Quarantine advice when introducing new birds
The introduction of disease to your poultry flock is always a risk when introducing new birds.
To reduce the chance of introducing disease, it is best practice to quarantine the new birds before introducing them to your main flock.
Quarantine is recommended not only for the introduction of new birds, but also any time your birds have been exposed to outside birds, for example after your birds have returned from a show or event.
Select healthy birds
When purchasing a bird, observe the bird carefully and select only healthy-looking individuals.
Look for the following qualities of healthy birds:
- feather cover — even, tight and well-coloured, with no indications of feather picking or cannibalism
- eyes — round, wide, open and bright, with no swelling around them or discharge
- vent — clean and droppings well-formed
- feet — clean skin with no toe deformities
- body weight — normal (feel keel bone to assess body weight)
- nostrils and ears — free from discharge and swelling
- beak — normal and not split, overgrown or brittle
- comb and wattles – firm and upstanding comb (except for large, heavy combs e.g. on some roosters), and healthy pink or red colour
- crop — the bird should have been eating, so check the crop for seed or pellets
- demeanour — the bird should be bright, alert and interested in its surroundings.
Avoid birds that are showing any signs of illness. The stress from handling, change of food, water and environment will often cause an unwell bird to deteriorate further.
Buy from a trusted seller
Ideally, buy birds directly from the breeder and avoid birds that haven't been bred on the property. There's a greater risk of disease in birds bought from auctions, shows or mixed sales, as many birds from different sources are mixed together, and conditions at the sale can be highly stressful.
Ask the seller about the vaccination history of the bird. Many diseases such as Marek's disease and infectious laryngotracheitis (ILT) can be prevented by vaccination.
Prepare a quarantine area
House newly introduced birds in an entirely separate (“quarantine”) area. Don't use the quarantine area for any other purpose (such as a breeding enclosure).
When preparing your quarantine area, keep the following tips in mind:
- the area should contain perching material, wire and flooring that's similar to the main run
- a distance of 10 metres from the main flock is enough to prevent aerosol transfer of most diseases
- use separate food and water dishes and food storage containers to those used in the main run
- make sure the quarantine area is inaccessible to foxes and other predators, and the food storage areas are rodent-proof.
When birds leave the quarantine area, clean the cage and feeding utensils thoroughly:
- replace perches (again using similar material to the main enclosure)
- scrub the whole cage and wire, including floor, then apply an appropriate disinfectant
- spell the area for at least a week, if possible.
Check new birds for parasites
When you bring a bird home:
- Examine the bird for external parasites such as lice, mites and ticks. These parasites can give rise to stress and can carry diseases. External parasites can rapidly spread to other birds in close contact.
- If evidence of parasites is seen, seek veterinary advice.
Have droppings checked by a vet
It is a good idea to have the droppings of new birds examined for internal parasites. Testing should be done when the birds are first acquired and again after 2 then 6 weeks. This is to increase the chance of detecting coccidiosis and roundworms.
Use antibiotics carefully
Antibiotics must only be used under veterinary supervision and should not be routinely used during the quarantine period. If a bird becomes ill while in quarantine, always seek veterinary advice.
If antibiotics are given routinely to new birds, there are several undesirable possibilities:
- over-growth of pathogenic organisms that are not susceptible to the selected antibiotic, especially yeasts and fungi
- creation of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria that can be transferred to the main flock.
Prepare the bird for the flock
Consider vaccination in consultation with your veterinarian and according to the health status of the rest of the flock. Note that many vaccines used in commercial flocks are not readily available for small numbers of birds (e.g. for backyard flocks).
Trim the bird's nails and renovate plumage if needed.
Time in quarantine
Birds recently infected with a disease take some time to develop signs, and healthy-looking birds can still carry disease.
The disease status of new birds can take six weeks to fully evaluate.
A minimum quarantine period of 30 days (with two negative faecal samples and no sign of illness) is recommended. If there is any sign of illness, reset the time back to day 1.
Never introduce an 'off colour' or unwell bird to your flock just because the quarantine period has passed.
All in, all out
Don't mix birds in the quarantine area: use an ‘all in, all out’ system. If it's unavoidable and new birds must be introduced to the quarantine enclosure while other birds are there, the quarantine period for all birds should start again.
Always feed, clean and handle the birds in the quarantine area after the main group. This prevents the transfer of disease from the quarantined birds to the birds in your main run.
For birds in quarantine, good nutrition is important. Food offered should be consistent during and after the quarantine period. This helps avoid any potential digestive disturbances when transfer eventually occurs.
Make sure that clean, fresh water is always available.
These suggestions are based on an article by Dr David Madill, an avian veterinarian.