Biosecurity: An investment in future health
Updated: Jan 22
Biosecurity means doing everything possible to protect animals or people from any type of harmful disease. It is a series of procedures designed to prevent diseases from occurring or contain them in the event of an outbreak. We are all experiencing some degree of heightened biosecurity right now because of COVID-19. We are being asked to don biosecurity gear (e.g. masks) and adopt specific procedures (e.g. maintaining social distance) to help prevent the spread of the disease. Following a few simple rules can really affect the severity of the outbreak, and this is no different in the chicken world.
In the poultry industry and others, biosecurity is a way of life. It is all about minimizing risk. Think about it like an insurance policy: it may not be a guarantee against a disease outbreak, but it will help to lessen the impact. Practicing good biosecurity takes time and costs money to do right, but it is a worthy investment in the future health of a flock. The strength and discipline with which biosecurity measures are implemented directly impacts the health and safety of both animals and people.
Diseases can spread and infect birds in many ways. Some diseases are transmitted directly when the blood, saliva or feces of a sick bird comes into contact with and infects a healthy bird. Dirty or contaminated equipment, clothing, footwear, or vehicles may also transmit diseases by transferring them from one infected animal or barn to another. Contaminated feed, water, bedding, or soil may also spread disease. Airborne particles may be brought into the barn through the fans or vents by wind or exhaust from vehicles running outside. Rodents and insects (e.g. flies, mosquitoes or beetles) can also act as carriers of disease. Some diseases can survive in the environment for extended periods of time outside of a living host.
There is no single biosecurity strategy that works for every possible disease that birds can get, so many different prevention strategies must be used to provide the best protection.
Biosecurity starts at the door to the barn. One of the easiest ways a disease can enter a barn is on the bottom of your boots! At minimum, changing footwear before entering the barn is a must. Changing into clean clothing, wearing head coverings, and washing hands thoroughly are some other important barn entry procedures. Keeping other animals out of the barn, and yes that includes the family dog, will help too – you don’t know where they’ve been!
Baby chicks are the most susceptible to disease. Although they arrive at the farm with some immunity, either from their parents or from vaccines delivered at the hatchery, we still take extra precautions. This might involve taking a shower on-site and changing clothes multiple times. We don't want to take any chances!
Some other biosecurity strategies include vaccinating against common diseases, cleaning and disinfecting barns between flocks, and having a program to keep pests like mice and rats (they are notorious carriers of disease, see the Plague) out of the barn. It is also important to keep on the alert for any signs of disease in the flock. Some of the most serious poultry diseases are respiratory in nature (e.g. Avian Influenza), so any coughing or sneezing is worth noting and should be monitored closely.
Just like people, chickens are susceptible to many different diseases, especially when they are young. We can all do our part to keep our birds, and each other, healthy.