Small Flock Poultry

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This page contains useful resources and information on husbandry practices, disease prevention tips and good management practices for backyard and urban chicken owners


  • Virulent Newcastle Disease in California 2018
    Since May 18, the United States Department of Agriculture has confirmed several cases of virulent Newcastle Disease in backyard exhibition chickens in San Bernardino and Los Angeles, California.
    Newcastle disease is a highly contagious and fatal viral disease affecting the respiratory, nervous and digestive systems of wild birds and domestic poultry. The most severe form of the disease, known as velogenic (virulent) Newcastle Disease cause severe mortality in chickens, many birds may die without showing any clinical signs.
    Newcastle Disease is a provincially/federally reportable disease. While it has never been reported in domestic poultry in Canada, a small number of cases of Newcastle disease were identified in Canada’s wild bird population.

    Clinical signs of VND may include: decreased egg production, diarrhea, respiratory distress, tremors, circling, twisting of head and neck, sudden deaths.
    If you're concerned about your flock's health please contact your veterinarian. To report cases of unusual mortality or severe disease contact the Office of the Chief Provincial Veterinarian 780-427-3448.

    Biosecurity is the best way to protect your flock against diseases like Newcastle Disease and Avian Influenza. Always remember to:
    • Wash hands and scrub boots before and after entering an area with birds;
    • Clean and disinfect tires and equipment before moving them off the property; and
    • Isolate any birds returning from shows for 30 days before placing them with the rest of the flock

    For additional information on vND outbreaks in California visit the USDA website.

  • Raising chickens in Alberta. (pdf 21,345 KB)
    This 10-module workbook is designed as a guide for small flock, backyard and urban chicken owners. Use this guide as a resource to help you raise your chickens. After you have completed the workbook, you will be able to:
      • Determine if regulations allow you to raise chickens in your area
      • Meet the basic needs of your chickens including feed, water, light, ventilation and housing
      • Identify diseases and inappropriate behaviours of chickens and how to prevent them
      • Adjust your management of the flock to address Alberta’s extreme weather conditions
      • Take steps to keep your flock safe from predators and disease (biosecurity)
      • Keep your family safe from disease that can come from live poultry and poultry products

  • Keeping your flock, your food, and your family healthy (pdf 848 KB)
    Did you know that even healthy birds, their eggs, and meat can all be sources of bacteria that can make you sick? With some basic hygiene and handling practices you and your family can care for your birds safely.

  • Adding new chicks to your flock. (pdf 1,491 KB)
    Adding new chicks to your flock is an exciting activity. Whether you are adding to a recreational flock or a breeding line or getting layers or broilers, new additions to the flock can bring joy, but also disease.
    Protect your existing flock with simple steps: get new chicks from a reputable source, and, quarantine new birds for 30 days to watch for signs of disease.

  • Safe handling of baby poultry . (pdf 175 KB)
    Contact with live poultry (chicks, chickens, ducklings, ducks, geese and turkeys) can be a source of germs and infections, even if a bird appears healthy and clean. There are things you can do to help keep yourself, your family and birds safe.

  • Sick chickens? (pdf 1,585 KB)
    Learning more about disease prevention and management will help you keep your flock healthy! You can make a big difference by watching for signs of disease in your birds and taking action as quickly as possible. Get advice from knowledgeable, helpful and trustworthy sources
    Looking for veterinary care for your small flock? Visit the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association (ABVMA) web page, follow the blue tab labelled "search for veterinary care", define a search criteria and you'll find a list of veterinary practices offering services for Poultry-Small flock.

    Some poultry diseases can have a devastating impact, and they must be reported to the province for monitoring and disease control. If you suspect a reportable disease like ILT, avian influenza, or Newcastle disease, contact the Office of Alberta's Chief Provincial Veterinarian at 780-427-3448 (call toll-free in Alberta by dialing 310-0000)

  • Non-Quota/Non-Commercial Poultry Disease Investigations
        Alberta Agriculture and Forestry has a small-flock disease investigation program to help non-quota/non-commercial (NQ/NC) poultry owners and their veterinarians.The main goal of this program is the early detection of highly contagious provincially and federally reportable poultry diseases such as avian influenza, Newcastle disease, infectious laryngotracheitis, and Salmonella. The program also helps NQ/NC poultry owners manage these diseases.

  • Infectious Laryngotracheitis (ILT)
    Infectious laryngotracheitis is a respiratory disease of chickens, pheasants, and peafowl. It is highly contagious and is spread either by infected birds or other birds through mechanical means. Clinical signs of the disease include general unthriftiness, decreased egg production, watery eyes with conjunctivitis, swelling of the sinuses, persistent nasal discharge, coughing and sneezing.
    The best prevention is to only purchase birds from a source known to be free of ILT or to maintain a closed flock (no additions from other flocks). Remember, birds can appear clinically normal, yet be infected with ILT and shed this virus to healthy resident birds if they have been stressed.

  • Avian Influenza. (pdf 435 KB)
    Avian influenza (AI), sometimes called “avian flu” or “bird flu,” is a contagious viral disease that affects the respiratory, digestive and/or nervous systems of many bird species, including domestic poultry and wild birds. Did you know? When wild birds migrate, it increases your poultry’s risk of being exposed to bird flu. You can take steps to reduce the risk to your flock from avian influenza, such as reducing or eliminating contact with wild birds.
    Listen to this interview with Dr. Colleen Christianson, veterinary pathologist, on Call of the Land to learn more about avian influenza.

  • Euthanasia and disposal. (pdf 252 KB)
    Euthanasia is the ending of the life of an individual animal in a way that minimizes or eliminates pain, anxiety and distress. Euthanasia means a good death for the animal. Proper euthanasia, done at the right time, reduces suffering due to disease, pain from injury and distress from ill thrift. The decision to euthanize is subjective, and depends on farm management practices and experience.
    The manual Practical Guidelines for On-Farm Euthanasia of Poultry (pdf 1.58 Mb) produced by the Poultry Industry Council offers science and research-based guidelines and description of different on-farm poultry euthanasia methods.
    As a small-flock poultry owner you will, at some point, have to end your birds' lives because of disease, welfare, or other issues. It is your responsibility to ensure your birds are correctly euthanized and their carcasses disposed of appropriately.

  • Cleaning and disinfection of poultry premises. (pdf 146 KB)
    Effective cleaning and disinfection in between poultry flocks will reduce the likelihood of spreading diseases to your new flock. Follow this four-step process (dry cleaning, washing, disinfecting and drying) before placing new birds.

  • Chickens and Bears (pdf 262 KB)
    As the number of small flocks in Alberta increase, the number of negative encounters with bears has also increased. By following a series of proactive measures you can be BearSmart and protect your animals, property and family.
    Raising poultry in bear country? have you considered installing an electric fence to protect your yard?

    What is Biosecurity? Everything we do to prevent or reduce the introduction and spread of disease to livestock and poultry. Remember: little things count to help keep small flocks healthy.

  • Egg handling and cleaning
      Bacteria can be found in many places in a chicken coop: in the dirt, litter, nest boxes, or manure. Egg shells may seem solid, but they have microscopic openings called “pores” to allow gases and moisture to move through. Bacteria can also enter the egg through these pores and create a food safety hazard.
      Proper handling of eggs is crucial to keep these pores clean. Egg shells can become dirty from fecal matter (droppings), broken eggs, shavings, and feathers. Bacteria on the eggshell can contaminate hands, cooking surfaces and food. The use of proper egg handling and washing techniques can reduce the risk of unwanted bacteria, and it promotes food safety.
  • Did you know that having a premises identification (PID) can help protect your birds in case of a disease outbreak or natural disaster, and that it's required by law?
  • Agricultural producers are renowned for being good stewards of the land. Some generally accepted agricultural practices that demonstrate good environmental stewardship by small flock poultry operations include:
    1. Developing an environmental farm plan to assess the environmental risks associated with the poultry operation.
    2. Applying manure, litter or composted manure or litter on ground more than 150 m from buildings where people live, work or frequent.
    3. Applying manure, litter or composted manure or litter on ground more than 30 m from surface water (e.g., creeks) and ground water sources (e.g., wells).
    4. Storing of manure should be done in a manner which minimizes the movement of manure nutrients from the storage. This would include managing both surface water runoff and downward movement of nutrients into the soil.
    5. Storing mortalities in sealed bins that cannot be accessed by scavengers until they are disposed of appropriately.
    6. Establishing shelterbelts to manage odour, dust and other air emissions.
  • Small flock: hobby or business?
    The Livestock and Farm Business section works with farm businesses, advisors, livestock clients and producer/ processor organizations to:
    1. Improve profitability and competitiveness
    2. Develop tools and methods to mitigate and manage risks
    3. Improve marketing (niche, local, or commodity level) to expand market channels and add value to products
    4. Facilitate supply chain collaboration and provide access to key resources necessary to develop and grow markets
    5. Connect clients to relevant funding and loan programs
    6. Discover, learn and share traditional and cutting edge production techniques to increase sustainability
    7. Assist clients with startup, growth and succession planning phases of the business life cycle

Additional resources for small flock owners
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Ana Ulmer-Franco.
This document is maintained by Anamika Sharma.
This information published to the web on September 10, 2015.
Last Reviewed/Revised on June 11, 2018.