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How to protect your flock

Cleaning and Disinfecting Checklist for Backyard Poultry Owners (English & Spanish. USDA-APHIS)

What is biosecurity?

Biosecurity involves the use of husbandry practices that help protect your animals from infectious diseases. Backyard poultry can become sick, suffer, and die by being exposed to unseen disease agents like bacteria, viruses, internal parasites, and certain types of fungi.

Why is biosecurity important?

Certain things in the environment can help disease agents multiply and become more likely to cause disease. These disease agents can hide on equipment, shoes, clothing, hands, in the soil, and even in your hair! By practicing biosecurity, starting with the steps outlined below, you can make the environment safer for your birds.

In addition to protecting your flock, it is important to note that some of these diseases can affect humans. This means that when you are using biosecurity, you are helping to keep your birds, as well as you, your family, friends, and community, healthy and safe.

6 Ways to Prevent Poultry Diseases

There are many husbandry practices you can use to help prevent infectious poultry diseases. Here are some key strategies:

1. Protect Your Flock’s Environment

Keep your flock’s environment isolated from contact with other animals and people.

  • Restrict access to your birds from other animals and people. If possible, fence or house them in an area where they will be protected.
  • Minimize the number of people who come through your birds’ environment. If other people visit your flock, make sure they have not been around other birds within the previous 48 hours and are appropriately clean with clean clothes and shoes/shoe covers.
  • Do not allow your poultry near ponds where they may interact with migrating birds, including ducks and geese.
  • Keep your poultry area clutter-free. Clutter can provide a home for unwanted rodents and other pests. Store bird feed in closed varmint-proof containers or away from your flock, as it may attract other animals that could be harboring disease.

2. Keep Things Clean

Contaminated people or items can carry disease agents to your flock and a dirty environment can increase the chances of your flock getting a preventable disease.

  • When you are working with or around your birds, wear clean clothes including shoes/boots. Clean shoe covers can help as well if your shoes/boots are used for more than going to see your birds. A long-handled scrub brush and disinfectant can help remove droppings and debris from the bottom of your shoes/boots. Many disease agents can survive better in organic material, including feces and dirt, therefore, clean shoes and boots are critical. Consider having dedicated clothing when caring for your flock.
  • If you have been around any other birds or an environment that might have had birds, you should shower and wash your hair before visiting your flock. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling your birds and equipment.
  • If you attend events where other birds are present such as fairs, bird shows, or flea markets it is recommended to wait 48 hours before coming into contact with your own birds.
    • If you are not able to wait 48 hours, at least make sure that you, your clothes, and your shoes are clean before handling your flock.
  • Clean cages, feeders, and waterers regularly.

3. Take Precautions with New and Returning Birds

Any new birds or returning birds that have been around other birds/flocks have potentially been exposed to disease. It sometimes takes birds a long time to become sick after being exposed so they may not be showing signs of disease. It is strongly recommended to quarantine new and returning birds at least 30 days to reduce the risk of them bringing diseases into your flock.

  • It is strongly recommended to quarantine any new birds or birds coming home from travelling (like to a show or fair) from the rest of your flock for at least 30 days.
    • Quarantine involves a completely separate environment with no direct contact between birds. Birds separated by a single fence can still spread disease, so this would not be appropriate for quarantine.
  • Visit your healthy, unexposed birds in your flock first before visiting any quarantined birds. This is so that you do not carry any disease agents from the quarantined birds to the rest of your flock.
    • Be sure to change into clean clothes, wear clean shoes/shoe covers, and wash your hands after visiting your quarantined birds.
  • Do not treat healthy quarantined birds with medications while they are under quarantine. Giving medications to these birds can mask the signs of disease but not stop the birds from spreading disease. So, you might mistake these birds for being healthy and introduce them into your flock.
    • It is strongly recommended to be working with a veterinarianbefore you give your birds any medications. Using the wrong medications without a diagnosis can cause your birds more harm than good and can lead to drug resistant disease agents.

4. Don’t Borrow Disease from Your Neighbor

Do not expose your flock to your neighbors’ birds or equipment that comes into contact with their birds. This will help reduce the risk of your flock being exposed to diseases.

  • Do not share lawn and garden equipment, poultry cages, or other poultry supplies with other bird owners.
    • If this cannot be avoided, clean and disinfect equipment before bringing them to your flock. Also, remember to clean and disinfect borrowed equipment before returning them to your neighbor.
  • Never share wooden, cardboard, or other porous items because they cannot be cleaned and disinfected well enough to kill disease agents.

5. Prevent Germs from Getting a Free Ride

Disease agents can be carried to/from your flock through vehicles, especially tires. If you travel to a location where other birds are present, or even to the feed store, disinfect tires before you return to your property. It may be easiest to go through a car wash.

6. Keep Sick Birds Separate

If any birds in your flock appear sick, remove them from the flock and isolate them to reduce the chance of disease spreading to the rest of the flock.

  • If any of your birds show signs of disease or are clearly sick, isolate them from the rest of your flock. Clean and disinfect any poultry supplies or flock equipment after use with sick birds.
  • Visit your healthy flock first before working with your isolated sick birds. If your birds are separated by age, care for the youngest birds first, when possible.
    • Once you have cared for your sick birds, wash up, clean your shoes/change shoe covers, and put on clean clothes while trying to avoid contaminating your home environment as best as you can.
  • Again, you should always see a veterinarian who sees poultry before treating sick birds! Using the wrong medications without a diagnosis can cause your birds more harm than good and can lead to drug resistant disease agents.

Make these practices part of your routine because biosecurity is an investment in the health of your birds, your family, and your community.

Early detection can help prevent the spread of disease. Knowing the signs to look for and monitoring the health of your birds on a regular basis is very important. Some signs to look for include nasal discharge, unusually quiet birds, decreased food and water consumption, drop in egg production, and increased/unusual death loss in your flock.

All persons practicing veterinary medicine in North Carolina shall report the following diseases and conditions to the State Veterinarian's office by telephone within two hours after the disease is reasonably suspected to exist.

Additional resources







Office of the State Veterinarian
N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Mailing Address:1030 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1030
Physical Address: 2 W. Edenton Street, Raleigh, NC 27601
Phone: 919-707-3250; FAX: 919-733-2277

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