Back­yard Biose­cu­rity

Keep your birds safe and se­cure by fol­low­ing a few ba­sic house-keep­ing rules.

Chickens 101 - - CONTENTS - By the UC Davis School of Vet­eri­nary Medicine

Keep your birds safe and se­cure by fol­low­ing a few ba­sic house-keep­ing rules.

As com­pan­ion an­i­mals, pets, show an­i­mals or pro­duc­tion an­i­mals, chick­ens re­quire con­stant care, and they de­serve to be in a safe and clean en­vi­ron­ment. While this might seem ob­vi­ous, some­times peo­ple don’t pro­vide clean, nutri­tious food and wa­ter as well as proper shel­ter be­cause they lack knowl­edge, not be­cause they are in­dif­fer­ent.

Our birds can be­come ill in many ways, and there is no 100 per­cent guar­an­teed way to pre­vent our birds from get­ting an in­fec­tious dis­ease. There­fore, we want to create an en­vi­ron­ment for our chick­ens that re­duces the risk of dis­ease trans­mis­sion. The fol­low­ing ar­ti­cle high­lights the ba­sics of how to pre­vent dis­ease trans­mis­sion with a fo­cus on biose­cu­rity.

In short, biose­cu­rity is the im­ple­men­ta­tion of var­i­ous prac­tices to re­duce the risk of your hens be­com­ing ex­posed to in­fec­tious diseases. This in­cludes bac­te­ria such as E. coli and sal­mo­nella, par­a­sites such as coc­cidia, and viruses such as Marek’s dis­ease.

A sim­ple way to keep your hens in top shape is to im­ple­ment a few sim­ple prac­tices when car­ing for them. These prac­tices re­quire ded­i­ca­tion and are prob­a­bly the most cru­cial as­pect of poul­try health and food safety. The more en­ergy and ef­fort you con­trib­ute to biose­cu­rity, the more likely you will have a healthy flock.


Your hens can pass pathogens and par­a­sites to each other and also ac­quire them from sur­round­ing wildlife. There­fore, keep­ing wild an­i­mals such as wild birds and ro­dents away from your hens is es­sen­tial to re­duce the po­ten­tial for exposure.

Some ba­sic ways to keep wildlife sep­a­rate from your flock in­clude fenc­ing, harbor­age man­age­ment close to your coop (tall grass and bushes can pro­vide habi­tat for wildlife such as ro­dents) and mak­ing sure feed is not spilled in­side the coop, which can at­tract wildlife.

With re­spect to fenc­ing, con­sider hard­ware cloth as op­posed to chicken wire. Chicken wire is very weak and can be eas­ily breached by ro­dents and rac­coons, among other wildlife. Fig­ure 1 (on page 79) shows a list of prac­ti­cal biose­cu­rity tips you can con­sider im­ple­ment­ing on your coop. Don’t let a de­sire for per­fec­tion stop you from do­ing any­thing. Im­ple­ment what is prac­ti­cal for your coop and life­style. Do the best biose­cu­rity you can do.


Believe it or not you, your fam­ily mem­bers and your neigh­bors are of­ten the most likely source of in­fec­tious dis­ease trans­mis­sion to your flock from the out­side en­vi­ron­ment. Specif­i­cally, be­cause of our lifestyles, which of­ten re­quire travel to mul­ti­ple lo­ca­tions on a daily ba­sis, hu­mans move diseases from the out­side world to your flock.

We need to im­ple­ment many sim­ple so­lu­tions to pro­tect our flocks. First and fore­most con­trol move­ment of guests to your flock. A good gen­eral guide­line is not to al­low any hu­man to have con­tact with your flock for at least 48 hours af­ter in­ter­act­ing with an­other flock of birds. In ad­di­tion, hav­ing a sep­a­rate set of cloth­ing and shoes is im­per­a­tive to pre­vent in­fec­tious dis­ease trans­mis­sion from the out­side. For ex­am­ple, don’t go to the feed-sup­ply store and use the same clothes and shoes when you get back to your coop. Con­sider buy­ing some cheap cov­er­alls and boots that are ded­i­cated to your flock.

Fi­nally, wash your hands be­fore and af­ter com­ing in con­tact with your hens or their eggs. In ad­di­tion, con­sider us­ing a foot bath with a com­bi­na­tion of wa­ter and a dis­in­fec­tant that you change daily. Foot­baths are great if you take care of them and change the dis­in­fec­tant daily. How­ever, if there is dirt in them, the dirt in­ac­ti­vates the dis­in­fec­tant.

make the en­vi­ron­ment safe

If the goal of biose­cu­rity is to pro­tect our flocks and pre­vent them from exposure to in­fec­tious diseases, we should also think a lit­tle about our birds’ gen­eral health. Be­ing vig­i­lant to their stres­sors also de­creases the risk of them get­ting sick. Just like us, if our birds are stressed or not get­ting proper nutrition, they are more sus­cep­ti­ble to in­fec­tious diseases. There­fore, it’s im­por­tant to make sure your flock has ac­cess to clean wa­ter con­tin­u­ously and a proper ra­tion.

In ad­di­tion, it’s im­por­tant to mit­i­gate things such as heat stress. If you live in a hot en­vi­ron­ment, make sure your birds have ac­cess to cool wa­ter, make sure there is good ven­ti­la­tion and con­sider pro­vid­ing mis­ters or giv­ing them cool wa­ter baths in ex­treme heat.

Fi­nally, if you have dogs or other pets, make sure they aren’t able to stress your chick­ens. While this is not specif­i­cally biose­cu­rity mon­i­tor­ing, your hens’ well-be­ing is fun­da­men­tal to­ward main­tain­ing a healthy flock.

other Pre­cau­tions

To pre­vent the trans­mis­sion of new diseases from pass­ing through your flock, you should quar­an­tine new hens for at least 10 days be­fore you in­te­grate them into your flock. Quar­an­tin­ing is sim­ply putting the birds in a sep­a­rate area as far away from your cur­rent flock as prac­ti­cal to pre­vent po­ten­tial dis­ease trans­mis­sion. Do­ing this for new hens, pul­lets or chicks that you would like to add to your flock pre­vents any active pathogens from pass­ing from your new ar­rivals to the rest of your birds.

If any of your new birds show any clin­i­cal signs (di­ar­rhea, wheez­ing and so on), don’t in­te­grate those birds with your flock. You should in­stead con­sider hav­ing those birds necrop­sied (the an­i­mal ver­sion of an au­topsy) to see whether they carry any in­fec­tious dis­ease. At the min­i­mum, a ve­teri­nar­ian who can help you con­sider treat­ment op­tions should ex­am­ine them. This type of ap­proach is fun­da­men­tal to­ward pre­vent­ing new diseases from en­ter­ing your ex­ist­ing flock.

Keep your wa­ter­ers and feed­ers clean. The best way to get a chicken sick is to have it in­gest the in­fec­tious bac­te­ria, virus or in­ter­nal par­a­site. Bac­te­ria buildup can oc­cur in many re­cep­ta­cles such as wa­ter­ers and feed­ers. Wash­ing the wa­ter­ers weekly with soap and wa­ter is an es­sen­tial pre­cau­tion.

Store feed away from an­i­mals be­cause feed can be con­tam­i­nated. Putting feed in a large metal bin with a latch or in a sealed con­tainer if it is out­side is a pri­mary line of de­fense.

do Your Bio Best

Biose­cu­rity is dif­fer­ent for each flock be­cause of dif­fer­ences in the en­vi­ron­ment. How­ever, the ba­sic con­cept of keep­ing your birds safe from dis­ease and dis­ease-car­ry­ing or­gan­isms is the broad goal of biose­cu­rity. Ad­her­ing to a biose­cu­rity mantra is the sin­gle most im­por­tant thing we can do for our birds’ over­all health. Un­for­tu­nately, wait­ing un­til your chick­ens are sick and re­ly­ing on drugs in­clud­ing an­tibi­otics, vac­cines and other treat­ments are of­ten not ef­fi­ca­cious es­pe­cially rel­a­tive to biose­cu­rity. As with hu­mans, pre­vent­ing dis­ease in chick­ens is bet­ter than treat­ing it af­ter it ar­rives. ■

This ar­ti­cle was writ­ten by Sarai Acosta, who is a re­search as­sis­tant at the UC Davis School of Vet­eri­nary Medicine, and Dr. Mau­rice Pitesky from the UC Davis School of Vet­eri­nary Medicine-co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion.

If you keep chick­ens, don’t in­vite wild birds to your prop­erty.

A messy, un­or­ga­nized coop, run and poul­try yard in­crease risks of biose­cu­rity breaches.

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