Quarantine of Backyard Chickens: When and How

Given the inclination of backyard chicken keepers to add chickens to their existing flocks, also known as "chicken math," it is extremely important that proper quarantine procedures are followed when bringing new flock members home. Failure to quarantine new flock members can result in the death of an entire flock of chickens.
Given the inclination of
backyard chicken keepers to add chickens to their existing flocks, also known as “chicken math,” it is
extremely important that proper quarantine procedures are followed when bringing new flock members home. Failure to quarantine new flock members can- and often does- result in the death of an
entire flock.
This flock was lost due to improper quarantine procedures when new chickens were brought into the backyard.
To illustrate the importance
of quarantine, a long-time Facebook follower, Melissa Stalpers, has graciously offered to share
her story. This timeline documents the events leading up to the loss of her entire flock recently:
November 9: Melissa bought 3, six month
old, healthy-looking, Cinnamon Queen chickens from a breeder through Craigslist. Unknowingly, she did not properly quarantine the new chickens from her existing flock of 42 chickens. (they were in a crate near her flock)
November 19: the new birds develop
bubbly, clear fluid in their eyes and nostrils, breathing sounds rattly and
they begin falling over. Within hours, 2 of the 3 new birds died. Melissa wrote to me on
Facebook & I recommended that she obtain a necropsy of the deceased birds.
The dangers of failing to quarantine mew chickens.
**Any time a sick
chicken dies suspiciously, a necropsy of the deceased bird(s) should be performed. Information about obtaining a necropsy can be found HERE.

Chicken Health & Poultry Management Resources by State
November 20th: third new bird died.
First existing flock member developed the same symptoms the new birds exhibited. 
Ameraucana hen with matted feathers around the eyes due to the discharge from MG.
Ameraucana hen with matted feathers around the eyes due to the discharge from MG.

November 30th: Five existing flock members have died. Bird sent to have necropsy performed.

December 6th: Veterinarian confirms mycoplasma gallisepticum (aka: MG, chronic respiratory disease, CRD). This highly contagious, respiratory disease was likely latent in the Cinnamon Queens and the stress of moving caused the disease to become active and spread. Remaining flock members were treated with Baytril, Cipro and eye drops to mitigate the symptoms, but would always remain carriers of MG. 
Melissa's daughter helps medicate the flock, a process that took 2 hours every day.
Melissa’s daughter helps medicate the flock, a process that took 2 hours every day.

By December 11: the entire flock of 42 birds had died and the family was distraught.
Melissa's healthy flock members.
Melissa’s flock members in healthier days.
 Again, many thanks to Melissa for sharing her story so that we can benefit from her experience. 
WHAT IS QUARANTINE?
To quarantine means to completely isolate
newly acquired birds from an existing flock for a significant period of
time, during which they are observed for diseases and parasites.
WHY QUARANTINE?
A chicken can appear perfectly healthy while
harboring problems (diseases and parasites) that may not be obvious initially.  Quarantining provides an opportunity to watch
for health dangers without risking the health of an existing flock. Moving chickens from
one home to another is a major stressor, which can cause
latent diseases to become active posing a health threat to other
birds.
HOW TO QUARANTINE
Birds from different
backyards, farms or facilities should be quarantined as long as possible in
separate housing, away from the main flock; the bare minimum recommendation is
two weeks, but 30-60 days is preferred.  During the quarantine period, testing can be performed if
desired (eg: fecal float testing for worms, bloodwork for other communicable diseases) and a lice or mite infestation can
be identified and treated. Once the quarantine period is over and all the new birds still appear healthy, they can be integrated gradually into the existing flock.
QUALITY QUARANTINE =  D.I.T.O.: Distance, Isolation, Time, Observation
Distance
Keep new birds at least 12 yards away from existing flock. Some diseases, such as mycoplasma gallisepticum, can
travel in the air.
These Silver Spangled Hamburg pullets were kept in my basement in January, far away from the main flock, for 6 weeks before they took up residence in our new coop.
These Silver Spangled Hamburg pullets were kept in my basement in January, far away from the main flock, for 6 weeks before they took up residence in our new coop.
Isolation  
Keep new birds confined and isolated in a dedicated pen or other suitable area. Don’t share equipment, clothes, shoes,
feeders, waterers between the new birds & existing flock.  For example: do not wear the same boots to feed
the new birds and then walk to the existing flock in the same boots as many pathogens can be carried on clothes, equipment and shoes.
Keep new birds confined and isolated in a dedicated pen or other suitable area. Don’t share equipment, clothes, shoes, feeders, waterers between the new birds & existing flock. For example: do not wear the same boots to feed the new birds and then walk to the existing flock in the same boots as many pathogens can be carried on clothes, equipment and shoes.
Time
The longer a bird is in quarantine, the greater the opportunity for diseases to
manifest themselves and be detected. Three weeks is the bare minimum recommendation, but longer is better
Observation
Observe
new birds for signs of illness including: coughing, sneezing, gurgling, red,
swollen or watery eyes, eye or nasal discharge, paralysis of legs and/or wings,
discolored combs/wattles, drowsiness, depression, uncoordinated movements, lack
of appetite, failure to drink and/or unusual droppings (bloody, worms,
diarrhea). Never add birds with signs of disease to the flock.
After the quarantine period has expired and everyone checks out okay, the process of integration into the existing flock can begin.

After the quarantine period has expired and everyone checks out okay, the process of integration into the existing flock can begin. Learn how to go about introducing the newbies without bloodshed while minimizing stress in this article.
Learn how to go about introducing the newbies without bloodshed while minimizing stress in this article.
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Kathy Shea Mormino, The Chicken Chick®

Comments

avatar
TheChickenChick
Guest

Thanks. 🙂

nmconscience
Guest

Great post as I was just going to ask about protocols to follow going to, during and after a big poultry show. It seemed to me that bringing a ton of different birds from all over to one place and in close proximity to each other would totally negate any of the flock isolation theories I have read about.

Mary
Guest

I purchased some chicks and their moma. I had zero hands on experience. I did many, many hours of reasearch. I still bought sick birds. So now I have birds that will always be a carrier for whatever respiratory illness they might have had. I don't want to cull them. Does this mean I can never have any other birds? As far as I can identify, the illness has never been more than runny eyes and has cleared completely from all but the smallest one.

Sarah Ann Tirpak
Guest
I hope this is a good place to post this, and again, I thank you for all your replies to my questions and this blog in its entirety. I think I would like to get some bantams for my flock to complete it (haha, yeah right said every chicken keeper!) I would be integrating them into a flock of 4 orpington, a couple golden buffs and a couple australorpe hens. Whats a safe number to introduce ( I have heard to introduce them in numbers, oppressed to one or two at a time) and will they be any less safe… Read more »
Brooks Kelley
Guest

HELP!!! I have a chicken that has lost her balance and I don't know why! I have isolated her and need some help please. I live in northern Indiana so I can't afford for my chicks to be less that healthy in this cold. Thanks

TheChickenChick
Guest

Perhaps the breeder will take them back?

Melissa
Guest
I have 4 hens( almost 2 years old) all purchased together as baby chicks at tractor supply. a few weeks ago I bought 5 new baby chicks from a local breeder, 3-5 days old. now 1 of those chicks has a swollen eye in the corner, no breathing problems or mucus.These babies have been in the house since I brought them home, so they have not had contact with my outside hens. I am worried now that this chick has an UR problem and now all of my chickens will be carriers. We have these hens as pets and for… Read more »
Melissa
Guest
I have 4 hens( almost 2 years old) all purchased together as baby chicks at tractor supply. a few weeks ago I bought 5 new baby chicks from a local breeder, 3-5 days old. now 1 of those chicks has a swollen eye in the corner, no breathing problems or mucus.These babies have been in the house since I brought them home, so they have not had contact with my outside hens. I am worried now that this chick had a UR problem and now all of my chickens will be carriers. We have these hens as pets and for… Read more »
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