Small Flock Biosecurity

By Carlyle Bennett, Terry Whiting and Glen Duizer Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives. With the current concerns about diseases such as avian influenza, owners of small flocks can take simple precautions to help prevent an outbreak of disease in their birds.
calendar icon 30 April 2007
clock icon 5 minute read

Highly Rated Steps to Protect Your Birds:

  • Contact your local veterinarian immediately if your birds appear sick, mortality is high or egg production drops suddenly.

  • Do not obtain birds of any age from other farms. Only buy from commercial hatcheries.

  • Do not allow contact between ducks or geese and your chickens or turkeys.

  • Do not visit other farms with poultry and take precautions against visitors who have been in contact with other birds.

  • House your birds indoors.

The following are basic recommendations.

A) Buying Chicks, Poults, Birds, Eggs and Meat

  • As much as possible, obtain birds from one reliable disease free source. Chicks and poults should be obtained from a commercial hatchery.

  • Do not buy old laying hens or brooded meat-type birds from other farms.

  • Do not visit other farms to purchase eggs, chickens or turkeys.

  • If you plan to visit any farms with small or large flocks of poultry, ask them about the health of their birds. Do not visit farms where the birds have had health problems.

  • Do not have domestic ducks and geese on the same farm as chickens and turkeys.
B) Housing and Yard Maintenance
  • Provide feed and water in clean containers.

  • Use penning or fencing to limit the range of the birds and to restrict access by other animals, domestic and wild.

  • Do not allow access to surface water. Sanitize, e.g. chlorinate, poultry drinking water if from a surface water source. Groom the range area to prevent the accumulation of rain water. A pond is not necessary for the health of domestic ducks and geese.

  • Avoid clutter in the pen or range area. This includes trimming long grass and removing branches, leaves and other such items. The ultraviolet light in sunlight is a good disinfectant if it can reach the ground the birds are on. Removing debris also acts as a deterrent to rodents.

  • Barns that house the flock should be big enough to hold both the type and amount of birds you have, year round if necessary.
C) Visitors
  • Do not allow people who have had recent contact with other birds access to your flock.

  • It is recommended to provide visitors with foot wear when they visit your flock. Otherwise, make sure their foot wear is scrubbed clean with soap and water followed by disinfection with 50:50 mixture of bleach and water both before and after their visit.

  • Keep the number of visits and the number of visitors to a minimum.

  • Post signs that ask people to contact you before they enter the area of your farm where you keep your birds.
D) Dead and Sick Birds
  • Dead birds should be disposed of immediately to prevent scavenging. For most small flocks, composting or burial are the simplest methods.

  • It is important to contact your veterinarian if you see a sudden increase in sick birds or dead birds. For laying hens, a sudden decrease in egg production or shell quality is also a concern. Your local veterinary clinic can help you in submitting tissues or dead birds to the MAFRI animal pathology laboratory for testing.
E) Specific Recommendations to Fancy Flock Owners
  • Purchase birds from commercial hatcheries whenever possible.

  • Trade and movement of breeding stock and show stock is not recommended. If you must, please follow the following guidelines

    • It is preferable to purchase hatching eggs and hatch the birds out on your own farm.
    • Limit the number of sources that you get birds from and the number of shows you attend
    • Isolate new and returning birds from the rest of your flock for 3 weeks
    • Keep a written record of date, breed, sex, numbers of birds, location held and source of any birds moved
F) Break the Disease Cycle
  • At cool temperatures, some diseases such as avian influenza can survive for weeks to months in manure, dust or feathers. Below freezing, the virus may last until spring.

  • Marketing your chickens or turkeys while outside temperatures are still above 15ºC will help to kill off any virus left behind on your yard. Avian Influenza in bird droppings may survive only a week or two at warm temperatures.

  • A thorough clean out of your poultry house prior to placing birds the next spring will help to eliminate disease. Removing all litter and sweeping out all dust is the most important step. Washing with a high pressure sprayer followed by spraying a disinfectant is ideal. Without cleaning the surfaces of the shed, a disinfectant will provide limited benefit.

  • Disinfectants work best at warm temperatures and you should aim to use them while temperatures are above 10ºC. Many of the disinfectants sold by chick dealers and farm supply stores are rated to readily destroy poultry viruses such as avian influenza on cleaned surfaces at moderate temperatures.

  • A few viruses such as avian influenza are very susceptible to drying and heating the poultry shed for 5 days at 35ºC prior to spreading the bedding material or housing new chicks will help to eliminate these diseases.
G) Record Keeping
  • Birds dying and a drop in egg production are the two surest signs that a disease such as avian influenza has arrived on your farm. At a minimum, write down the number of birds dying and the number of eggs collected each. Ideally, you should keep a record of the date and number of birds purchased or slaughtered when you start a new flock or market an old one.
March 2007
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