Poultry production: How to prevent the spread of disease between farms

Biosecurity is critical in any poultry production facility. Without it, disease outbreaks could occur, and farmers could suffer financial losses.

A biosecurity programme doesn’t have to be expensive; even farmers operating on a tight budget can make it work.

“Biosecurity should be a way of life,” says Dr. Deryn Petty, a veterinarian from the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. “In essence, farmers have to be aware of potential risks that could affect their operation.”


  • Biosecurity is a set of preventative measures designed to reduce the risk of disease spreading from one poultry facility to another.
  • Farmers, employees and visitors to the farm have to adhere to biosecurity regulations to help prevent industry-wide epidemics.


Petty says that one of the easiest ways to spread diseases such as Newcastle or avian influenza is by people visiting a farm. The best preventative measure is to restrict access to poultry facilities. Feed and chick trucks, veterinarians, servicemen or inspection officials have to come on to the property periodically, but all unauthorised personnel should be kept out and vehicle traffic should be controlled.

Petty suggests that farmers fence off the area around the poultry facility and create a parking area away from the chicken houses. Ask guests if they’ve recently visited another poultry facility, as this could increase the risk of infection. Try to keep a log of all personnel and vehicles moving on and off the premises – if something does go wrong, these logs could help you to identify the source of the disease or failure in biosecurity.

Farmers who have chickens of different ages should be particularly vigilant. It’s important to control traffic through the chicken houses. Always start working with the youngest chickens which have less resistance and then move on to older birds.  Provide clean clothing and footwear for anyone entering the facilities. Keep clean dust coats and boots handy for visitors, and make sure that all employees have (and wear) protective clothing. Only use plastic boots that can be disinfected.

Clean footbaths often and replace water at least once a day. Household bleach can be used as a disinfectant, but remember that it can become inactive if it comes into contact with organic matter. Petty suggests using products containing glutaraldehyde.

Clean footbaths on a regular basis


She says farmers should only buy chicks from a reputable supplier. “Always ask the hatchery if they have fully vaccinated chicks.” Even if chicks were vaccinated at the hatchery, farmers should vaccinate again at seven, 14 and 21 days. Vaccines cost about R20 per 1 000, Petty says. “Good biosecurity means that you will spend less on antibiotics and possible production losses resulting from disease,” Petty says.

Poultry farmers should not keep backyard flocks, pet birds or exotic fowls on the property. Cover all air vents and openings with narrow mesh wire screens to keep out wild birds. And watch out for rodents, as they are also carriers of disease. If rodents have access to feed, they can contaminate it and place poultry production under further risk.

All chicken carcasses should be buried, destroyed by burning, or composted. Bury carcasses at least 1 – 1½ m underground. Petty says farmers should remember that burial is not a long-term solution, as there is a risk of nitrogen contamination of the groundwater.

It is important that vaccines be handled and transported with care. Use a cooler bad containing an Ice brick to keep it cool.


Cleaning and disinfecting are critical in a biosecurity programme. Petty says farmers should clean and disinfect houses after every cycle – this includes scrubbing the walls, floor, ceiling, drinkers and feeders.“This should be done at least twice and farmers should try to have at least two weeks downtime before starting with the next production cycle,” she says.

During the two weeks, leave the curtaining up for air to circulate, but keep the house locked to prevent other animals entering. Remove all litter material and store it far away from the house. Farmers can make extra money by selling the litter to vegetable farmers to use as fertiliser, but only after the litter has been stored for at least 21 days.

She says the litter may be piled up in a heap, or stored in bags. This allows bacteria to generate the heat needed to destroy any harmful organisms.


  • Temperature fluctuations can cause disease in chicks, especially in the first seven to 10 days. If the internal temperature of the house is not consistent, chick resistance will be lower. Farmers should keep a thermometer in each house to monitor the temperature.
  • Disinfect all vehicles that enter the property. This can be done by high pressure washing with a detergent.
  • Farmers who suspect a disease outbreak should call their state veterinarian immediately. They should keep the corpse of a bird that has recently died (preferably not more than two hours old)  for examination. Store in a cooler box with an ice brick.

Enquiries: Dr. Petty: (tel) +27 (0) 11 355 1876 or  (cell) +27 (0) 83 391 0686.

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