Quarantine pens for chickens

Quarantine for chickens

Why would you need to quarantine chickens? New birds are the main source of disease in backyard chicken coops. Even healthy looking birds can carry fatal illnesses. The best way to avoid introducing new diseases to your flock is to quarantine all new birds. Fortunately, quarantine for chickens is much easier than for people!

Why quarantine is necessary

Quarantine sounds extreme, but it is the only safe way to introduce new birds to a flock. 

Quarantine is vital because:

  • Even healthy-looking birds can carry illnesses.
  • A serious disease or parasite can kill over 50 % of an otherwise healthy flock and contaminate the chicken run for up to 10 years.
  • Coccidiosis is a common cause of chicken illness. All chickens carry the parasite and have immunity to familiar strains. But new strains, such as those introduced by new birds, can be deadly even to healthy adult birds.
  • Once birds have an illness, they will carry it for life. This means that once your flock is infected, you mustn’t sell, trade or travel with your birds. 
  • Even diseases that do not kill birds can affect their health. Once a disease is introduced, your chickens may never be as healthy, productive or resilient as they once were. 
  • Poultry diseases spread by backyard keepers can potentially damage the commercial poultry industry and pose human health risks.

Effective quarantine in 5 steps

Fortunately for backyard chicken keepers, effective quarantine of new birds is not difficult. The main concern is preventing potential disease from spreading. 

The basic requirements of quarantine are:

1.Time

New birds should be separated from the flock for a month. A month is long enough for most illnesses to present themselves.

2.Distance

Your quarantine pen (and hospital pen) should be at least 10 metres from your coop, downwind and downhill.

3.Preventing cross-contamination

Chicken illnesses can be transmitted through faeces, food, water, dust and feather dander. If you’ve handled new birds, walked in their coop, or used any sort of equipment in the quarantine pen such as a feeder, a shovel or even a bottle of medication, you could carry illnesses to your own chickens.

Anything that enters the quarantine pen needs to be cleaned and disinfected to prevent cross-contamination. The easiest solution to this is to only visit the quarantine pen after tending to your main flock, and to have separate equipment.

4.Treatment

Treating new birds for illness should also be part of the quarantine process. Ideally birds will already be vaccinated against some common illnesses. On arrival at your house, birds should be wormed and treated for lice and mites.

5.The sacrificial bird

A sacrificial bird is not essential to effective quarantine. But if you want to be truly sure that your new chickens are illness-free, without extensive lab testing, it is your best bet.

The sacrificial bird is a member of your own flock that is put in with the new birds at the beginning of the quarantine. If this bird, and the new birds, survive the month without falling ill or losing condition, then it is unlikely that the new birds are carrying anything that will wipe out your flock.

Happy chicken keeping!

Rachael at Dine a Chook

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