Backyard Biosecurity: 6 Tips for a Chicken Flock

Easy Ways to Make Sure Your Birds Stay Safe & Healthy

by Erin Snyder
PHOTO: Erin Synder

Biosecurity in our flocks is one of the best ways to keep our chickens healthy. While biosecurity may seem like a complicated process used for commercial and battery farms only, this practice can be equally as effective in backyard flocks. So, how do you practice biosecurity in your backyard? Keep reading for some practical tips to keep your flock healthy.

What is Biosecurity?

We have all driven by farms with posted signs that read “biosecurity area,” but what does it mean? Biosecurity includes using preventive measures to avoid introducing harmful pathogens (including disease and bacteria) to livestock and reducing the spread of pathogens to livestock and humans outside the premises. While most backyard flocks and farms don’t require posted biosecurity signs, reducing pathogens from entering your flock or being spread from one flock to another is crucial to raising healthy chickens.

Biosecurity doesn’t have to be a complicated process. There’s no need to worry about foot bathes or washing your car tires whenever you leave the premises. With some know-how, practicing biosecurity can become a part of your daily practice.

1. Keep a Closed Flock

If you have never heard the term “closed flock,” you may wonder what it means. Keeping a closed flock means not introducing adult or adolescent chickens to the existing flock. Instead, the flock is either culled before new chickens enter the premises (this practice is typically used when chickens are raised for eggs or meat) or increased by raising chicks.

Why Chicks?

There are many reasons to raise chicks. You can even use your bantam chickens as broodies to expand your flock. While their cute faces and tiny size may be why many backyard flock keepers choose chicks over adults, there are practical reasons, too.

Chicks don’t carry the same harmful pathogens (including coccidiosis, external and internal parasites, harmful bacteria or disease). Chicks purchased from a feedstore or hatchery haven’t come in contact with disease or most bacteria, so bringing home those little fuzzballs shouldn’t pose a health risk to your flock.

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Erin Synder

2. Quarantine New Birds

When purchasing adult chickens, quarantine the new arrivals to protect new additions and existing flock members from spreading disease or parasites. Quarantine new chickens for a minimum of thirty days or longer if health issues arise.

Always tend to your existing flock before caring for new arrivals during quarantining. Change shoes and clothing (including jackets and gloves in colder weather) between flock visits. Use separate equipment, including feeders and waterers, and coop cleaning essentials such as pitchfork, wheelbarrow, etc.

Before introducing new members to the flock, have a veterinarian check for external and internal parasites and bacteria in the feces. Treat any health conditions to avoid spreading from one flock to another. Always ensure new arrivals have a clean bill of health before introducing new hens to the flock.

3. Marek’s Vaccines

We know that mingling vaccinated and unvaccinated chickens together will make unvaccinated hens sick. Whether you decide to vaccinate against this disease is a personal choice. However, it’s critical to the well-being of your flock to never keep vaccinated and unvaccinated birds on the same property.

Erin Synder

4. Avoid Poultry Shows & Swap Meets

Poultry shows and swap meets may be a fun way to meet new poultry-keeping friends, acquire new birds, or look over a specific breed, but they are also a great way to bring home disease.

If attending poultry shows or swaps, always change your clothes and thoroughly disinfect your footwear before tending to your flock. When bringing home poultry from these events, quarantine poultry for a minimum of 30 days before introducing to the resident flock.

PRO TIP: This quarantine process is equally as critical for show birds. While show birds may appear healthy, they may have been exposed to disease and should undergo the same quarantine process new arrivals do.

5. Separate Shoes

Before you head out to the coop and run, changing into designated “chicken” boots will help prevent your flock from picking up disease. Separate footwear will ensure you do not wear the same shoes to the feedstore, veterinarian office, garden supply store, or any other destination where you may pick up diseases that could threaten your flock’s health. And you won’t be spreading bacteria or disease to other flocks.

Erin Synder

6. Keep Equipment at Home

Refusing to share or borrow equipment is another easy-to-follow biosecurity rule. Sharing incubators, feeders, waterers, brooder pens, and cleaning tools is another way disease and parasites spread from one flock to another. Protect your flock by keeping equipment at home and refusing to borrow your neighbors’ equipment.

Biosecurity may sound like a daunting practice, but with these practical tips, it can become a natural part of your daily routine. When paired with good nutrition, low stress levels and protection from predators, it’ll help keep your flock healthy and reduce the chances of disease.

This article about biosecurity tips for a backyard chicken flock was written for Chickens magazine online. Click here to subscribe to the print magazine.

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