: security from exposure to harmful biological agents
Biosecurity is a big word that may sound a bit scary. It may invoke images of isolation tents guarded by military personnel where people are dying from a new extremely contagious mutant virus.
Luckily, biosecurity in our backyards is much less dramatic. It simply means reducing the risk of transmission of infectious diseases to your chickens. So how we do that?
First and foremost, let’s not bring anything contaminated into the chicken yard.
Don’t use the feeder your friend with chickens gave you without disinfecting it. Don’t borrow the wheelbarrow of your neighbor to carry the bale of hay you just bought for your chickens. You don’t know what has been carried in it or where it has been wheeled into. Clean all equipment before bringing it into the chicken yard. Hose it, scrub it, and disinfect it.
Keep the wildlife out of the chicken yard as much as you can. They wander from backyard to backyard and may carry unwanted hitchhikers. Put a netting up to exclude wild birds, and hardware cloth to prevent rodents and other critters from accessing your coop.
Another big carrier of pathogens is us. We carry them on our clothes, our shoes, and our hands. We get them when walking on the street, in stores, in gardens, everywhere we go. We have no idea if our steps crossed the ones of a fellow chicken keeper. Except if you live completely isolated from any animals (humans included!), change your shoes and wash your hands as a minimum before going into your chicken yard. It’s not more complicated than having a pair of dedicated clogs and a hand sanitizer at the gate. And ask your visitors to do the same when they want to see your chickens close up. I have a few extra clogs for that purpose and plenty shoe covers in case they don’t fit.
And of course, don’t add any new chickens to your flock without doing a proper quarantine first.
Install the new birds in a quarantine area where they have no contact with your flock. It could be in your garage, a spare bathroom, or a coop at the other side of the house.
Keep them in quarantine for 2 to 4 weeks. It may seem long, but it’s needed to effectively assess the new chickens and treat any illnesses that they may have.
During that time, look out for any signs of parasites or diseases like diarrhea and respiratory difficulties. Take a sample of their feces and send them to a lab for a fecal test (see how to in the "Did you know" section below). Perform a thorough health check on each new bird (see video). As preventative care, I usually deworm and delouse them, and give them probiotics to support their digestive system.
Be extremely careful to avoid any cross contamination when going between the coop and the quarantine area: wash your hands thoroughly and change your boots. I even wear a coverall if I do handle the new birds.
And of course, clean and disinfect the crates that have been used for transport.
Note that by disinfecting, I mean using a disinfectant to kill all bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Some examples of chemical disinfectants are: ordinary household bleach, professional grade Lysol, and Virkon S (always follow the instructions on the label).
Last but not least, it is crucial that you keep the chicken yard and coop clean. Dirty, uncared for coops is an open invitation to parasites and diseases. Pick up the poop from the chicken house every day, cleanup the yard and refresh the bedding in the house weekly, and do a deep cleaning at least twice a year. See coop upkeep newsletter for more details.
It may sound a bit paranoid, but don’t forget there is still a regional quarantine in effect in Southern California for the virulent Newcastle Disease. Since May 2018, over 1.2 million birds have died or have been euthanized because of this devastating virus. We don’t want to have our flock euthanized because we weren’t careful enough.
Did you know
The first step of doing a fecal test is collecting the samples. The easiest is to go in the morning in the coop and collect a sample of different looking feces that are conveniently lined up under the roosts. Put them in a Ziploc bag and squish them together. Put the bag in another bag to avoid any leaks.
Second, drop off the samples at your vet, or send them directly to a lab.
We use the California Animal Health and Food Safety lab services (aka CAHFS) as they are cheap and fast (and we are in California). Download and fill out the submission form. Here is an example of the form to show what fields to fill out to request a simple fecal test. Put it with the sample in an envelope and ship it via FedEx Next Day Delivery. Call CAHFS beforehand to get their FedEx account number as they have a very good discount.
A couple of days later, you should receive the result of the fecal test.