discharge, walking unevenly, tremors, breathing issues (sounding wet or raspy or wet sneezing); or any birds that are sleepy for long time periods during daytime hours (for example, dozing standing up in the run, or dozing in the coop). Diarrhea is another warning sign.
Are you concerned about your chickens catching (or spreading) contagious diseases? What is your biosecurity routine? Let us know in the comments below!
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