Keep your small flock safe (Backyard Flocks)
(Editor’s note: Dr. Jonathan Moyle is a poultry Extension specialist with the University of Maryland.)
As the number of small flock owners continues to increase, it is important to understand how to protect your flock from disease.
The term most often used when talking about preventing the spread of disease in poultry is Biosecurity. Simply put, biosecurity means “life protection” and includes all practices that help prevent disease.
There are three main parts to biosecurity: Isolation, traffic control and sanitation. Interestingly, these are the same measures we are taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Isolation is simply keeping your birds isolated from other poultry, wild birds and people.
Humans are the top spreader of disease and anyone who visits your birds could be carrying a disease.
Additionally, wild birds and other animals (including some insects) can transmit disease to your flock as well. Therefore, it is important to prevent your birds from coming in contact with them.
One of the best ways to prevent contact is your through your birds housing. Coops need to be constructed to prevent the entry of wild birds (and animals) and run areas (outside areas) need to be protected by fencing.
When birds are allowed to run free, they still must be maintained on your property to prevent issues with neighbors as well as potentially spreading disease.
Traffic control means to keep people away from your flock.
Additionally, if people do visit, make sure to keep track of who they are and where they have been before visiting. This is important in preventing any disease from spreading if it happens to strike your flock.
Another important aid to traffic control is signs.
Posting signs alerts others that you have poultry and are actively protecting them from disease. In Maryland, your local county extension office has signs available for you to use.
The third part of biosecurity is sanitation.
It is important to clean anything that comes in contact with your flock.
Not only does that mean equipment, but also the shoes and hands of those that visit.
Flock owners should keep one set of shoes/clothing for working with your flock and not wear those to town. Use your other clothing for visiting friends or trips to town and then change before working with your birds.
Another idea is to have a footbath to clean your shoes each time you visit your flock. While footbaths can be effective, if not done correctly (wash all mud and debris off shoes and then soak in disinfectant for the correct amount of time as required by the disinfectant) they can still spread disease.
A more simple way is to use shoe covers to keep your shoes clean and prevent contact with the flock.
Other management practices that help keep things clean are; rodent control, insect control and proper management of manure.
Biosecurity is not a “one size fits all” procedure. Each flock owner has unique circumstances and management styles and each owner needs to decide what level of biosecurity is right for them.
Additionally, some flocks kept for educational purposes may be exposed to numerus people, while a small family flock may only ever be in contact with a few family members.
Remember, we all have a moral obligation (and legal) to prevent the spread of disease.
Practicing good biosecurity is one of the best methods to keep your flock safe. For more information on biosecurity see the University of Maryland’s poultry Extension page https://extension.umd.edu/poultry. There you will find more information and videos on biosecurity as well as other information on raising a small flock.