Biosecurity For The Rest Of Us

For many of us backyard chicken enthusiasts, biosecurity is a big word that hints of government intrusion, regulatory oversight, and a host of...
By Marengoite · Mar 2, 2012 · Updated Mar 27, 2012 · ·
  1. Marengoite

    For many of us backyard chicken enthusiasts, biosecurity is a big word that hints of government intrusion, regulatory oversight, and a host of issues we’d rather not have to deal with. However, biosecurity is something we should all be aware of if we want to protect our flock. First of all, a little background on why we can safely ignore the USDA’s Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). The USDA’s primary concern is to keep the food supply safe for consumers. The only concern they have with respect to the health, welfare, and happiness of your flock is whether or not your chickens are going to make someone sick. They don’t care if your chickens are happy or healthy, only that they don’t make us unhappy or unhealthy. Keeping that in mind, let’s look at some common sense biosecurity measures we can employ to protect our flock – even if they USDA doesn’t really care about them like we do.


    The first thing you should do is establish a quarantine area that is separate from your main flock. For backyard flocks, this may be in the garage or basement of your house. For larger yards, a 100 foot separation should be a minimum distance. And this means, your quarantine is not located where wandering free-rangers can come take a peek and see what’s going on behind the fence. Make sure that you have adequate separation that cannot be compromised by nosy chickens.

    So who should you quarantine?
    • Every new bird coming in to your flock no matter how reputable the source.
    • Every returning bird that has been to a show, the fair, the vet, or a sightseeing road trip.
    • Any bird with signs of ADR. ADR is a serious medical term we should all be familiar with. It stands for “Ain’t doin’ right.” If a bird is off her feed, acting funny, or out of the norm, don’t hesitate to pop her in your quarantine pen for while.


    How long should you quarantine? Six weeks would be ideal, but for most of us, we don’t have the luxury of time or space. Two weeks is a good minimum with longer being better. And that’s two straight weeks straight of normal behavior, not two weeks of “ready to keel over” followed by three days of “looking a lot better.”

    So what do you look for while your birds are in quarantine? Any change in eye color, luster of the feathers, going off of feed, lethargy, or a host of other ADR symptoms. Most of the birds we quarantine will be perfectly fine, but all it takes is one sick bird that looks fine at first to pass a devastating infection to the whole flock if we are lax in our discipline.

    Standard Precautions

    Think of these as the normal actions you would take when preparing food for your family to eat. This means washing your hands before and after handling your chickens. Every time. And this doesn’t mean washing your hands like a junior high boy who wets the tips of his fingers and thinks he’s clean. Use soap and warm water and wash for a full 60 seconds. You don’t have a watch? Sing through the ABC song three times and it will take you about a minute. You should wash your hands:
    • Before you enter your chicken yard.
    • When you come out of your chicken yard.
    • Before and after visiting your quarantine area.
    • After handling critters other than your chickens.
    • When you get back from the mill or store after picking up feed (after all, EVERYONE shops there for feed, no matter how healthy their chickens are, so be aware that even though you can’t see folks with sick chickens, they can leave “gifts” behind long after they’re gone)

    And the same goes for anyone else handling your chickens or just coming over to visit.


    For that matter, it’s probably best not to have folks come over to visit your chickens. Let them admire them from a distance. If you are selling or swapping chickens, don’t let your customers wander around in your pen or among your chickens. If they are in the market for chickens, they have likely been visiting other flocks and there is no telling what might be on the bottoms of their shoes. Better for you to bring the chickens to them using a dog carrier (or cat carrier for those bantams) or your quarantine pen if you have more than one. Besides, you want to leave them in the quarantine pen for a couple weeks anyway, if they decide not to take any.

    “Standard precautions” in the health care and manufacturing fields often involve wearing personal protective equipment like gloves, masks, eye protection and lab coats, overalls, or jump suit. This may seem a little extreme for keeping chickens, but it never hurts to keep your “chicken clothes” separate from the rest of your wardrobe. This may mean you keep a pair of boot and coveralls just for working in the chicken yard or it may be as simple as not wearing your gardening gloves when working on the chicken pen. If that’s too much trouble, save those plastic supermarket bags to slip over your boots and throw them away when you’re done.

    If you are going to sell or trade often, then you will want to do a number of things that are just good, plain business sense:
    • Keep a record with full name, address, phone, and e-mail of all your customers. It doesn’t have to be fancy – a spiral notebook or ledger book works fine. That way you can contact them immediately with any concerns that you might have if something does happen. Not only will your records help you identify the potential source of any infections, it will also let you know who needs to be alerted to watch for signs in their flock. This is a courtesy for both them and all your other customers.
    • Keep a “sale pen” or some other area to display birds that you have for people to buy separate from your flock. That way if buyers do inadvertently infect your chickens with some nasty bug that is going around, you won’t lose the whole flock.
    • Get your flock tested and NPIP (National Poultry Improvement Plan) certified. This sounds like overkill, but it doesn’t cost that much, you can take if off your taxes as a business expense, and it shows that you care enough to follow the rules.
    • On the flip side, don’t buy from those who are not NPIP. Does NPIP guarantee a healthy flock? No, but it does mean that the flock owner is conscientious enough to seek NPIP.
    • These measures will help you prevent an outbreak and if you do find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having an outbreak, you will have a plan for containing it.


    One enthusiast said that he never takes chickens that have been to shows back to his flock. If the purpose of a competition is to show off your best, you want to keep it for breeding. This is where your quarantine area can literally be a lifesaver.

    When you take your birds to shows, you should always assume that no one cares for your chickens as much as you do. And you’ll most likely be right. That means, if you can, you should place your birds side by side or back to back with people you know who follow the same biosecurity measures you do. Make sure you take your own food, water, and bedding. These are things that your birds are used to and will keep them happier and likely show better. During shows, follow the same standard precautions you follow in your yard. Keep that hand sanitizer handy and be careful what you touch.


    These measures, along with a healthy dose of common sense, will help protect your flock from common diseases. If it sounds like too much trouble, it’s still a lot easier than trying to replace a whole flock that succumbed to a preventable infection.

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Recent User Reviews

  1. ronott1
    "Nice Article"
    4/5, 4 out of 5, reviewed Aug 25, 2018
    Great advice on bio security
  2. rjohns39
    "Solid Advice"
    4/5, 4 out of 5, reviewed Jul 29, 2018
    Very well written
  3. CCUK
    "Good biosecurity"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Jul 23, 2018
    Great advice. If you want to protect your flock good biosecurity is paramount.


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  1. davedavey
    Can tell a lot of liberal thinking going into this. I grew up with chickens all over the farm no fences. We never got sick or did our birds. Most this sicknesses is from these big egg farms and meat farms. 3 birds per foot. No feathers dead birds in the cages. That is where all this comes from.
  2. N F C
    Good information! And ADR is a helpful way of covering a lot of issues quickly
  3. mithious
    Opps thanks for this article. That was my main reason for posting here. Great article!
  4. mithious
    Just wanted to add, I have a small tub, at the coops, to rinse off feet, going in, and coming out. Just like CardinalRidge said. I also so, all in, all out. If I am going to reuse a coop, I clean it with ammonia and then repaint it. Let it stand for a couple weeks, before adding ANY birds. I also keep my chicken clothes in a garbage bag, and boots in another one. I do use antibacterial soap, in a dispenser I can push without touching with my hands. I don't plan to show my birds. My joy is in working with them, spending time, and breeding. I used to show, as a kid in 4H, but today it's kinda scary, not knowing what might be brought home, I didn't leave with. I also don't go to chicken swaps, and will be closing my flock, until I need an infusion of new blood. The new birds will only come from breeders I know and trust. Getting my NPIP testing done first of next year. Everything should be done and all birds here by then, so they will be able to see the whole set up, done. Since they test all the birds the first year, it's free, in our state, until March. So that's the basic's of what we do here. OH and NOONE get's to visit the coops. If they want to pick over birds, they can go to TSC and go through their bins. I stay away from even there, when the chicks are in. I'm a little over the top on biosecurity, but I have too much to lose, to take chances!
  5. jh7192
    These are good biosecurity precautions. The comment about the foot bath is a good one and is frequently utilized by commercial poultry producers. Be sure to change the bleach solution when it becomes contaminated with mud, leaves, feathers and other debris.
    Organic debris inactivates bleach.
    Use separate tools for the quarantine birds and your other birds. Don't carry them back and forth. You may carry more than a rake or shovel.
    When cleaning up or doing chores, clean the non-quarantine birds first, then go to the quarantine birds. Take off your disposable booties and coveralls when you finish with the quarantine birds, turn them inside out and wrap them in a ball and dispose of them.
    Have a separate feed supply for both groups of birds-quarantine and non-quarantine. Don't let animals such as dogs and cats go back and forth between the groups of birds.
    Lastly, the USDA cares about far more than you ing disease from your birds. USDA is charged with maintaining the health of America's agriculture. If commercial flocks become ill, the potential for economic loss is tremendous. Take Avian influenza for example. Pennsylvania had an out break thirty years ago. The loss in birds was tremendous, some farmers lost more than their birds and the price of eggs at the supermarket jumped.
  6. Sandstorm495
    Lots of info and good work Margenoite!
  7. CibolaChooks
    Washing their hands like a junior high boy is a bit sexist dont you think. their are lots of dirty girls out there too. maybe you should edit this.
  8. alana124
    Funny how some peeps consider the truth as "harsh.." Great article w/ excellent points. For my young chicks, I always enter their coops with barn shoes--shoes specific to just that area...never enter their pens wearing outside shoes or muck boots..once the birds go outside and start free ranging then I know their immune system can handle almost anything..luckily my birds are very healthy.
    *knocking on my wood leg*
  9. woodsygal
    Good info but it scares me a bit. How do free range chicken owners practice these methods? All my chickens and dogs roam around together on about an acre of our land. Wild bunnies, birds and deer are abundant. While they do have a fenced chicken yard they spend most of the day free ranging so there is really no such thing as entering and exiting their area.
  10. ChickensAreSweet
    Very nice article!
  11. Homestead girl
    I am a new chicken owner of 29 chicks. From 4 weeks to almost 8 weeks old. I am glad you posted this article. I already lost 2 one had to be culled the other just died. I had to treat the entire flock for preventive measure's so far so good.
    Thanks again for all the good information. I will be putting sanitizer at the coop door and bags to cover shoes.
  12. Garden Tamer
    Great article!
  13. fishnet1971

    We can do so much more.
    "Birds momma.
  14. fishnet1971
  15. fishnet1971
    OUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I work for the USDA natural resource conservation service and have to deal with biosecurity on a daily basis with poultry farms. What biosecurity means to my branch of the agency is that i wear plastic boots and wash my govt. truck when i enter a farm. Change my cloths or put on a sterilized suit before i enter a poultry house or beef barn or milking parlor. Biosecurity means that we can in no way shape or form transport any kind of disease or but or infection to other barns, to other animals, to other grounds. Biosecurity for our agency at least means that we protect other animals. Other farms, Other peoples property. Not other people. My agency is here for the Soil, Water, Plants, Animals, and Air. That is our mission. No where in there does it say for the people. I work for the people, but work to protecte their investments.
    This is an awesome article if you would clarify that not all parts of the USDA are out to be big government brother. There are hundreds of divisions of USDA. Please dont label us all that way.
    I spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to help poultry operators keep their flocks healthy. to keep the dairy barns safe and keep their cows happy. Thousands of dollars to help these people install animal waste storage facilities that will keep manure out of the waters that their animals drink.
    We are not all that bad.
  16. alechianeathery
    I'm also new to the whole back yard chicken life style. Not that I help my mom with my uncle. All I did was make sure that they had water and food. Other then that I don't know much about chicken. I'm seen lots of people sell chicken at flea market/ trade day most of my life. One of the biggest flea market/trade day here in Texas is Canton,it city approximately 5000 people and on one weekend every month the population grows to over 200,000 visitors. From what the website said. The first monday trade day sent in Canton can have rows after rows of chicken, rabbits,and dogs ally as they call it there. I would like to know the do's and don't looking and buying chicken at flea market/trade day. They can be cheeper is about all I know when looking at chicken in place like that. Can some put an articles on do's, don't and buying chicken at flea market/trade day.
  17. boskelli1571
    NYReds - Confined Animal Feed Operation = CAFO. Some liken these operations to concentration camps for animals. Whatever your viewpoint, they are havens for breeding all manner of nasty organisms not to mention the treatment of the animals within the confine.
  18. CardinalRidge
    My daughter runs an all-animal rescue and they keep a plastic tub of very shallow 10% bleach solution for people to stand in for 30 seconds before going into the kennels. After the bleach solution, they stand in plain water. It has worked great for her. I am fairly new to the world of chickens, but have my tub of 10% bleach solution outside the gates to my chicken pasture! Of course, if you come in sandals, be prepared to stay out!
  19. Jobele
    Good job on this article....information that people need to know!
  20. NYREDS
    "Common sense" is such an interesting concept. When most people say common sense it always seems to me to mean "done as I would do it". To me changing cloths, shoe covers, etc just sound like too much trouble.
    As I said initially I think everyone should do what feels right to them as far as keeping their birds is concerned. However I do believe that fowl are much more hardy than many people think they are. I also think that like a muscle am imune system needs a little exercise as well. Not a perfect anology but it works for me.
    Important to emphasise is that breeding for resistance is a big part of why my approach works for me. I have not medicated a sick bird in 25 years or more. Sick birds have been culled immediately & would never have been kept & used for breeding. I've had one bird die in the last 4 years. She was an 11 year old hen.
    Any way. Good discussion. I had fun.
    Oh, what's a CAFO?
  21. mamazta
    Marengoite I'm new to raising chickens and this is a very good article for me because I stared with 6 two week old chick and I add up 3 more 16 week old I keep them sepated because the babies are to little to put them togheter, and of course chicken math kickin in now I want 5 more and I have not decide yet wich age so now I learn to keep them apart for biosecurity mesuare regardles.Thank you.
  22. Marengoite
    NYReds, I'm a fan of Joel Salatin's practical approach to biosecurity based on his stock's immune system. However, he also has a lot more selective pressure around his animals since they are exposed to a variety of natural flora that often protects them from other harmful flora. I would suggest that pastured chickens allowed to range over a fairly open pasture, scratching in cow manure, drinking from muddy puddles and so forth are at less risk. My main concern is the confined and pet chicken that doesn't have the opportunity to develop a robust immune system and at the same time runs the risk of exposure to superbugs due to all the antibiotic usage in feed and neighboring animals. If one lives near a CAFO, there is a higher likelihood of exposure to the superbugs.

    And keep in mind that my aim was common sense approaches to biosecurity. I think an ounce of prevention (and your dusting for lice looks like that ounce) is worth a pound of cure. Thanks for the feedback.
  23. dancingflower68
    Great the ADR reference!
  24. California_chickie
  25. MrsSerfesME
    This is great information! I think a lot of this applies to many different animals you may be raising, showing, selling, etc. It keeps your animals and your family safe. Like you said, you never know where someone has been, what they may have stepped in, etc. A lot of this I think a lot of this is common sense stuff and it's better to be safe then sorry.
  26. NYREDS
    I encourage everyone to care for their birds in whatever manner they see fit but my personal opinion is that little of this is necessary.
    I've bred chickens & other fowl for most of my 64 years & the only thing I ever do is dust birds with some louse powder on returning from a show. The birds then go right back where they were before the show. I can honestly say I've never had a problem as a result of these practices.
    What I do that is somewhat more proactive is 1]breed for resistance to disease & 2] buy [rarely] only from known, trusted sources. I do not remember the last time I had a sick bird.
  27. NoZolbitty
    I was wondering about hand sanitizers I've seen them used at a bird show my husband, a friend and myself went to see several years ago. I thought it was a good idea then and still do.
  28. The Red Rooster
    Very good tips! Thanks.
  29. Lothiriel
    Congratulations, Marengoite! Your article is featured on the homepage! Thank you for submitting it in the BYC Article Contest.
  30. Marengoite
    Carol, you might pick up two 16' hog panels, bend them in the middle into an L shape, and put them together for an 8' x 8' temporary quarantine. You can put chicken wire over and around it to keep most predators out and hold everything together with zip ties (cable ties). Total cost is close to free if you can locate someone with old fence. Remember, you're only building a temporary quarantine, so equipment that might be perfectly acceptable to you may be defective to a farmer. Ask around and see what is available.
  31. CarolJ
    You did a great job - and I enjoyed reading your article. It's hard to find a quarantine place for new chickens, but it's so important. Congratulations!
  32. Marengoite
    Thank you, Lothiriel. Glad you liked it.
  33. Lothiriel
    Excellent points! Great job. :)
  34. Chicks & Chickens
    Very nice! I'm not even sure there's a competition here... You're doing well!
  35. Whittni
    Anytime :)
  36. Marengoite
    Thanks for finding that typo, Whittni. It's fixed now.
  37. Whittni
    Good, sounds a little harsh to read at first but good. Things to edit: Above the named neck picture you have a fragment sentence in the first sentence of the second paragraph...I think you need a 'nobody'

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