Biosecurity – Keeping your chicken coop free from contamination

BIOSECURITY is practiced in the commercial poultry industry, and it simply means to keep your chicken coop, or facilities, as free from contaminants as possible. Viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi, can be kept to a minimum and sometimes be eliminated through the practice of biosecurity. I practice biosecurity in my own coop (much to the dismay of my friends).

In the commercial industry, it’s not uncommon for someone visiting a poultry house to be required to take a full shower and put on protective clothing that you would normally see in a hospital surgical room. And this is required before they’re allowed to enter the building. There’s usually a footbath to walk through as well. (Another fine use of Oxine, I might add.) Even feed delivery trucks sometimes have their tires sprayed down with disinfectant before they come up the drive, and the drivers are discouraged from leaving the vehicle.

The types of things that can be carried in can be devastating to a commercial grower. Entire flocks sometimes have to be destroyed to be sure that a contaminant has been fully removed from a facility. And a massive disinfection process has to take place with testing before a new flock is brought in.

But let’s get real. I realize that the average fancier is not going to go through the extreme measures of a commercial grower (unless they have money to burn, want to lose all of their friends, or have all the time in the world). So let’s talk about what precautions a fancier could take to minimize his flock’s exposure, without creating a lot of work and expense.

First, to understand the need for some basic biosecurity, the fancier must realize that without it, they’re going to spend more time and money to fix a problem that could have been prevented, than it would have to practice prevention to begin with. With that in mind, here are some things you can do.

Set mousetraps. You have rodents. Trust me, you do. They can range from the tiniest little mice on up to the Norway rat. I’ll share an embarrassing story with you. I knew I had small mice in the coop because I found the telltale tiny black dropping in the feed cups (no, it’s not pepper). The temperature had dropped and I knew my birds were struggling to stay warm. Additional compromises to their systems as a result of being exposed to disease via little mouse feet, would not be good. I was going to set the traps the next evening – after all, I was really tired. Feeling guilty, I went into the coop the next evening after dark. A sixth sense told me I was being watched. No mice – anywhere. Then it caught my eye – two of the tiniest beady little eyes you ever saw – peeking out at me from under the wing of my best bantam d’Uccle in her private cage! The hen was keeping this little bugger warm! And proud of it.

Rodents transfer disease and bacteria via their feet from cage to cage, and from the wild population to your coop. And then there’s the ‘pepper’ they leave in the feed and water. Let your mind be creative here at the possibilities. Salmonella enteritis is an example.

When people come to visit your coop, ask them if you can mist the bottom of their shoes with disinfectant. Tek-Trol at four times stronger than normal dilution or a normal dilution of Oxine would be effective – be cautious with Oxine – it could have a bleaching effect on fabric or leather. If they’re fanciers, you’ll be eliminating anything they could carry in on their shoes, from their coop to yours. Since almost all soil samples contain Cocci, even a non-fancier could bring a different strain of Cocci into your coop than your birds have been exposed to. If you read my previous article, you’ll know why this could be a big problem.

If you have birds that free- range, keep them separated from your confined birds. Always work in the free-range pen last, after you’ve tended to all other pens and cages.

When you move from pen to pen or cage to cage to clean out water bowls and the like, use paper towels and throw them out after each use. (I use the C-folds you can buy by the case for industrial use. They’re inexpensive enough to do this and not feel guilty or rich.) Caged birds should have their own water and feed cups that are never used for anyone else.

Don’t expose your birds to wild birds or wild waterfowl. This is especially true for waterfowl. Wild waterfowl carry DVE (I talked about this in my Mareks article), and it is highly contagious. Gray Calls and Pintails seems to have a natural resistance, as well as the Mallard – but the Mallard is thought to be a natural carrier. It’s most common in the Muscovy Duck. DVE outbreaks have occurred in Mute Swans, White Pekins, Khaki Campbells, Indian Runners, and Wood Ducks, but Blue-Winged Teal and Canadian Geese are the most susceptible to lethal infection. Although it’s a risk everywhere, DVE is more prevalent on the East Coast.

Don’t expose your own birds to the backyard bird feeder. And don’t allow wild birds to nest in your coop. I couldn’t possibly list everything they can carry to your flock.

Keep your youngsters separate from your oldsters – at least until they’re about 6 months old. Natural immunities develop by then that will protect them against possible ‘carriers’ in your adult flock.

Keep the airborne viruses, bacteria, and fungi in check by fogging your coop once a week with Oxine. You can do it with the birds in the coop and any surface that becomes wet as a result of the fogging, will be disinfected. To learn more about Oxine, check out my article on it’s many uses. (No, I don’t own stock in the company.)

Finally, remember to quarantine sick birds in a different facility and take care of them last. Even if they’re in a separate cage, many viruses are airborne and some travel on feather dander, such as Mareks, which can be transferred by rodents.