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How To: Quarantine New Chickens

How To: Quarantine New Chickens

Quarantine for chickens 

Why would you need to quarantine chickens? 

Unfortunately, the fact is that 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 for new chickens

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.
  • Some diseases can contaminate the chicken run for up to 10 years, rendering it unusable!
  • 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 were before.
  • Poultry diseases spread by backyard keepers can potentially damage the commercial poultry industry and pose human health risks.

Do all new chickens need to be quarantined?

It is generally recommended to quarantine all adult chickens before introducing them to your flock. This is particularly the case for birds that have travelled to poultry shows etc. as they are more likely to have been exposed to disease.

Day-old chicks, particularly mail order chicks from a reputable hatchery, are much less likely to carry diseases and therefore quarantine isn't usually necessary. That said, new chicks will technically be quarantined in the brooder anyway!

As a rule, the younger a bird is, the less likely it is to have picked up a disease. So pullets are less risky than adult hens. Birds that come from reputable breeders with biosecurity measures in place as also far less likely to carry disease. 

But the fact of the matter is that any bird can be a disease vector, so quarantine is the safest option.

Effective quarantine for chickens 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 quarantine requirements 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.

Footwear is one of the most common ways that disease is spread between different flocks or birds. This is why commercial farms have boot-wash stations. Having a separate pair of shoes for your quarantine pen is the best option for backyard chicken keepers.

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 period. 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.

Introducing new birds to your flock

Once the quarantine period is over, you can introduce the new birds to your existing flock. We have some recommendations for smooth introductions that reduce bullying on the blog.

Happy chicken keeping!

Rachael at Dine a Chook