What do you do to keep your backyard flock healthy, safe and thriving? Some of the following suggestions may help you to create a healthy atmosphere for your family and your birds. Regardless, bio-security is a must when raising fowl or any livestock. Practicing good bio-security from day one will go a long way to keeping your family environment healthy and clean as well.
Statistics of Salmonella
Statistics for Salmonella though blamed on fowl, is most often seen in poor food handling on a commercial basis and in the home environment. Anytime food is handled, there needs to be proper bio-security in place and that food should not be handled without thoroughly washing and the use of gloves in the commercial environment. You also should never prepare raw foods along side cooked foods, or raw vegetables and fruits along side raw meats. Cross contamination is likely responsible for many food borne illnesses in the home environment. Any time you are preparing raw meats, clean the work surfaces and utensils thoroughly before preparing any raw foods or salads. Meats must be cooked thoroughly and raw foods must be washed. For raw fruits and vegetables a solution of vinegar and water will prevent bacteria from tainting meals.
It is not uncommon for poultry to carry Salmonella. The Salmonella germ resides in the gut of the birds and is found in the droppings, on the feathers, beaks and feet. One common way of contracting Salmonella is placing hands around your face before washing thoroughly with soap and water after handling the fowl or tending to their environment. Children are most prone to this and should be kept out of the chicken environment and monitored if handling the birds to make certain they wash thoroughly. If you wish to learn more about Salmonella infection, visit the CDC website at the following link:
Prevent wild birds from sharing the feed and water that you provide to your chickens or other fowl. If you enjoy feeding wild birds, provide feeders well away from your coop and run area. If the coop and run are in the backyard, place the feeders and bird baths in the front yard, as far away as possible for you to continue to enjoy. Wild birds carry illness and diseases that your flock have no resistance to. The more you can do to prevent wild birds from the chicken environment the less risk you will experience. Avian flu outbreak in the chicken population was brought into this country and around the world via migratory bird populations. Those birds have a natural resistance that domestic fowl have no resistance to. Do not be misled to believe this flu outbreak affected only large commercial poultry farms, that is not true. There were many backyard flocks that also succumbed to that outbreak, even though they did not get the media attention that the commercial flocks did and if those stories were covered at all, the news was held to the local region, not national news. It's far bigger news to tell about millions, than a small backyard flock, so media did not devote time to any coverage for less than a few hundred chickens and other fowl that were affected by the devastating outbreak. Social media as usual spread rumors that it was commercial flocks because of confinement and poor conditions those birds are raised in. That could not be farther from the truth. Commercial poultry farms put more emphasis into bio-security than any backyard enthusiasts would ever do.
Mice and other Rodents
Prevent mice and rat infestation by keeping your feed in metal containers, such as metal trash cans will prevent mice and rats from getting into that feed. Pick up the feed each day at perching time, to prevent mice and rats having free run of the coops and food. Mice and rats carry many diseases and illnesses that your flocks can be infected with. Keeping control of the rodent population will also keep them out of your kitchen and away from your food sources.
Keeping the coop clean of wet litter will prevent flies and odors inside the chicken coop. It is also important to have dry litter, to prevent respiratory illnesses from the ammonia build up in the litter. Even with good ventilation, ammonia build up can become a problem if not kept under control. Compost the litter so it can continue to break down, the high heat of the compost pile breaks down the litter quickly and will make a great additive to your garden soil by the following garden season. If you are using a deep litter method that litter breaks down naturally as you add more dry materials to it. It is beneficial to turn the old litter before adding the new material on top. When adding new material for litter, also change the nesting box material to help keep the eggs clean for collecting.
Keeping the roosts and nesting boxes cleaned off with a putty knife, will help prevent build up and also prevent parasite infestation.
Sterilize the waterers and feeders once a week to prevent bacteria build up. A solution of vinegar and water or chlorine bleach and water will kill bacteria. ! Tablespoon per gallon of either vinegar or bleach is all you need to sterilize effectively.
From Coop to Kitchen
You do not want to carry bacteria from the coop to kitchen. If you wear an apron to collect eggs, remove that apron outside. Slip boots or shoes off outdoors before entering the house and have designated footwear, aprons, shirt jackets and coats that are used only for working around the coops and chickens.
After handling the birds or collecting the eggs, wash thoroughly with soap and warm water or use anti-bacterial soap or hand wipes. Dirty eggs should not be placed with clean eggs. The eggs should be washed just prior to using and cracked over a separate bowl or sink, rather than directly into a pan or batter bowl, to prevent egg-shells from accidentally dropping into the exposed egg. Always wash thoroughly before handling any food, or eating or giving the baby a bottle or medication to the elderly. We assume these are common sense practices, but it is easy to forget when there is an urgent matter at hand and we tend to take care of the situation before proper preparation is made. If you practice good hygiene, you will be more apt to use good hygiene even in an urgent situation.
It is never wise to tend to small children, elderly or those with compromised immune systems, unless you have washed thoroughly and have changed clothes after tending chickens or other fowl. We do realize it is not always possible when there is an emergency that has to be dealt with, so we do recommend wearing an apron or shirt over your clothes, so those can easily be removed to prevent any spread of pathogens on those soiled garments.
It is never wise to allow chickens or other fowl to wander freely through the house and especially through the kitchen. If the birds must be in the house to tend to injuries or illness, they should be in an enclosed pet carrier and that carrier must be kept clean. It is best to place the carrier in a mud room, laundry room, basement, porch or garage. In a convenient area, to take care of the bird's needs, but away from the food sources and family activity areas. From day one, instruct children to wash thoroughly with soap and warm water after handling any birds whether chicks, ducklings or adult birds.
If you raise baby chicks in a brooder, the best place to keep those chicks is on a porch or in the garage in a confined brooder. Old cribs, playpens and totes work fine as brooders and can be kept warm with a proper and safe heating unit. To prevent drafts, the outside perimeter can be covered securely with plastic sheeting or tarps cut to size. Make sure these are completely secure to prevent pecking that may cause tearing and ingestion by curious chicks. Keeping the chicks away from the family living environment is healthier and cleaner since most bedding material cause dusts to enter the environment and baby chicks and ducklings can be messy and their environment needs to be kept clean regularly. If there is no porch or garage, a laundry room away from the family or an unused bathroom are the next best places to raise those chicks until they are ready to release to the outdoors.
We do not allow visitors into our coop, runs or brooder areas. We provide foot paths between those areas, so the birds can be viewed easily, but not within their environment. It is especially important to adhere to these rules if the visitors raise fowl of any kind. Pathogens from one farm or backyard to another, are easily carried on boots, clothing and vehicle tires. Slip on shoe covers are handy, but the best practice is to prevent entry by anyone into the area where you tend your flocks.
There can never be enough said about quarantine. If you have an existing flock, you do not want to bring other birds into their environment without strict quarantine. Pathogens are carried from one bird to another, from one farm or backyard to another. Your own flock may not have resistance to those pathogens, and the new birds may have no resistance to the pathogens in their new environment. Quarantine is highly important to prevent spread of illness and disease even if all the birds appear healthy. It takes 7-14 days for most pathogens to manifest, in that period of time every single bird can be infected before you even know there was anything carried in by those new birds. Always wash thoroughly between tending to the existing flock and then to the new birds. I advise having disinfectant wipes handy between the coop and the quarantine area to help prevent spread of pathogens. After 30 days, slowly introduce the new birds to your flock if all appear healthy and thriving.
It is wise to have a disinfectant boot bath between the existing flock and the quarantine area to step into to kill bacteria from one environment to another. Make sure the foot bath has a secure lid to prevent accidental ingestion by pets or children.
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