Biosecurity on Commercial Poultry Farms

— Written By and last updated by Patricia Burch

Keeping disease out of your commercial poultry flock is very important. Biosecurity is the best way to greatly reduce your risk of disease. Below, we will discuss the definition of biosecurity and how you can ramp yours up to keep your birds safe of disease. 

What is biosecurity? According to the University of Maryland Extension, biosecurity refers to procedures used to prevent the introduction and spread of disease-causing organisms in poultry flocks.

How does disease enter our flocks? Disease is spread through contact or close proximity to a host or vector. Vectors are any organisms that transfer pathogens from one host to another. Usually, people are the most common vectors and this usually happens by mechanical transfer. The most common examples of mechanical transfer are clothing, shoes, vehicles, equipment, rodents, insects, and migratory waterfowl.

What biosecurity measures can you implement on your farm? There are many practices, procedures, and equipment you can put into place on your farm to reduce your disease risk. These include wearing disposable coveralls and boots, wearing hair nets and disposable gloves, using foot baths (very important to keep the material changed, clean, and out of the elements), installing car washing stations, and disinfecting equipment and houses between flocks. Also, it is important for essential personnel to sign in and out of your farm, so in case of a disease outbreak, you will be able to hopefully trace the origin. Putting signs at the front of your farm that say this is a biosecurity area and visitors do not need to enter the property without approval is another measure you can put in place to increase your biosecurity.

UGA has a publication on biosecurity and suggests these methods for lowering disease risk: limiting visitations to other poultry farms – do this only when necessary and be sure to shower in and out and change clothing before returning to your farm, keep all animals out of poultry houses – this includes wild birds, dogs and cats, practice sound rodent and pest control programs – rodents carry disease, keep visitors to a minimum – only allow essential personnel, avoid contact with non-commercial poultry or wild birds – migratory waterfowl and hunting, inspect flocks daily – properly and quickly dispose of mortality and report health concerns right away, maximize the flock’s environment – good ventilation and dry litter keeps disease risk low, keep areas around the houses and feed bins clean – remove trash and keep grass cut, and most important – recognize disease symptoms.

Recognizing disease symptoms early may be one of your best defenses against the spread of disease. Be aware of these symptoms in your flock: lack of energy and appetite, decreased egg production; soft-shelled eggs or misshapen eggs, swelling of the head, eyes, comb, wattles and hocks, purple discoloration of the wattles, combs, and legs, nasal discharge, coughing, wheezing and sneezing, lack of coordination in mobility; diarrhea, sudden or excessive mortality without clinical signs. Be sure to report symptoms immediately.

Be sure not to stress about biosecurity because you will never be able to do every single thing 100% of the time. Biosecurity is about lowering and managing your disease risk as much as possible. Not all of the above suggestions may be feasible for your farm. If you would like to discuss what biosecurity measures you could implement on your farm and how you can lower your flock’s disease risk, contact your local N.C. Cooperative Extension office.