Poultry is one of the most common animals raised by backyard growers. They are easy to maintain, do not take a lot of space, and provide their growers with a fresh source of protein. Although relatively easy to maintain, some steps need to be taken to ensure that poultry are cared for properly and that their products are safe to eat.
Backyard Poultry Basics
One of the most important things about raising backyard chickens is keeping clean and fresh water, making sure that their water is changed every day, especially during the hot summer months. In the winter, make sure that the water does not freeze over. If your chickens do not have access to enough water, it can significantly impact their egg laying and overall performance. In addition to fresh water, your chickens need to have access to a high-quality feed that contains all the necessary nutrients, such as protein, vitamins, and minerals. It is important to consider some type of shelter when raising backyard chickens. It does not need to be anything fancy or extravagant, but a coop design needs to allow the birds to stay dry and have a space to roost at night. If a coop stays wet, this is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and other harmful organisms to develop. When using different bedding in your coop, make sure that it is cleaned out regularly. Cleanliness is key to keeping a healthy flock. Every day or every other day you may need to remove fecal matter from the bedding. If you are noticing fecal matter in the nesting boxes, your chickens have created a bad habit. If this is the case, make sure that they are not in the nesting boxes at night, which can be accomplished by either checking at night and placing them on the roost or closing the nesting boxes. If you do close the nesting boxes at night, you will need to make sure they are opened early the next morning. Once a week, clean more thoroughly by removing and placing down fresh bedding, which will help cut down on the possibility of your chickens becoming ill. Prevention is key and much easier than finding a cure.
Biosecurity refers to procedures used to prevent the introduction and spread of disease-causing organisms in poultry flocks (USDA, 2021). This not only applies to large poultry operations but to backyard growers as well. Biosecurity is crucial in keeping a clean production. When thinking about how disease agents can be transmitted, they are broader than what you probably think. These agents can be on equipment, shoes, clothing, your hands, in the soil, and even in your hair. It is necessary to be cognizant of what your birds are exposed to. Keeping your flock isolated from other animals and people, quarantining birds, avoiding exposure to other birds or equipment, and disinfecting vehicle tires after traveling to a location with other birds, are all biosecurity measures that need to be in place. Quarantining new or returned birds is important to prevent the spread of diseases to the rest of your flock. After 30 days, the quarantined birds can join the remainder of the flock if there are no signs of disease. Some ways to make sure you are following biosecurity basics include, keeping visitors to a minimum, washing your hands before and after coming in contact with live poultry, providing boot covers and/or disinfectant footbaths for anyone coming in contact with your flock, changing clothes before entering poultry areas and before exiting the property, cleaning and disinfecting tools or equipment before moving them to a new poultry facility, looking for signs of illness, and reporting sick birds. If your birds are sick or dying, do not wait, call a local veterinarian, cooperative extension agent, or state veterinarian (USDA, 2021). N.C. Cooperative Extension Area Specialized Poultry Agent Jonas Asbill stated that one of the most valuable pieces of biosecurity is having farm-dedicated footwear. He also noted that it is important to be mindful when hunting ducks, turkeys, geese, and other waterfowl, as well as playing golf (J. Asbill, personal communication, June 18, 2021). Many geese can be found on golf courses and carry diseases harmful to backyard birds, so you must be careful in making sure you do not bring anything back to your flock. Above all, be aware of what you cannot see and control what you can. You cannot control what other producers are doing, but you can do your part in protecting your flock and others. Biosecurity is about minimizing risk because you cannot fully eliminate it.
What happens if you do not follow the basics?
Simply put, if your backyard poultry flock is not kept clean and biosecurity measures are not followed, you run a higher risk of your birds becoming ill. These preventative measures need to be taken to ensure the safety of yourself, your birds, and others. Not only could you jeopardize your operation but others that you may encounter unknowingly. Raising backyard birds poses a risk to commercial poultry operations due to the possibility of spreading pathogens. Backyard flocks are not closely monitored and have more potential to pick up diseases from wild birds, where they were hatched, and from you.
Backyard poultry production is on the rise, so it is important growers know the crucial steps to take to ensure everyone’s safety. By keeping a clean operation and following biosecurity measures, you will have happy, healthy, and successful birds.
United States Department of Agriculture. (2021). Defend the Flock – Biosecurity 101. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/animal-disease-information/avian/defend-the-flock-program/dtf-biosecurity