Biosecurity Basics for Small Flock Owners

The recent Avian Influenza detections across North America and Europe have fiercely proven that effective biosecurity basics are important to all owners of birds, no matter your scale.  It is important to note that most developed countries pride themselves on claims of freedom to the international community related to the presence (or lack thereof) of many animal and human disease, including Avian Influenza.  This is the primary driver behind aggressive containment and response measures that happen when there is a detection of the disease.  The impacts of the current highly pathogenic Avian Influenza virus (HPAI) are significant, with most infected birds dying quickly and incredibly high mortality being identified as a key indicator of the presence of infection.

There are many measures that can very quickly help to protect your flock from this, and many other pathogens that can harm you and your flock.  Consider implementing some, if not all of these biosecurity basics on your premise if possible.  With an effective biosecurity program, it does not matter what happens on your neighbour’s premise, because you have protected yours.

  • Cover your pastures and runs. The use of netting will prevent, or at least reduce interactions with wild birds, who can be carriers of disease.  Wild waterfowl are known and considered to be the primary source reservoirs for the current outbreak, so minimizing exposure to these vectors is extremely important.  Some jurisdictions have gone so far as to impose indoor-housing orders on birds that are normally outdoors.  Consider what this might mean for you if your area implemented such an order.
  • Ensure your birds are contained in fenced areas and do your best to keep their fenced areas as far away as possible from property lines. Do not allow them to roam freely, exposing them to predators, or other species of birds, including waterfowl, and keep your gallinaceous birds (chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, etc.) away from ponds and waterways. Consider establishing and following a stringent rodent and predator control program.
  • Remove standing water and any wild bird feeders from areas within or near your pastures, runs or coops. Standing water attracts other wild birds and wildlife and should be kept to an absolute minimum.  Avian Influenza, particularly, has been demonstrated to survive for quite some time in cold, moist environments.  Provide your birds unlimited access to food and water inside a protected building.
  • Only wear barn-dedicated clothing and footwear to your bird areas. Consider establishing a restricted zone, or area where only you can enter, and only when wearing your dedicated outerwear.  Outside this zone, you can implement a controlled access zone, such as between fences, to prevent any potential introductions on visitors clothing or where other animals may exist.  The use of painted lines or tape on surfaces can certainly help provide a visual cue for where these zones exist.  Provide signage at your driveway and any potential entry points advising that you have birds on the property and have biosecurity requirements prior to entry.  Most professionals will be aware of this and respect your established, communicated requirements prior to entering your premise, and will usually only do so if absolutely necessary.
  • Establish a protocol for introducing new birds to your flock. Setup a pen completely removed from your flock, and only service this area in designated outerwear, and only after completing your duties with your main flock.  This should be considered for birds returning from a show or exhibition as well.

biosecurity basics

One of the most valuable tools in helping prevent the spread of communicable, and potentially zoonotic diseases, is through developing relationships with local professionals in your area.  Consider reaching out to a local animal health centre or extension provider and making a connection with them, as well as a local veterinarian.  Their guidance and advice will be incredibly valuable at a local level if an event were to occur near you and they will be able to provide guidance and advice most specific to you and your region.  By taking implementing these biosecurity basics, hopefully the new detections will slow, and everyone can soon enjoy their birds as they have in the past!

Clayton Botkin, P.Ag. B.Sc. (Hons), APA General Licensed Judge #1234