Keeping Chickens Healthy: 7 Ways To Keep Out Illness

Keeping chickens healthy is a very important part of what we do. We never want to get sick even tho it happens anyway, but we do have the power to reduce the likelihood of our feathered friends getting sick. The poultry industry is borderline neurotic about keeping chickens healthy and productive, but what is standard operating procedure to them is largely impractical for your average backyard flock.


The word “biosecurity” as used in the farming industry is an umbrella term that covers all the safeguards and practices that are meant to keep infectious organisms away from crops or livestock. Professional farms have a written set of guidelines known as a “Biosecurity Plan”, tailored to their farm and circumstances.

As a licensed poultry dealer, I’m required to file an official biosecurity plan with my state agency. My biosecurity plan includes several rules for keeping chickens healthy on my farm, such as “All chicks brought into the farm must originate from an NPIP certified hatchery” and “No visitors allowed in coops”.

Keeping Chickens Healthy

The key to keeping chickens healthy is as simple as following some basic guidelines. People can’t expect a professional level biosecurity plan to work for a backyard flock, but a few basic tenets of biosecurity can be followed easily. Here are 7 good rules every flock owner should take to heart.

No Visitors

It’s hard not sharing your passion with people, but keeping people and pets out of your chicken coop or run is a huge step towards reducing the chance of making your chickens sick. Infected material can easily be tracked in by dirty boots and paws alike.

Buy Clean Birds

Don’t start your poultry venture from behind the 8 ball, be sure you’re getting clean birds from clean flocks. Big or small, be sure the hatchery you buy chicks from is National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) certified. Never buy chicks from a non certified hatchery, and if you’re buying adult birds, be sure they’re tested first or that they originated from NPIP sources.

Keeping chickens healthy

Poultry shows are exciting, but be sure to isolate the birds you bring back home after the show. Photo of the Southern New England 4-H Poultry Show, held annually at the University Of Connecticut.

Isolate Incoming Birds

If you’re bringing in new birds or returning birds that went to a show, assume they’re sick even if they look fine. Isolate these birds for 3 weeks in another barn as far away from your flock as possible. Be sure to visit this isolation coop last when you do chores to avoid tracking disease from their coop to your main coop. Watch for signs of sickness, since many times a bird won’t show symptoms for several days after contracting an illness.

Keep Things Tidy

Spilt grain and food scraps attract unwanted pests. These unwelcome visitors are adept at spreading disease, so avoid inviting them with the promise of an easy feeding. Keep your yard clear of clutter like broken equipment or piles of wood. These give rodents a place to hide and are almost as attractive as food. Don’t let stuff pile up next to your coop and keep the grass short, it will deter mice and rats from making an appearance.


You know your birds better than anyone else, so use that to your advantage. Is a chicken acting different? Are they refusing to eat? Is there a bird that just looks “off”? Do they have dirty feathers around their vent? These may all be indications of illness in your flock. If you think you have sick birds; consult your local poultry extension agent, your state poultry veterinarian or call the USDA’s toll-free veterinary hot-line at 1-866-536-7593.

Gail Damerow’s “Chicken Health Handbook” also has some great diagnostic information, but nothing beats consulting a professional.


It may sound silly, but painting a coop makes it more sanitary than an unpainted coop. Raw wood surfaces offer all sorts of bugs, bacteria and viruses places to hide and thrive. Deny them a place to stay by sealing wood surfaces like your floor, walls and perches with paint. On a budget? I buy paint from the “oops” bin at the big box home improvement stores. If they mixed the color wrong, they sell it as a big discount. Just don’t be picky about the color.

keeping chickens healthy

Disease can easily hitch a ride on tractors, chicken crates or anything that moves around the farm.

Disinfect Properly

If you’re cleaning your coop, equipment or any other potentially contaminated surface, do it right. You can’t disinfect dirt, so be sure to use soap, water and a brush to remove it all. I highly recommend using Virkon S, because bleach doesn’t quite cut it. Apply your disinfectant and let it dry. Contact time is king when talking about killing viruses and bacteria. Check out my DIY biosecurity kit for an easy way to package your cleaning stuff.

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