We’ve been talking a lot about quarantine lately due the covid-19 pandemic. The word originates from the Venetian “quarantena” meaning "forty days". It corresponds to the 40-day isolation of ships and people practiced as a measure of disease prevention related to the plague. Today, it indicates the period during which an animal (human included) is kept in isolation in order to prevent the spread of a disease.
How is it relevant for us? Do we ever need to quarantine our chickens?
Unless you keep a closed flock, meaning that your chickens have no direct or indirect contact with other birds (that is to say all your chickens came from the same place at the same time, you never bring them places, have no visitors in the chicken yard...), you will most certainly have to quarantine chickens. When you add new chickens to your flock, you need to quarantine the newcomers to insure they are healthy and will not bring any disease or parasites to your existing flock. If you bring your chickens to places like poultry shows, you need to quarantine them upon their return to insure they didn’t pick up anything from the other birds.
What does a quarantine look like?
You are looking at 2 to 4 weeks of isolation. It is the time to effectively assess the new chickens and treat any illnesses they may have. The vast majority of poultry diseases will emerge within 3 to 20 days.
Under ideal conditions a proper quarantine means: no sight, no smell, no physical touch, and no aerosol access to other birds. For example, you could house the new chickens in a garage or in a separate coop on the other side of the property. At a minimum, the new chickens should not share a fence line nor any feeders or waterers with the resident birds.
As the new chickens will most likely be under stress, their natural resistance to illnesses will be reduced. It’s therefore important that their quarantine area including the feeder, waterer, perch, and nest box is cleaned and disinfected. See article about the different disinfectants.
You yourself are also part of the quarantine. Whenever possible, wear clean clothes with the new chickens and wash them after each use. I use a separate coverall that I dedicate to the quarantine area. If you cannot change your clothing, at a minimum, use dedicated shoes or boot covers with the new chickens to reduce spread of poop and dander. Also thoroughly wash your hands before and after visiting the quarantine area.
Upon the arrival of the new chickens, perform a complete health check on each bird (see article on chicken health), weigh them, and take a sample of their poop to send to the lab (see how to do a fecal test). Part of our intake protocol also includes the following preventive care:
Delousing: apply 0.01cc Frontline Plus or equivalent (9.8% Fipronil) per pound of chicken to the skin between the shoulders.
Deworming: give orally 0.01cc Agrimectin or equivalent (1% Ivermectin injectable) per pound of chicken, as well as 1 pea size Safe-Guard paste or equivalent (10% fenbendazole).
If the fecal test comes back positive, treat the chickens accordingly.
Note that when giving any medication to chickens, you need to discard their eggs for about 21 days.
While in quarantine, monitor the chickens closely. Be especially on the lookout for blocked nostrils, eyes discharge, respiratory difficulties, diarrhea, and weight loss.
Once the quarantine is over and you know that the new chickens are healthy, you can start introducing them to your flock (see article on introducing new chickens).
While it may be tempting to shorten or skip the quarantine, this is really important that you don’t. It will be much harder to treat the whole flock rather than a few chickens, and worse case you might kill your whole flock.