It still happens all too often and tears my heart out every time: people tell me they lost all their chickens after buying chickens that looked so healthy! Others have introduced new chickens into an existing flock and all the chickens have become sick or are dying. Even more, I am always appalled when people introduce new chickens immediately after buying them or receiving them from a friend or neighbor. Sometimes they only separate them with a net or a fence and the disease can spread so easily. Isolation must be strictly observed.
I can still hear this mother telling me that she only had two hens, and having lost one of them, the healthy hen that was left alone suffers from not having a congener. The hens must live in groups. Sometimes, because we can’t find friends for this hen who has become alone, we have to get rid of this orphan hen or quickly find friends for her.
Others hasten the pooling of new hens by introducing them at night, which is not a good idea at all! Others think they can hide the smell of the new chickens by placing all kinds of perfumes (vanilla, lavender, etc.) on the chickens. Chickens do not have a highly developed sense of smell like mammals, this practice is useless. Because we see a lot of dangerous practices that could jeopardize the health of our hens, this article will hopefully enlighten you on the biosecurity to be implemented.
In this article, I will try to enlighten you on basic biosecurity practices in order to give you examples and a hygiene routine to preserve your hens from pathogens.
Biosecurity is a term used in the medical world, but also in animal husbandry and care. To better understand the concept, biosecurity consists of implementing practices to prevent the introduction of diseases or limit their spread. On the EQCMA site, examples of common biosecurity protocols are presented for farm employees and agricultural producers as well as visitors. These protocols must be followed at all times on commercial poultry farms. The protocols can be viewed at the following web address:
Our urban hens are susceptible to many diseases such as Marek’s disease, Newcastle disease, Mycoplasma gallisepticum mycoplasmosis, infectious laryngotracheitis, avian influenza, etc, since they have access to the outdoors which exposes them to diseases present in wild birds.
Pathogens can spread rapidly from one hen to another when a hen moves around, ruffles its feathers, eats from the same feeders, drinks and pecks the ground near its fellow hens. Urban hens that are lucky enough to roam outside will be able to build up a good immune system naturally. But they are still exposed to viruses circulating in the air and soil.
The integration of new hens stop!
It is necessary to isolate your new hens (the cage or mini henhouse must at least allow the bird to stand upright and spread its wings and must not pose any risk of injury). The cage or mini-henhouse must be located in a separate room and different materials or equipment must be used between your existing hens and the new hens in isolation. The 30/30 rule applies! 30 days of isolation at a minimum distance of 30 feet. You must also avoid transmitting pathogens from one barn to another and follow the step-by-step integration protocol .
During the isolation of the new hens :
- Observe them daily for signs of disease. If you suspect disease, consult a veterinarian.
- Use clean material, boots/shoes, clothing and equipment only for your new hens.
- Clean and disinfect cages, equipment and materials often during and at the end of the isolation period.
- Wash your hands before and after caring for new hens.
- Always take care of isolated birds last.
The more your chickens are kept in a clean, stress-free, non-pecking, non-aggressive poultry house with enough space, the more resistant they will be to disease. Although vaccination is one of the best ways to protect your chickens from certain highly contagious diseases, chickens from small flocks are almost never or rarely vaccinated.
Some diseases can spread quickly and easily from bird to bird. At the very least, basic biosecurity precautions must be taken to protect the health of your hens. Isolating a sick hen immediately is biosecurity!
Most of us who have visited a hospital in recent years have seen the addition of bottles of disinfectant gels at the entrance and exit. This is a biosecurity rule. The floors must be kept in a state of impeccable cleanliness. Indeed, our shoes are potentially carrying pathogens and pose a serious risk of transmitting diseases to your hens.
Biosecurity requires a routine of basic hygiene measures as well as good management practices, for example: a crawl space, a full house, a full house and a closed flock to keep your hens free of pathogens and diseases. It is not only when introducing new chickens to your small flock that you need to take precautions, because pathogens are also spread very easily through contact with other chicken keepers. They can be transmitted to your flock simply through the feed store after a person with infected birds has passed through there! Indeed, your clothes, shoes, and hair carry the pathogens. It is therefore important to change your clothes when caring for your chickens. Your shoes and boots should be scraped and cleaned underneath and then washed and disinfected in a soaking solution after visiting your chickens.
Cleaning, washing, disinfecting and drying, how do you go about it with an urban henhouse?
To facilitate all the cleaning steps, your henhouse should be easily accessible, with a large opening. For your own safety, wear a mask and goggles so you don’t breathe in too much dust.
Dry clean by removing all dry materials
What we mean here is simply to remove all dry debris, remove the shavings, use a broom, a scraper on the perches, on the ramp and use a vacuum cleaner to remove the residual dust. Do not use a landscape blower, as you risk spreading pathogens.
Wash with soap!
- Wash surfaces with soap and water, rinse
- Wash all surfaces with soapy water and all equipment used with your chickens and rinse to remove all traces of soap.
Disinfect with a bleach solution
- Allow all surfaces and materials to dry before applying a bleach solution.
Allow to dry
- Before re-entering your hens, let the surfaces of your urban chicken house dry.
Wash all your clothes even your coat and boots/shoes.
How to disinfect effectively?
Disinfection will ensure that you will be able to destroy most of the pathogens that soap and cleaning will not have destroyed. To be effective, all debris and organic matter must be removed and surfaces thoroughly cleaned before applying the disinfectant. There are several ways to disinfect. There is the chemical method with disinfectants and the physical method with the sun’s UV rays.
Application of disinfectant :
For the disinfection step to be effective, it is not necessary to just spray the surfaces with a small jet of spray. In fact, the surfaces should be thoroughly wetted and even small objects should be placed in a tray filled with water and disinfectant.
Contact time :
Disinfectants do not kill pathogens instantly. A contact time must be allowed. Please read the label on your product in order to use it properly.
Dry surfaces well and ventilate:
Chemicals could be harmful to your chickens, so make sure surfaces are dry before introducing them into their urban hen house.
Crawl space :
If you have had an incidence of contagious diseases, let your poultry house breathe for at least 2 weeks before reintroducing your hens. I can already hear you telling me, but how can I do it, I don’t have two poultry houses! Commercially available mini henhouses become useful here as well as large dog cages during the period of crawl space.
There are many chemical disinfectants available for chicken houses. They are available with varying effectiveness against certain pathogens and some are very toxic and dangerous to use. For example, it is almost never possible to get rid of coccidia in the environment that causes coccidiosis. Take your precautions and read the labels. These products are not always within the reach of urban chicken keepers. However, here are some uses for sodium hypochlorite bleach with a concentration of 4-6% sodium hypochlorite that is easily and inexpensively available. Bleach kills more than 35 microorganisms including rhinovirus, Salmonella Enterica, Staphylococcus aureus, influenza A virus, Streptococcus pyogenes, E. Coli and hepatitis B and C viruses.
For 3.7 liters of water (1 gallon) :
To wash surfaces that are not in contact with food :
Add ¼ cup of bleach.
For disinfecting small objects and use as a spray: incubators, surfaces, etc. :
Add 1. tablespoon of bleach.
To control algae and pathogens in drinking troughs :
Add ¼ of teaspoon of bleach
Whether you visit your farm store, go to a local fair, trade a chicken or simply invite your friends who keep chickens to visit you or keep your chickens on vacation, you could introduce deadly pathogens into your group of chickens!
There are several easy precautions you can take to limit your chickens’ exposure to the deadly viruses that chickens are most likely to contract :
Don’t let those who raise or keep chickens enter your poultry house without taking precautions!
Keepers or other people who have to come into contact with your flock should change their shoes or wear plastic covers (bags) or wear a pair of rubber boots that you keep exclusively for visitors.
You should also have boots or shoes for each family member that are designated for use only in your yard, henhouse and aviary and they should never be worn inside your home and especially not in farm food stores, co-ops, feed mills, hardware stores, etc.
Tips: Keep large bread bags or blanket bags in your car so that you always have some on hand in case you forget to change your shoes before you leave home.
Set up a soaking bath in a tub to disinfect your visitors’ shoes and boots. To make the soaking tub, cut a piece of door mat out of “false grass” and insert it into a plastic dish tray. Fill the tub with a mixture of 3/4 cup of bleach per gallon of water. Also keep a hard brush nearby. Ask your friends who come to visit you to rub their boots to remove the dirt on the outside of the soaking tub, then enter the foot bath and scrape the bottom of their boots on the carpet before approaching your yard and chicken coop. Ideally, let the boots soak for 10 -15 minutes. It’s also a good practice to use it yourself every time you enter or leave your yard before entering your garage, shed, etc. This method requires changing the water more often since the soaking bath is not effective if your soaking water is not changed as soon as dirt has accumulated. Ideally, the soaking water should be changed daily. Disposable boots or visitor boots are more practical and safe.
In general, urban hen lovers also like to observe wild birds. Unfortunately, you will have to reconfigure the location of your birdhouses so that they are not close to the hen run on the field or the aviary. Wild birds carry pathogens that could make your chickens very sick. Therefore, keep your hens in an area where wild birds cannot enter. Do not hang bird feeders in or near your poultry house.
Never leave food outside on the field or in the course, as it also attracts birds and rodents. According to the Regulation respecting the sanitary conditions of places where captive birds are kept, feeders must not be accessible to wild birds.
Cleaning wipes are very useful for removing organic material from hands. Also keep a waterless hand sanitizing gel in your aviary or near your run for yourself and children – and use it every time you handle the chickens. Keep some in your car and use it after you visit the farm grocery store. – Don’t share egg cartons with other chicken farmers.
Avoid borrowing feeders, waterers and other accessories from friends or neighbors who keep chickens. If you must, wash and disinfect them with bleach before using them.
Avoid visiting farmhouses, or other homes that keep chickens as pets. If you do, change your clothes and wash them immediately when you return home. Disinfect footwear as described above.
All hens and poultry that you bring to shows, auctions, or fairs as well as new hens that you bring home must be kept in isolation from the rest of your flock for a minimum of 2 weeks, but ideally 4 weeks.
Buy hens only from reliable sources. Clean and disinfect the tires of your vehicle after visiting poultry trading sites, shows and fairs, flea markets.
In case of illness :
Watch for signs of sudden and unexplained illness or death in your flock. Many diseases spread quickly and are of particular concern to backyard chicken keepers.
What many people don’t realize is that chickens can carry diseases without showing any apparent symptoms.
Report sick birds immediately, and if you have chickens that die suddenly and unexplainedly, call your veterinarian promptly.
It is recommended that you follow an order when caring for your chickens. If you have different groups of chickens, start with the youngest and finish with the oldest. In addition, if you have sick chickens, you should end with them and they should be isolated from your other chickens.
If you have a hen that has died from old age, a predator attack, or disease or injury, make sure you dispose of the carcass according to municipal regulations and put on gloves to handle it.
Hens in contact with migratory birds such as ducks, geese, etc.
You must be extremely vigilant when living near an area where these birds may come into contact with your hens. Citizens who live near a watercourse are often visited by these migratory birds. Never leave your chickens in contact with the excrement of these birds. Do not let them approach your feeders either.
Food Storage :
It is essential that the feed bags for your chickens are well stored to prevent wild birds or vermin from gaining access to them. Make sure your feed and water bowls are clean, and wash and disinfect them regularly. It is recommended to change the water in the water troughs daily.
You must keep your site free of unnecessary material and cut the grass near your henhouse to avoid the presence of vermin that can be a source of infection for your hens.
Biosecurity is your responsibility, your duty as a responsible citizen and everyone’s business!
Thanks to : Martin Pelletier, agr. and Nadia Bergeron, dmv of the Équipe québécoise de contrôle des maladies avicoles (EQCMA) for collaboration on text revision.
Acknowledgements Ms. Annie Daignault, veterinary expert in hen care for the
proofreading of the text.
For more information, visit the EQCMA website where information on backyard animal husbandry is available.
By-law respecting the containment of captive birds
Animal Welfare By-law
NATIONAL FARM ANIMAL CARE COUNCIL
Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Chickens, Turkeys and Breeders from Hatchery to Slaughter