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Educating Small Flock Owners

CFIA’s Dr. Daniel Schwartz explains biosecurity


May 30, 2008
By Karen Dallimore

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Dr. Daniel Schwartz explained the key elements of biosecurity to owners of small flocks this winter

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BACKYARD BIOSECURITY
Dr. Daniel Schwartz of the CFIA was on tour this winter to educate small flock owners about biosecurity.
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When Avian Influenza struck in British Columbia the devastation to commercial poultry flocks was obvious. What wasn’t so obvious were the repercussions throughout the small flocks in the province, owned by those that enjoy of chickens, turkeys, pigeons, ducks, geese and exotic birds of many descriptions.

Dr. Daniel Schwartz is a field vet with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency who worked in field operations during both outbreaks in B.C. He was on tour during the winter of 2008 with a team of poultry specialists to talk about biosecurity for the small flock owner.

The experience with the avian influenza disease outbreaks has shown that there’s a disconnect between the commercial and non-commercial poultry industry, one that must be bridged in order to keep all birds and people healthy. Schwartz is asking the small flock owner to be aware of their role in preventing the spread of disease by creating a “circle of defence” through biosecurity awareness and good management practices.

He’s not just addressing those with a few chickens. Some people raise very expensive rare birds with unique genetics that are a vital gene resource pool, while others have show birds and pets. Racing pigeons are very popular and can sell for up to $1,500 a pair. Schwartz has seen it all, from swans that have a doggie door to come into the house to geese that swim in the backyard pool.

Schwartz explained that there are biosecurity measures that can be put in place to protect these birds and to help control the spread of disease both to and from commercial flocks. These measures include isolation, sanitation, site management and flock management. His advice is familiar to the commercial operator but small flock owners may not be aware of some of the key elements of biosecurity that are not difficult to put into practice.

Keeping your birds isolated is fairly easy to do. Start by providing their feed and water indoors and under cover to prevent attracting wild birds. Store your feed in sealed containers and trim the overgrown grass and shrubs close to the pens or cages. Schwartz also advises to limit the exposure of your flock to visitors but if you have people in contact with your birds, ensure that their clothing, hands and footwear are clean. “I can’t stress this enough,” he says.

Quarantine is a useful tool to reduce the spread of disease as well. Schwartz recommends isolating new birds for at least 30 days, and those birds returning from shows and exhibits for at least 14 days. Only purchase new birds from reputable suppliers who provide a health history.

Cleanliness is an important issue. Viruses, parasites and bacteria dwell in litter and soil. Small flock owners don’t have the luxury of cleaning an empty facility in an “all in, all out” management system that is used with larger commercial flocks, but bird owners can reduce the risk of disease transmission by routinely cleaning barns, cages and equipment. Schwartz recommends a three-step process of dry cleaning, soaking, and then cleaning again with disinfectant. Disinfectants won’t work through dirt. He also recommends not sharing equipment with the neighbours, and cleaning your own hands, clothing and footwear before and after handling the birds.

Check your flock every day. Become familiar with signs of illness that may include a reduced appetite, lethargy, reduced egg production, swelling around the head, neck or eyes, coughing and sneezing, or diarrhea. “Signs are often there but not followed up on,” says Schwartz, who has heard such symptoms rationalized – for example, “they’re not eating because it’s hot” – instead of being treated seriously. If you suspect your birds are ill “lock down” your flock right away and contact your veterinarian. If your birds do become ill or die, find out why. There will be some cost involved but Schwartz says it’s important to get to the bottom of what’s causing the problem.

One audience member who sells eggs at the gate asked if he should keep his 50 birds in a netted area, never letting them out to scratch in the garden and never letting people drive up the lane? Schwartz advised using your own good judgment, admitting that there would never be zero risk. He says we’re simply trying to reduce the risks of disease transmission. “Do your best.”

The University of Guelph, OMAFRA and the Poultry Industry Council have put a new small flock biosecurity kit together entitled “Keeping Your Birds Healthy” and it will be available in June 2008. It’s free and it will include factsheets and posters of all available information regarding biosecurity, as well as useful items such as a logbook and restricted entry sign for your facility. Call the OMAFRA Agricultural Information Contact Centre to get one mailed to you at 1-877-424-1300 or pick one up at your local OMAFRA Resource Centre. All of the information in the kit will also be available on the website www.agbiosecurity.ca .