When, Why, and How to Quarantine

Quarantining is a common practice for poultry owners. It is used both as a biosecurity measure and as a general safety and comfort measure. We’ll explore the two main reasons why you quarantine birds…

Reason 1: If one of your birds gets injured.

Birds can be pretty mean and pick on an injured flock member. This picking can make the injury worse, can cause a greater chance of infection, and can even lead to death. At its best, it causes extra stress for the injured bird, making the healing process harder and the possibility of infection higher.

When you keep chickens, you should definitely have a quarantine pen or a “fortress of solitude” planned and ready. The quarantine pen should allow the occupant to be safe from the other birds.

Be sure there is food and water within easy reach and keep the space clean. Birds get stressed being by themselves as they are flock oriented. Some people will set up the quarantine pen inside the coop so the injured bird can see everyone but not get picked on.

I usually take the injured bird into my house though. I find it much easier to keep my eye on her and keep things clean. I set up the quarantine pen in a quiet room of the house, and I keep the shades down. The darkened room helps keep the bird calm while she recuperates and heals. I also use a Flower Essence Remedy called “Rescue Remedy” that you can usually find in any drug store. It helps birds to stay calm, cool and collected in times like these. Once she is better, I am careful to gradually reintroduce her to the flock as sometimes birds forget their place in the flock hierarchy.

Reason 2: If you are introducing new birds to your flock.

New birds may be carriers of a disease, even if they look fine. In other words, they developed immunity to a certain disease and are healthy, but they still carry germs or parasites in their mucus or fecal matter that could infect the birds of your flock that have not had the opportunity to develop immunity. This also applies to your original flock – they may be carrying a disease, despite being perfectly healthy, that the new birds never were exposed to.

In this case, you need to make sure that there is absolutely no contact at all between the new birds and your existing flock. They must be kept completely separate, keeping in mind that you or other people can carry the germs or parasites from the new birds to your flock.

Be sure that there are about 20 yards at least of distance between the quarantined birds and your existing flock. I like keeping my quarantined birds in a building, so I can be sure there is no air-transmittal. Many bird diseases can be transmitted through the air. The airborne germs can also be carried in the dust and lifted by flapping wings, this dust can easily settle on your coat or pants and then be carried with you to the other set of birds. So be sure to change your clothing. This also means that it is not at all acceptable to just put a divider in your coop or run! That is not a quarantine!

Fecal matter is also a huge vector for transmission of germs and parasites, and can easily be transported on the bottoms of your shoes. If you don’t have a second pair of boots, get a pack of disposable plastic boots that can be worn over your boots and then thrown away. Be careful to thoroughly wash your hands or use disposable plastic gloves.  You can learn more about germs, parasites, and bacteria common for chickens in “Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens.”

We also have a rule that we always take care of the original birds first, then the new ones in quarantine.

Of course, never share any waterers or feeders between the two sets of birds or any equipment. It can be hard to keep this in mind sometimes. I had to shovel out the door of a quarantined group once and just went and got my shovel. I stopped myself just in time…

Always quarantine the new birds for at least 30 days. Watch for any signs of illness and for parasites during that time. 30 days gives the birds time to display symptoms if they were just starting to get sick. Also, the stress of moving has the potential to bring on any latent issues or diseases in birds. Many experts recommend as long as 60 days though.

Keeping the quarantined birds in a confined space, where you can easily and actively observe them is best. Check them for parasites like lice and mites. Watch for coughing, watery discharges around the face, swelling around the face, gurgling. Also be aware if they are all eating and drinking heartily, any lack of appetite or failure to drink is a sure sign something is wrong. The birds should look active and perky. They should be preening regularly. If they are standing around, hunched and depressed looking, suspect a disease. Watch for swollen or pale combs and wattles or ratty looking feathers. They should always exhibit proper coordination.

And take note! It is usually recommended by most experts that you never introduce new adult birds to a healthy flock. It is always considered a risk, especially with diseases such as Mycoplasma gallisepticum, where some birds are carriers. These carrier birds appear completely healthy but pass on the disease to non-carriers. Some people suggest putting one of your original hens in with the new birds to see if she gets sick, before exposing the whole flock.

Check out our other Blog in this series, Biosecurity: Integrating New Birds into Your Flock for tips on integrating the birds once the quarantine time period is over.