Small Flock Biosecurity

Disease control and biosecurity are insurance against contagious diseases, like Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), that can potentially negatively impact poultry health and welfare.
Fall is “flu season” for migratory birds and so it is a particularly high-risk season for avian influenza outbreaks in domestic poultry, but owners of small flocks can take simple precautions to help prevent disease in their birds.
Wild birds, particularly waterfowl, can be infected with avian influenza viruses without appearing to be sick. However, when these viruses are transmitted to domestic poultry it can cause severe illness and death. 
Although wild birds always pose a disease risk to domestic poultry, this risk is especially high in the fall. Past surveillance has shown that avian influenza viruses are most common in younger migratory birds in the fall (August to November) as they gather together and mix together in areas and shed the virus in their feces. The cooler and damper fall weather also means that the virus is able to survive for longer periods in the environment than during the hotter drier summer.

Biosecurity Concerns

Avian Influenza viruses may, on rare occasions, cause disease in humans. It is recommended that people working with infected poultry or in a heavily contaminated environment wear protective gear such as N95 face masks, goggles, coveralls, gloves and boots. At this time, it is highly recommended to heighten biosecurity measures regardless of AI status of individual birds or a flock, to limit spread between flocks and potentially to humans. 
Poultry farmers are urged to take an active role in protecting their flocks by employing strict biosecurity measures on thier properties and to immediately report any suspicion of Avian Influenza to the Chief Veterinary Office (CVO).
Wild migratory birds are a known reservoir of the Avian Influenza virus. Flocks with outdoor access may be at higher risk of exposure and producers are asked to be vigilant in their biosecurity practices. 
Producers are encouraged to review biosecurity plans and practices, and implement strict biosecurity measures to avoid exposure of their flocks to wild waterfowl, especially feces.
Separate footwear and clothing or disposable boots and coveralls are considered essential for all staff and visitors entering poultry facilities.
Steps to ensure all feed sources and water supplies are not exposed to wild waterfowl are also recommended.

Finally, reduce movement onto yards and into barns to only essential needs (ex: feed trucks, egg pick up, etc.). Where possible, other external contacts (ex: delivery of supplies, garbage pickup, etc.) should occur off the yard, at the farm gate (outside the controlled access zone). 
Controlling entry at the farm gate and barn door are the last line of biosecurity defense.
The CVO requests that all poultry producers continue to be vigilant in their biosecurity practices.

Highly Rated Steps to Protect Your Birds From Disease:

  • Contact your local veterinarian immediately if your birds appear sick, mortality is high or egg production drops suddenly.
  • Manitoba Agriculture has a small flock screening program for avian influenza that can potentially cover the cost of disease testing - check with your veterinarian or contact the Chief Veterinary Office (CVO) for more details and to see if your flock is eligible.
  • Do not obtain birds of any age from other farms, poultry shows, auction sales, or online sales. Only buy from commercial hatcheries.
  • Do not allow contact between ducks or geese (wild or domestic waterfowl) and your chickens or turkeys.
  • Do not visit other farms with poultry and take precautions against visitors who have been in contact with other birds, including bird-watchers and hunters.
  • House your birds indoors.

Whether your birds are a hobby, for your own consumption, or for commercial purposes, the following management recommendations will help protect your flock's health and welfare: 


1. Buying Chicks, Poults, Birds, Eggs and Meat

  • As much as possible, obtain birds from one reliable disease free source. Chicks and poults should be obtained from a commercial hatchery.
  • Purchasing birds through social media (ex: Facebook, Kijiji, etc.) is considered a high risk activity.
  • Do not buy old laying hens or brooded meat-type birds from other farms.
  • Do not visit other farms to purchase eggs, chickens, or  turkeys.
  • If you plan to visit any farms with small or large flocks of poultry, ask them about the health of their birds and inform them of your own flock and biosecurity protocols that you follow.
  • Do not visit farms where the birds have had health problems or they do not have a robust biosecurity program in place.
  • Do not have domestic ducks and geese on the same farm as chickens and turkeys.

2. Housing and Yard Maintenance

  • Provide feed and water in clean containers.
  • Clean up any feed or grain spills from around your barn as these may attract wild birds.
  • Prevent standing water in your yard which may attract wild birds.
  • Use penning or fencing to limit the range of the birds and to restrict access by other animals, domestic and wild.
  • Do not allow access to surface water. Sanitize, e.g. chlorinate, poultry drinking water if from a surface water source. Groom the range area to prevent the accumulation of rain water. A pond is not necessary for the health of domestic ducks and geese.
  • Avoid clutter in the pen or range area. This includes trimming long grass and removing branches, leaves and other such items. Sunlight is an effective disinfectant if it can reach the ground the birds are on. Removing debris also acts as a deterrent to rodents, which can spread disease without appearing to be sick themselves.
  • Barns that house the flock should be big enough to hold both the type and amount of birds you have, year round if necessary.
  • Contact your local Conservation Officer Service District Office for information on how to deter wild birds from settling near your poultry barn. Any rented wild bird deterrents should be cleaned and disinfected prior to coming on your property and after use.

3. Visitors

  • Do not allow people who have had recent contact with other birds to have contact with your flock.
  • Provide visitors with designated foot wear or disposable boot covers when they visit your flock. Otherwise, make sure their foot wear is scrubbed clean with soap and water followed by disinfection with 50:50 mixture of bleach and water both before and after their visit.
  • Limit the number of visits and the visitors as much as possible
  • Post signs that ask people to contact you before they enter the area of your farm where you keep your birds.

4. Dead and Sick Birds

  • Dead birds should be disposed of immediately to prevent scavenging, which can further spread disease.
  • For most small flocks, composting, burial, or incineration are the simplest methods.
  • It is important to contact your veterinarian if you see a sudden increase in sick or dead birds.
  • For laying hens, a sudden decrease in egg production or shell quality is also a concern. Your local veterinary clinic can help you in submitting tissues or dead birds to the Manitoba Veterinary Diagnostic Services Laboratory for testing free of charge (apart from any potential charges from your veterinary clinic)

5. Specific Recommendations to Fancy Flock Owners

  • Purchase birds from commercial hatcheries whenever possible.
  • Trade and movement of breeding stock and show stock is not recommended. If you must move birds, the following guidelines will help keep your flock healthy:
    • It is preferable to purchase hatching eggs and hatch the birds out on your own farm.
    • Make sure you are aware of the health status and biosecurity programs in place for any flocks from which you obtain birds.
    • Limit the number of sources that you get birds from and the number of shows you attend
    • Isolate new and returning birds from the rest of your flock for three weeks
    • When buying, selling, trading, or otherwise moving birds, keep written records of the date, breed, sex, number of birds, location held, and the source of the birds (ex: the name and address from where the birds came from, especially if you are obtaining birds from on-line sales).

6. Break the Disease Cycle

  • At cool temperatures, some diseases such as avian influenza can survive for weeks to months in manure, dust or feathers. Below freezing, the virus may last until spring.
  • Marketing your chickens or turkeys while outside temperatures are still above 15ºC will help to kill off any virus left behind on your yard. Avian Influenza in bird droppings may survive only a week or two at warm temperatures.
  • A thorough clean-out of your poultry house prior to placing birds the next spring will help to eliminate disease.
  • Removing all litter and sweeping out all dust is the most important step.
  • Washing with a high pressure sprayer followed by spraying a disinfectant is ideal. Without first cleaning the surfaces of the shed, a disinfectant will provide limited benefit as the virus can survive in the debris.
  • Disinfectants work best at warm temperatures and you should aim to use them while temperatures are above 10ºC. Many of the disinfectants sold by chick dealers and farm supply stores are rated to readily destroy poultry viruses on cleaned surfaces at moderate temperatures.
  • A few viruses, including avian influenza, are very susceptible to drying, so heating the poultry shed for five days at 35ºC prior to spreading the bedding material or housing new chicks will help to eliminate disease.

7. Record Keeping

  • Birds dying and a drop in egg production are the two surest signs that a disease such as avian influenza has arrived on your farm.
  • At a minimum, write down when and the number of birds dying and the number of eggs collected each day. This will allow you to see when there is a higher than normal death rate or a drop in egg production.
  • You should also keep a record of the date and number of birds purchased or slaughtered whenever you start a new flock or market an old one.

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For more information, or if you suspect any animal health related concerns, please contact the Chief Veterinary Office or call 204-945-7663 in Winnipeg.