When raising chickens it’s always important to have a “back up” plan. Just when you think everyone in the flock is happy, content and healthy, nature has a way of surprising us. Chickens can become ill or suffer injuries. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to have a quarantine set up close at hand.
Before we had a quarantine set up, if there was an emergency with our flock, I found myself scrounging to find “something” that would work. I was already stressed because our chicken was injured or ill, and trying to throw something together, find extra water dishes, food bowls etc. didn’t help matters.
When preparing for a quarantine area, you don’t have to have the thing set up all the time, but having some items in place, something easy to assemble, knowing where items are, and having a spot in mind to set a cage can put your mind at ease. You’ll thank yourself if an emergency arises in your flock that you took the extra steps before something happened.
What you’ll need:
A cage: Dog crates, rabbit cages, or even a homemade box made from a wooden frame and chicken wire with a door can work well. Many times these things can be found free or very inexpensively at garage sales or Craigslist. Be sure to disinfect a used cage before placing animals inside.
A clean waterer and food dish: It’s best to have a food and water dish that’s designed to fit on the outside of the cage. This maximizes the space inside the cage for the chicken. It also minimizes spills and keeps the food and water cleaner. It also makes feeding and watering easy for me. I don’t have to struggle with fitting the food and water through the small door, and I don’t have to worry about the chicken escaping. For a waterer option I like the Solway Bottle Holder Cage Trough. It fits almost any bottle and is very easy to install. I love it so much that I’m going to send 2 lucky winners a Water Trough for their own Quarantine Set Up! (see below for details) For more information on the Solway Bottle Holder Cage Trough and another chance at a give away, visit the Iron Oak Farm blog!
Clean Bedding: I always have extra bedding material on hand for emergency clean ups. If I’m using a wire bottom cage, I like to place straw on the bottom to make the floor more comfortable on the bird’s feet.
Egg box– This isn’t a necessity, a hen will eventually pick a corner to lay an egg, but it might make her more comfortable and keep the eggs a bit cleaner. An old dish pan with a broken patio stone in the bottom works well. The stone stops the chicken from tipping the box over when stepping inside. I fill the top with straw or pine chips to make an inviting area.
An area to place the cage: It needs to be away from your other chickens, and sheltered from predators and weather. It also makes feeding and watering easier if the cage is elevated on a table so you don’t have to crawl in to reach things. (We placed this cage on the lawn outside for better photographs. Normally it would be in the barn.)
Disinfectant spray: Like bleach to sanitize after use.
A Tarp: to protect surfaces under the cage especially in the car if the animal needs to be transported to a vet etc.
The quarantine area doesn’t need to be set up at all times, expecting an emergency. Many crates fold down to conserve space, and can be easily assembled when the time is needed. Items can be kept together in a box and stored in the garage or a shed.
Keep Quarantine items separate and only for quarantine use. After an animal uses the equipment, sanitize with a bleach solution and warm water. If contamination is an issue, remove soiled bedding and burn or bag up and throw away. Sanitize all waterers, food dishes and the cage itself. I do this by spraying the cage and items with bleach, letting the bleach sit for a while then rinse with warm water and let dry in the sun. Throw away any items that can’t be sanitized and replace with new ones.
While emergencies are top on the list of reasons to have a quarantine set up, the need to separate a chicken from the rest of your flock doesn’t have to usher up images of hazmat suits and the plague, there are many reasons to have an area that one or more members of your flock can stay away from the rest of the birds for a spell.
Reasons to Quarantine/Separate:
Injury– Chickens are drawn to the color red. Many times chickens will peck an injury making it worse.
Illness– if a chicken seems lethargic, drooping wings, irregular stool, swelling, coughing sneezing, change in comb color or anything else out-of-the-ordinary, it’s a good idea to separate that bird as fast as possible from the rest of your flock. It may not be contagious, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Quarantine allows you to focus on that bird alone, administer medications if necessary, and observe symptoms.
New Birds– Whenever you purchase/adopt a new bird, it’s always a good idea to quarantine that bird for at least 2 weeks. Even chickens that appear to be healthy can be carrying disease that your flock might not have an immunity for. Watch the bird for signs of illness, check for mites, and it’s not a bad idea to wash the feet of the new bird. If weather permits, a full bath is a good idea as well. (For more on bathing chickens check out my post Chicken Bath 101) Quarantining a new bird will also give you time to get to know this new member of the flock. The specialized attention and separate feeding will give you time to learn about this new chicken.
If you’re selling a chicken, it’s not a bad idea to separate the chicken that is for sale. The buyer will appreciate being able to meet the chicken for sale without having to chase it all over the yard.
Traveling– A quick put-together-cage is very handy when traveling with birds. Whether it’s an emergency trip to the vet, or if you get an opportunity to pick up a new member of your flock, laying a tarp down in the back of your car and having a quick travel cage makes life easier.
Broody– If you have a hen that is particularly broody and you’d like to break that streak, sometimes separating her from her old surroundings can force that desire from her.
Pecking Order– If you have a chicken that is being bullied by a member of the flock, instinctively you’d want to remove the victim. I’ve found that removing the bully sometimes works better. (unless the chicken is injured) Every time a chicken is removed from the flock for an extended amount of time, that chicken needs to re-establish pecking order when it is re-introduced. So if a chicken is already being picked on, removing it can sometimes make pecking order that much more violent when it re-unites with the flock. If you remove the bully, the bully often looses its rank among the flock and then it’s that chicken’s burden to re-establish itself. I’ve seen this work successfully many times.
Administering special feed or medicines– Isolating a chicken with special needs makes things less stressful for both you and the chicken. Depending on how tame your flock is, chasing and catching a chicken each day to change a bandage, or give medication can be bad for everyone involved.
Show Ready– A separation cage can help keep chickens clean after a bath before a show. Some shows also advise that chickens be quarantined before a show for health purposes.
Separating for breeding or to collect certain eggs– Cages can also be helpful if you need to separate a hen to sterilize the breeding lines. After being with a rooster a hen can lay fertilized eggs for up to two weeks. If you want clean lines, you can separate a hen until she is no longer laying fertilized eggs. Then, introduce her to the rooster that you choose. Again the cage can also be helpful in collecting fertilized eggs from the desired rooster. This way there is no doubt as to which hen is laying which eggs.
Some things NOT to use a separation cage for:
I don’t recommend using your quarantine cage as a double for a brooder box. Especially if you have an existing adult flock. Chicks are especially prone to disease so I wouldn’t want babies in a cage that might have held chickens that were ill, no matter the level of sanitation. Also, if an existing member of your flock becomes ill while the chicks are in the cage, then you won’t have a place to put that chicken.
A few things to keep in mind:
Chickens forget easily and removing a bird for too long will result in that bird needing to be re-established in pecking order. Sometimes this is necessary. If the bird doesn’t however pose a direct threat to the health of your other chickens, it’s a good idea to place the cage in an area where the other chickens can see, smell and interact to a certain degree with the removed bird. This will help with re-introduction.