Topic of the Week - Biosecurity, Quarantine and Infectious Disease Management

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by sumi, Feb 26, 2017.

  1. sumi

    sumi Égalité Staff Member

    Jun 28, 2011
    Rep of Ireland
    This week I would like to hear you all's thoughts on biosecurity, quarantine and infectious disease management. When it comes to adding chickens to the flock, taking birds to shows, buying birds from meet-ups, chicken stocks etc, there is always a risk of bringing back and introducing a disease or pest to an existing flock. Even with precautions in place, diseases can still be spread by wild birds, or caused by circumstances out of our control. How do you all manage these important aspects of chicken keeping? Some questions to get started:

    - (How) do you quarantine new birds before adding them to the flock?
    - (How) do you manage show birds and showing?
    - Do you take precautions when having (human) visitors to your poultry yard?
    - How do you handle sick/diseased birds in your flock?
    - What is the best way to handle outbreaks of serious disease(s) such as Mareks and prevent spread and recurring cases on your property?

    For a complete list of our Topic of the Week threads, see here:
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2017
    5penny5 likes this.
  2. speckledhen

    speckledhen Intentional Solitude Premium Member

    First thing, I'd refer most folks to this older post I made that is stickied on BYC:
    Especially pay attention to #7 and #8

    Quote: But, breaking down sumi's questions:

    - (How) do you quarantine new birds before adding them to the flock?

    I personally do NOT add new birds, PERIOD. I hatch and in the past, have gotten chicks from hatchery shipments the first day or two they arrived at the feed store. I've added TWO started birds in 12 years, one the first year and one the third year. I quarantined the first one for 5 weeks in a dog cage in a basement bathroom, sometimes taking him to a sunny deck outside in warm weather. The second, a gift from a friend who had never even seen one of her birds sneeze and never taken birds from others, was an 8 week old pullet she hatched from a breeder's eggs and was in a separate coop for EIGHT weeks-that hen is still with me at 9 years old. Neither had anything contagious show up here. No other birds have ever come from elsewhere, not even a chick.

    But, generally, quarantine means to keep them entirely separate from the breathing space of your flocks for 4-8 weeks, MINIMUM. DO NOT give antibiotics, only OBSERVE. The ONLY treatment allowed would be for worms and lice/mites. If you see any symptoms like discharge from eyes or nares or gurgly breathing, DO NOT ADD THAT BIRD TO THE FLOCK, EVER. Euthanize it. Even if you treat symptoms blindly with antibiotics, not knowing if it's bacterial or a virus that would not respond to antibiotics anyway, and it seems to be better, it is most likely now a Typhoid Mary, a carrier, and will infect your flock. One bird is not worth losing the entire flock.

    - (How) do you manage show birds and showing?

    I do not show. Diseases have been transmitted at shows, like ILT. Contrary to what some believe, being NPIP-certified, as you must be to show, does not mean a bird is disease-free!

    - Do you take precautions when having (human) visitors to your poultry yard?

    EVERYONE must spray their shoes with disinfectant, either Virkon-S or Oxine solution. Strangers coming to pick up birds/eggs/chicks cannot go into the pen at all.

    - How do you handle sick/diseased birds in your flock?

    When a bird is under the weather, I separate it, determine what is the likely cause (has never been contagious, thankfully) and treat if it is appropriate to do so. Mostly, it's been injuries or a bird acting oddly/lethargic, not disease.

    - What is the best way to handle outbreaks of serious disease(s) such as Mareks and prevent spread and recurring cases on your property?

    I am not a Marek's expert, have not had it here. Marek's is not like every other disease. If it's on the property, it's in dander and soil and you would have to cull everyone and keep no birds for a long time, but even then, there is no guarantee you would not see it again. For Mycoplasmosis, you might be able to eradicate it by culling the flock, burning/over-liming the soil, disinfecting the coops and letting everything lay empty for a long time.

    Some folks who do not sell birds/eggs/chicks to other people often elect not to cull their flocks, especially if they have a small one and I understand that, but those of us whose birds go to other homes occasionally, must be diligent to not cause heartache for another person.

    The best way to handle disease is truly to prevent it in the first place, to the best of your ability. Since no one can see a germ, even your best efforts may not be enough, but with excellent precautions, you are likely to keep healthy flocks for many, many years.
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2017
  3. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Chicken Obsessed

    Nov 12, 2009
    western South Dakota
    Many people pretend to quarantine and just get lucky. Quarantine takes a great deal of work and space. Most backyards are not set up for it. I don’t want chickens in my house. However, if you have a very valuable flock or would go into an emotional decline on losing some chickens, follow the above advice. It is very good advice.

    I am not quite so strict. I have added chickens to my flock numerous times. These are things that have worked for me.

    • Do not add birds that you feel sorry for, including rescue birds.
    • Do look at the birds you are adding. Healthy birds look healthy, while this is not fool proof, do not take anything that is not bright eyed, active and alert.
    • If you are buying birds from another flock, look at the set up. If the birds are active, and the set up is healthy, it is probably ok.
    • I would not buy birds from either swaps or salebarns or shows. This is where a very healthy bird can be penned near a not so healthy bird, pick something up and 4 days later can be quite sick in your flock… not a good deal.
    • Immediate culling of any sick bird is good husbandry for the sake of the flock.
    Again this is not fool proof, however, to me it is a reasonable risk.

    Mrs K
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2017
    1 person likes this.
  4. casportpony

    casportpony Team Tube Feeding Captain & Poop Inspector General Premium Member Project Manager

    Jun 24, 2012
    My Coop
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2017
  5. oEch0o

    oEch0o Out Of The Brooder

    Feb 5, 2017
    So if I've had a hybrid for 5 years and her whole life she's been up and down, acting sick a lot, no runny nose just seems like how a chicken acts before they die, is she ok. She's been through four flocks, all healthy, all flocks were mine, and she was on her own for a while too. She's even a star in Costa Rica! She's no concern to my other flocks is she?
  6. speckledhen

    speckledhen Intentional Solitude Premium Member

    If no other birds have shown symptoms, it's probably something limited to just her. There are many, many illnesses that hens may have that have nothing to do with being contagious, such as internal laying, egg yolk peritonitis, reproductive cancer, etc. Those are genetic/hormone-based. For instance, internal laying is terminal, can be coming on for months without your knowledge and there is no prevention nor cure for it. At her age, being a hybrid, she is likely to have something reproductive going on.
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2017
  7. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Flock Master

    Nov 7, 2012
    - (How) do you quarantine new birds before adding them to the flock? I never bring adult birds into my flock. I also have an "Once out, forever out." policy, meaning, that once a bird leaves my property, it's not coming back. I have added new chicks from hatchery, feed store, shipped eggs, as well as hatching my own eggs.

    - (How) do you manage show birds and showing? I never have, nor never intend to take birds off my property for the purpose of showing. If I ever attended a show, I'd be shedding all of my clothing straight to the washer, and sterilize my footwear immediately upon return.

    - Do you take precautions when having (human) visitors to your poultry yard? When I have a fellow poultry lover or customer come to my yard, they are not allowed into my pens. I've had customers show up and immediately wipe their boots with bleach before exiting their car, and when they return to their car. I appreciate such consideration.

    - How do you handle sick/diseased birds in your flock? I cull any ill birds. Very infrequent that I need to cull a bird for failure to thrive/illness. I cull all chicks that are not viable.

    - What is the best way to handle outbreaks of serious disease(s) such as Mareks and prevent spread and recurring cases on your property? Have never had any outbreaks. I do not have my birds vaccinated, nor do I use medicated feed.

    Follow up to above question: IMO, if you take good care of your flock, disease is going to be negligible if not existent.

    Environment: Give those birds plenty of room. I sound like a broken record when I repeatedly suggest that a flock should have a minimum of 4 s.f./bird in the coop and 10 s.f./bird in the run. Plenty of BYC folks say that's not necessary, and birds can get by with less space. Get by, perhaps. And perhaps those flocks will never have behavioral, stress or disease issues. But, by giving the flock more room, those issues are less likely to occur, and coop/run maintenance will be easier.

    Litter management: I recommend deep litter in the coop. Not deep shavings that don't get cleaned out. But, deep composting litter made of naturally decomposing, mixed materials, including: dry leaves, grass clippings, chipped trees, garden debris. The bird droppings mix into this material and, if it's managed correctly it becomes a working compost pile where the feces feed the microbes in the bedding, there is no ammonia build up, and the bedding continually decomposes into a healthy compost. This is much more easy to manage in a coop that has a natural soil floor.

    If your chicken run has bare soil, it is an unhealthy run. In a natural setting, soil is NEVER left bare. It is either covered by growing plant material, or decomposing plant material. I do my best to emulate God's plan for the soil in all of my yard. Particularly, in the run, I am constantly adding compostable material, with the goal of having a 6" layer of deep composting material. I have yet to achieve this, no matter how much material I add, because it simply melts into the soil. No stinky mud pits or dry dust bowls in my run. Also, by providing composting litter in the coop and run, it feeds the chickens! Both by providing healthy microbes and fungi for their guts/immunity, as well as beneficial insects in the run. It also puts the beneficial organisms in control so disease pathogens can not get a foot hold.

    Diet: My chicks start life with Fermented feed. This gives their guts a jump start on probiotics. A healthy gut is crucial to a healthy immune system. They also get a plug of sod from my yard within the first 2 weeks. Sod gives them: first grit, first greens, some minerals, first exposure to the pathogens they will be encountering in my yard. All this in the first 2 weeks, while their natural perinatal immunity is at it's highest. That sod also gives them stress reduction by allowing them to engage in their natural behaviors: dust bathing, foraging for their own feed in that soil, and plenty of chicky games. Adult flock gets FF, and during the winter, they get fresh sprouts almost every day. Free range is limited here b/c hawks are present all the time. If I am not out to supervise, the birds generally have to be kept in their runs.

    Stress reduction: Plenty of room. Deep litter in coop and run. Chicks brooded with MHP system. Coop and run have multi height areas: strategically placed hay bales, ladders, elevated pallet. They have a winter sun room that gives them foraging opportunities, even when the temp is down to 0*F. Sun room temp is typically 20* above the temp outside their sunroom.

    Natural immunization: I am blessed and thankful that I have a large and active population of wild turkeys. Turkeys are reported to carry a strain of Marek's dz. that is less virulent. So, by having them in my yard, they provide natural immunity to the more lethal Marek's dz. strains.

    Culling: IMO, it is important to have an ongoing assessment of your flock and your goals. Culling weaker members, breeding forward, using your best birds on a yearly basis will result in a flock that continually becomes stronger, and better able to resist any disease issues prevalent in your area.
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2017
  8. casportpony

    casportpony Team Tube Feeding Captain & Poop Inspector General Premium Member Project Manager

    Jun 24, 2012
    My Coop
  9. Folly's place

    Folly's place True BYC Addict

    Sep 13, 2011
    southern Michigan
    I'm with speckled hen here. Also, it's wonderful to NOT have near neighbors, especially upwind, who have chickens, and aren't concerned about biosecurity. I don't have Marek's disease, and want to keep it that way. I attend one poultry show every year; parking far from the action, and everything I wear goes immediately in the washer. Good husbandry, a balanced diet, and watching for problems are key. I will treat an injured bird, and would feed medicated chick starter if there was a problem here. I treat mites or lice when they turn up. I've never had a contagious respiratory disease here, and have tested negative for Mycoplasma. Prevention! Mary
    1 person likes this.
  10. bobbi-j

    bobbi-j Flock Master Premium Member

    Mar 15, 2010
    On the MN prairie.
    I do things similar to Mrs. K. I rarely bring a new bird into my flock, but the last couple of times I did, it was from a friend's flock. Visitors here usually don't go see my chickens. Usually it's just the grand-nieces and nephews wanting to look at them. [​IMG] I don't show my birds, although I walk through the poultry barn at our small county fair. (I don't sanitize my shoes afterward.)

    Sick or diseased birds are culled. I've never had an outbreak of any kind, so I don't know how I'd handle that.
    1 person likes this.

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