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The Importance of Bio-Security:

I often get questioned over chickens that have this or that wrong with them, and although im not a vet or had clinical training, i have done quite a lot of research on poultry illnesses and diseases (and lots of other livestock as well!), and had a lot to do with animal re-abilitation.

Over the years of "playing farmer" I still very much believe in prevention is far better than cure, and my natural remedies are a large part of my feeding regiment at Riverbend Farm. I use garlic and herbs in all my feed outs daily.

Chickens have immune systems and are susceptible to illnesses and diseases just like humans. Birds can become very sick very quickly from many factors related to their overall health. Dirty housing, proximity and health of other birds in the flock as well as the wild birds that fly overhead or even into your coops, and rodents entering your coops and leaving their droppings for your chickens to eat or leaving disease in your feeders.

Prevention is definately the best defense in keeping your chickens healthy and happy.

Adding new members to your flock should also be done gradually, with a "quarantine period" of at least 4 weeks before adding new birds to your existing pens. Newbies should be treated for lice and mites and of course wormed.... but looking for far bigger problems is the reason for quarantining new comers. There are many diseases that chickens can get that will not only clean out your whole flock, but also leave residue in your ground and pens for years to come! So there would be nothing worse than going out to the coop one day after adding a newbie to notice your whole entire flock is very ill!

In the many years that I have kept free ranging chickens, I have not yet had to deal with any outbreaks of disease or damaging level of parasites. I believe that if you provide your birds with enough room to forage, dust bathing areas to preen themselves in and a diverse range of plants, fruit and vegetables to peck at and eat, that free range chickens have healthier immune systems and they can eat a specific plant (herbs especially) that can prevent and cure most ailments.

Chickens can be affected by respiratory, viral and bacterial diseases - many of which are contagious and can spread quickly to other members of the flock. Injury and parasites are also a large common problem to some backyard poultry keepers.

Being aware of what a normal, healthy chicken looks like makes it easy to spot an unhealthy or ailing chicken quickly.


  • watery or mucousy eyes
  • nasal discharge
  • panting or weezing
  • coughing or sneezing
  • skin discolouration - pale or blueish
  • wartlike lesions
  • unusual stools - diarrhea, bloody, allwhite, or green or watery
  • not eating or drinking
  • drinking exessively
  • lameness
  • tremors
  • pale combs
  • swolen joints or inflamed skin

If you see any of the above symptoms, separate your sick bird from the rest of your flock, investigate the problem and either take your bird to the vet for diagnosis or seek advice.


Bio security is a big part of keeping our farm disease free at Riverbend. A lot of poultry related diseases are diseases that are "carried" into your flock in some way - either a new bird that is a carrier, a wild bird or rodent bringing disease into your coop or even being carried to your flock from a visitor, or unhygenic farming practices - please give thought to people entering your coop and livestock areas that have travelled elsewhere and may be carrying disease on the bottom of their boots!!!... And although the following information may seem rather overwhelming to apply to your couple of hens in the backyard coop, there would be nothing worse than going out to feed your girls one day and your whole flock be sick, or worse - dead.

Disease can be brought into your flock as simply as your neighbour saying hello to your hens! and it can wipe out your complete flock very quickly.

The effects of disease outbreaks in poultry should increase every poultry owner’s awareness of developing and maintaining a good biosecurity program. Having a good biosecurity program will protect your flock from contracting a disease that can infect poultry. Additionally it provides a measure of protection to yourself and neighbors that have poultry, in that you are not spreading a disease. With this in mind, below are four key principles of a biosecurity program that will help minimize the likelihood of your poultry being exposed to an infectious disease. Realistically it is difficult to perform all of these steps; however the more that you do, the more protected your birds are.

The four key principles to biosecurity are:


Traffic Control


Recognizing Warning Signs.


  • Keep the area around housed poultry clean.
  • Do this by keeping the grass cut, removing any possible shelter and food sources. This is to discourage animals and insects from coming near your poultry.
  • Prevent wild birds and water fowl from coming into contact with your poultry.This can be accomplished by preventing the accumulation of free standing water near poultry pens or by limiting poultry access to free standing water, such as ponds.
  • Minimize contact with other poultry, such as can be found at swap meets. If contact with poultry isunavoidable, then proper sanitation (see proper sanitation below) is crucial to minimize the chance of accidental transmission.
  • Avoid dead wild birds. Any found should be treated as if they are highly infectious and disposed of quickly. After disposal, washing hands and sanitizing the area where the bird was found is important

Traffic Control

  • Minimize traffic.This includes visits to other poultry pens/livestock sales/farms/swap meets.
  • Avoid transporting equipment from location to location. If this is unavoidable, thoroughly sanitize the equipment prior to use.
  • Keep curious people away from the chickens.
  • Latch and lock gates
  • Hang “No Trespassing” or other (Keep Out) signs.
  • Ask visitors if they have had recent contact with poultry and if they have, do not let them near your poultry. If possible, supply clean protective foot and head coverings and overalls. Clothing and shoes are excellent methods for transporting disease to your premises. Sanitize your shoes or change shoes before entering your chicken pen. If possible, have a pair of shoes just for the farm. If dealing with poultry of various ages, always try to handle younger birds before older birds. Mortality disposal should be done in a timely manner.
  • Make sure that wherever the carcasses are disposed, animals cannot gain access to them.

Sanitation General cleaning and disinfection

  • Most microorganisms are susceptible to sanitizers and can be killed by heating or drying. There are many types of sanitizers available ranging from quaternary ammonia to bleach and everything in between. An important consideration when using a sanitizer is that you switch between types a couple of times a year.
  • Sanitation should be done on all equipment and surfaces between flocks, or once a year.
  • It is important that all organic material be removed from surfaces prior to sanitation. This will ensure that the sanitizer has proper contact time with the surface, which should maximize its effectiveness.
  • Manure: Manure is a reservoir of most diseases and should be handled with care.

Recognizing Warning Signs Know your chickens!

  • Try to spend some time with your chickens so that you learn their personalities. That way you can easily identify sick ones. Recognizing unusual behavior will assist in treating and preventing the spread of disease within the flock. Unusual behavior includes:
  • A lack of energy, poor appetite, watery/green diarrhea, sneezing, gasping for air, coughing, nasal discharge, discoloration of the wattle/comb/hocks, swelling of the neck/head/eyes, drooping wings, tremors, twisting of the neck or head.

If you suspect that the chickens are sick contact your veterinarian, state diagnostic lab or a qualified expert. Get a diagnosis if possible, before going to the store to buy a treatment that may or may not be effective.

It doesn’t matter if you are raising 5, 50, 500 or 50,000+ chickens, preparing and following a good biosecurity program is important for maintaining the health and well being of a poultry flock. If properly implemented and there is a disease outbreak, there is a good chance that the flocks that have a good biosecurity program will not be affected