People interested in buying our poultry often ask why we do not allow visitors. The short,
quick answer is simple: we practice biosecurity. The following information will describe
exactly what that means, and it will also outline a basic approach to biosecurity.
Biosecurity for Poultry Breeders
Are you practicing good biosecurity? Maybe you are only vaguely familiar with the term. Most chicken breeders
I talk to are ill prepared to meet the bio threats that can devastate their flocks. The threat is real; all poultry
flocks are at risk. The threat is any type of infectious agent–viral, bacterial, fungal, or parasitic. And the attack
is possible whether there is one chicken or two hundred chickens. Breeders can minimize some of the risk by
considering a few basic concepts.
What is biosecurity, exactly? It is the means by which a breeder prevents an attack on their birds by an
infectious agent or by parasites. One web site offers this definition, “biosecurity refers to those measures taken
to keep disease agents out of populations . . . or groups of animals where they do not already exist.”
Given this definition, then, the extrapolation is that the greatest threat to a species is the same species or a
closely related species that carries pathogens. Rarely is an attack waged on a species by the pathogens of an
unrelated species. Therefore, a new chicken might bring with it pathogens dangerous to the chickens already
in the flock. But it could also pose a biosecurity threat to the turkeys in the same poultry collection, because
some of the pathogens are exclusive to poultry in general, and not species specific.
Joan S. Jeffrey, DVM, of the University of California-Davis, outlines the three major components of biosecurity:
2. Traffic Control
These three components are the building blocks for developing a biosecurity plan that fits the circumstances
peculiar to each poultry breeder’s unique situation.
Isolation for chicken breeders is problematic. It is difficult to isolate a breeding group if the breeder is
constantly adding new animals or allows visitors on a regular basis. After all, many breeders keep their poultry
to share with friends and family and their fellow breeders. To maintain total isolation of their flocks is difficult.
They can but not easily.
The notion of a “closed” flock is not new. There are breeders who practice this extreme form of isolation. They
have developed a “closed” breeding flock that is self sufficient, if you will; they do not bring in new birds on a
yearly basis. They produce the breeders they need themselves. Self sufficient is the right term. This amounts
to adding no new poultry to the flock for years. Years! Can you imagine! No new bloodlines, no new “look what
I just bought” poultry! But it is the only way to ensure a collection is isolated from outside pathogens that are
often introduced into a coop by a new chicken or goose. And the reverse is also true. Poultry in an established
flock might harbor pathogens that are relatively benign to that particular group; however, a new chicken might
not have immunity built up against this pathogen. So that new high-dollar breeding chicken has its immune
system challenged the minute it arrives in your coop. The results could be disastrous in either instance.
What to do? The simple answer is quarantine. But how does a breeder accomplish quarantine if they have
one, small pen? Although a challenge, it can be done by placing the new arrival in an isolation pen as
far away from the established flock as possible, opposite ends of your property preferably, if that is an option.
Remember, some poultry diseases are airborne. Simply using separate cages in the same building will not
Use water bowls and feeding dishes set aside strictly for quarantine use. Tend to the quarantined birds last
when you accomplish your daily chores.
Never employ any feeders or fountains used for the established poultry in the quarantine pen. As noted, have
a separate set of water and feed containers used ONLY for quarantined birds. NEVER use them in the
established collection even if you do NOT have a bird in quarantine. Buy bright red plastic fountains or
fountain bases, for instance, so you know it is for quarantine use when you see it. If you can’t buy them already
distinctively color-coded, color-code them with spray paint. Or use a Sharpie pen and mark them yourself. Don’
t worry how pretty or how ugly they look. Worry that they are readily and easily distinguished from the fountains
used in the established flock. Or better yet, use disposable containers, like plastic deli-cups, for ALL
quarantined birds. Bottom line: mixing and matching fountains and feeders is reckless at best. Don’t think so?
Go ahead, do it! How much did you pay for the birds from newly imported lines?
What constitutes a minimal quarantine program? USDA/APHIS recommends a 30 day quarantine period, and
is mandatory for all imported birds. An article on the Backyard Chicken web site mentions six weeks as a target
length for quarantine, but offers that most breeders don’t have the luxury to do so. I’d opt for doing six weeks
as a matter of course, especially if I value my old flock or the new birds I am adding to that flock. Again, you
Traffic Control is another aspect of biosecurity that is difficult to accomplish for most breeders, but there are a
couple of factors that are easy to implement—and the breeder does have some control here.
First, begin daily chores with the chicks and youngest poultry, followed by the adults, and, finally, to any new
acquisitions or birds in quarantine. Never start with the adults and work your way to the chicks! Of course, the
rationale for this approach is simple. By beginning with the youngest birds in the collection, the breeder is NOT
spreading diseases harbored by the older, more established (and, therefore, more likely to have experienced
some diseases) adults. This will work even if you have a few chickens. Although this seems to be based on a
commonsense approach, some poultry breeders overlook the simplicity of this notion. Use it. In fact, it is easy
to organize a flock so the chores flow logically and in this fashion.
The other aspect of traffic control is the flow of visitors into, and through, the pens, although in a large
breeding operation, the owner must also consider the traffic of the caretakers (family or otherwise) if there are
any. The main concern is the process used in daily chores–which birds are cleaned and fed first, etc. There
are two basic choices for traffic control, but there are some innovations possible:
1. Allow no visitors is the best choice.
2. Allow visitors is the worst choice.
If it is a MUST to allow visitors there are some precautions that will lessen the impact of visitors. Do NOT allow
visitors inside ANY of your coops or pens, ever. Let them view the birds through the wire of the runs. If they are
there to buy birds, have sale birds in exhibition pens that are some distance from the breeding pens.
A couple points to remember:
Mycoplasma gallisepticum (MG), the biggest culprit of chronic respiratory disease in chickens, can live in
your nose for a day, on your clothes for 2 days and in your hair for up to 3 days!
Poultry diseases can remain on the soles of shoes as well as tires on automobiles for up to 2 days, longer if
caked manure is involved. Washing your car prior to returning home if you have been to a fair, poultry auction
or questionable farm is a must, especially if you park in the vicinity of your poultry.
One of the most common ways of spreading poultry diseases is human exposure. Never walk into your own
coop after visiting another breeder’s pens. The breeder has control here, too. Always change clothes and
shoes before entering the area where your birds are housed (showering is advised – refer to the paragraph
above on MG if in doubt). Pathogens can be carried on your skin, clothing, shoes even in your hair; they can
find their way into a flock if you are not careful. If the thought occurs that I am going a little overboard here,
then invest a thousand dollars in some new poultry projects—and that would be quite easy to do with some of
the newly imported breeds—then ignore this advice. My mother had a name for folks who think like this. I’ll let
you guess what it is.
Sanitation is mentioned in the discussion of traffic control above, but it goes a bit further than that in the daily
practices employed when a breeder is biosecurity conscious. This is practiced at the simplest level—keeping
the pens, water fountains, nests, and roosts cleaned and sanitized. The breeder can affect biosecurity at this
level, but it is the one factor I often see trivialized or ignored.
Water fountains seem like a “no-brainer,” but even I am guilty of saying, “I’ll clean them out and add fresh
water later.” That leaves poultry open to illness and stress. They rely on me for their daily care; I try to make it
the BEST care I can provide. I check ALL of the water fountains in my pens daily. The chicks in the brooder
pen get checked three and four times a day, every day.
Regular, weekly cleaning for water fountains and feeders is a must. Ordinary household bleach is a good
disinfectant and one that most people have readily on hand. It works great against viruses, bacteria, fungi and
algae. It is not, however, affective against organisms like coccidia which can make their way into the water
and feeding trays. (Fountains made of plastic can, and will, hold residual bleach. If you use these, then soak
them in clean water for an hour to allow the bleach to leach out.) You might consider an all purpose
disinfectant, but I suggest you use more specialized disinfectants that work more efficiently.
Some good choices (in my personal opinion) that I keep on hand are:
Ammonium Chloride – affective against Coccidia (the only one I know of) as well as bacteria and viruses.
Easy to find and reasonably priced.
Chlorhexidine - a good virucide and bactericide. Another essential tool in your “biosecurity toolbox.” It is one
of the safest disinfectants. It is also used as a surgical scrub, wound flushing agent, even as a mouthwash.
Comes in a solution or scrub. Not Affective against Coccidia, and can be a little pricy, but a must have.
Oxine – another safe disinfectant (unactivated). I keep a spray bottle of Oxine and water that I mist the chick
drinkers with daily before refilling, no rinsing needed.
I use the same fountains and feeders in the same pen each time. This is not always practical, but it is
something to consider.
Cleaning the coops is not as quick and easy as cleaning water fountains and feeders for most breeders.
Most of my coops consist of a deep litter over a dirt/clay base, the remaining coops are portable chicken
tractors made on trailers for mobility. Each are managed daily and cleaned weekly, more often if needed.
Without getting into detail about coop cleaning I would like to mention one product that I use in my coops
before adding new litter. It is part of my disinfecting/drying process. The product is a powder, Stalosan F, and
is one of the best products on the market. It is not readily available to order but will be soon from a distributor
in NM. Currently it is available in Canada (and world wide, except the USA...).
( More information about Stalosan F is available on my site HERE)
Consider these ideas about biosecurity, then incorporate the ones that fit your circumstances and sensibilities.
Above all else, employ biosecurity practices before an outbreak. It is much cheaper in the long run.
|A special thank you goes out to my friend Shannon, who assisted me in this article.
|Protect your babies!