PHOTO: Ana Hotaling
Ana Hotaling
February 5, 2020

All new arrivals to Chelsea, Michigan’s Barn Sanctuary undergo a specific admissions process.

Before they can join their fellows in the pig, cow or goat barns or in the poultry coops, they have a month-long stay in one of the farm’s quarantine barns. During these initial 30 days, each animal gets bloodwork done, dines on nourishing feed, and receives any medical care needed to bring it back to health.

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Even if an animal appears to be in peak physical condition, it still must experience four-plus weeks of isolation.

“We’re very careful about biosecurity,” said Dan McKernan, Barn Sanctuary founder and president. 

To this end, the 70-acre farmed-animal haven has situated its quarantine barns a healthy walking—and driving—distance away from its other housing structures.

However, you don’t need a huge distance to set up a proper quarantine area. You don’t need an entire dedicated barn for your new arrivals, either. Backyard flock owners and poultry farmers with smaller properties can set up effective quarantine areas for their incoming additions by following these five steps.


Determine Your Housing Needs

You may very well already have a structure on your property that can serve double duty as a quarantine coop. A garage, storage or garden shed, an unused children’s playhouse—these can all be converted or adapted to fit their new role.

chicken quarantine coop
A quarantine coop at the Barn Sanctuary (Ana Hotaling)

The main factor is to make sure your quarantine coop is a minimum of 14 feet away from your existing coop and run. If you do not have an existing outbuilding that can be repurposed or dually purposed, designate a location at an appropriate distance on which you can set up a new coop.

If you plan to convert an existing structure, ensure it has a source of natural or artificial light to keep your layers productive. Also make sure it can be ventilated so that the birds have a source of fresh air.

If you plan to divide an existing space—for example, a garage or a garden shed—make certain that you set up some sort of divider or barrier to prevent the birds from exploring a potentially dangerous space.

Outfit the Area

Once you’ve determined where your quarantine coop will be, you will need to outfit it for your new arrivals. Even if you are only purchasing one chicken, equip the coop for as many birds as it can accommodate. This will allow you to prepare for future possibilities.

In addition to a perch, nest box and bedding, you should designate a feeder and waterer for use by your quarantine coop only. Similarly, any tools you use  maintaining the quarantine coop—for instance, buckets, shovels and rakes—should be used only in the quarantine coop to prevent the spread of any disease or parasite brought in by your new birds.

Preventing cross-contamination is a huge part of quarantine protocol.

Stock Your Supplies

With luck, the birds you buy for your flock will demonstrate that they are in perfect health throughout their quarantine period. Just in case they aren’t, however, you’ll want to have some basic medical supplies on hand versus miles away at the feed shop or farmer-supply store.

A short inventory list should include the following:

  • antibiotic ointment
  • electrolytes
  • antiseptic spray
  • diatomaceous earth
  • gauze
  • vet wrap
  • tweezers
  • droppers
  • syringes

Store all of these items in an airtight tub to keep them clean and ready to use when needed.

Be Ready to Record Keep

Store a notebook and several pencils or pens in your medical-equipment tub so that you can take notes throughout the quarantine period.

You may wish to keep track of how much food and water your new arrivals consume. If you suspect illness or parasites, you can take notes on the appearance and amount of manure they produce. Furthermore, track the following for symptomatic or injured chickens:

  • description (or the name) of the patient
  • date and time of the treatment
  • dosage of any medication given
  • description of the injury, illness symptoms or parasites that prompted the treatment
  • any other observations you have during the course of the treatment

Should you need to consult a veterinarian, you can easily take your notebook with you to the medical appointment.

Don’t Forget Yourself

Microbes can easily travel from one place to another, hitching a ride on your shirt, pants or shoes.

To prevent germs from contaminating your healthy birds, keep a spare set of work boots, gloves and coveralls in a covered five-gallon bucket or tub near the entrance to your quarantine coop. Slip into this special isolation outfit before tending to your new birds, then remove it before leaving the coop.

Tend to your existing flock first before caring for the quarantined animals. This will ensure you don’t accidentally wear these clothes to care for your other chickens.

Thirty days may seem like an interminable time to wait until you can introduce your new birds to their permanent home. However, since several diseases have long incubation periods, following a proper quarantine protocol ensures your flock additions will not cause unfortunate reductions due to shared pathogens.

It’s better to be safe than sorry. Your birds—new and old alike—will thank you for it. 

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