Tips to help protect your flock from disease

A serious problem looms as increasing numbers of families keep a few chickens in their yards.  Small flocks isolated from other chickens are usually healthy. Diseases have a hard time moving from one remote flock to another…unless pathogens catch a ride on a human or new bird.

Check new birds carefully for parasites.

Homeowners with just a few chickens often want to add new birds of a different breed.  A friend may need to sell or give away their chickens. Chicken swaps on weekends are becoming increasingly common, as is adopting orphaned birds. 

Introducing a new chicken into your flock is risky and may bring with it diseases or parasites that can quickly ravage a healthy flock. Commercial chicken farmers keep their flocks isolated from outside birds and people who have may been in contact with chickens.   In contrast, owners of small backyard flocks often welcome others to see their birds and bring orphaned birds into their flock.

The best way to avoid importing diseases or parasites is to buy chicks from a reputable source, keep them isolated from other chickens, and resist the temptation to bring in new birds.   However, if adding a new chicken to the flock is necessary minimize the risk by taking prudent precaution. 

Be certain the new bird comes from a healthy flock with no sick birds.   Visit the flock in advance to make sure it is sanitary and all birds appear healthy.  But be aware that chickens can look healthy yet carry diseases.

Pathogens can hitchhike on clothing or shoes.  So, after visiting someone else’s chickens but before checking your own birds put on fresh clean clothes.  Shoes can transport diseases clinging to the soles in bits of soil or manure.    To kill them brush off dirt and dip shoes in a bleach solution before visiting healthy birds.

Always make sure an outside bird is parasite free before introducing it into the flock.  Many chickens harbor mites or lice.  Gently but firmly hold the bird and part the downy feathers near the vent or under the wings. If lice are spotted scurrying away from the light don’t take that bird or any other from its flock home.

Quarantine any new bird before introducing it to the flock. Keep it as far away from the flock as possible, preferably in a separate building, for at least a month.  Carefully watch the newcomer for disease symptoms. If it remains healthy for a month it’s probably safe to introduce it to the flock.