Sustainable Poultry Practices Begin with a Comprehensive Biosecurity Program


By Cristiano Pereira, Regional Technical Manager, Southeast Brazil, Cobb-Vantress, Inc.


If there is one lesson learned from the pandemic, it is that the global supply chain is vulnerable to disruptions that can lead to inconsistent product availability and increased prices. The poultry supply chain is not invulnerable. Just as COVID-19 disrupted the workforce supporting the poultry industry, avian influenza can disrupt the supply chain because flocks of chickens that test positive for the disease are eliminated.

Achieving food security in poultry production requires the involvement of many areas of the production continuum, and success depends on continuous management. Production managers must be able to lead the actions of their team members and have a solid knowledge of all the connections in the continuum to produce an environment that facilitates poultry health and, in turn, food security.

As a broiler breeder producer, we are the beginning of the food production chain. Keeping our breeders healthy and secure serves as a strong foundation for food throughout the entire production chain. We accomplish this security by implementing a detailed and rigid biosecurity program.

Biosecurity must be the focus of a breeder management program. Broiler breeders are on the farm for a significant amount of time and are responsible for generating eggs for the broiler industry. Clearly, biosecurity must be integrated with farm management practices, protocols, and standards created to reduce the risk of introducing disease to the flocks. The development of a strong biosecurity program involves many factors including employee commitment and training that stresses the importance of strict enforcement.


The breeder production process must begin with day-old chicks free of pathogens. Once on the farm all biosecurity measures must be employed to maintain this pathogen-free status. However, it is not possible to control all the processes related to rearing and production without having rigorous guidelines as part of good management practices (GMPs). These practices are not generic, and each program must map their operations related to rearing and fertile eggs production and handling.

The first step is to identify and describe all important farm activities. The second step is to define which activities represent potential risks of pathogens entering the operation. Finally, use this risk assessment exercise to define the best actions to prevent pathogen risks. For example, avian influenza is typically transferred horizontally. Initial exposure is typically oral, but as infection increases (3 to 5 day incubation) in the flock, conjunctival and respiratory routes of infection are possible. Normal waterfowl can carry avian influenza in their gastrointestinal tract. With that knowledge, taking actions to limit direct contact with potentially contaminated wild birds is critical to a sound biosecurity program. Taking actions to protect flocks from sources of avian influenza includes monitoring feed and water supplies. Develop policies that prevent team member exposure to waterfowl and equipment and clothing that may have been contaminated by wild bird feces. This would include exposure to birds through hunting, backyard flocks, and zoos. Cobb team members that come in contact (intentional or accidental) with outside birds must report the exposure to their supervisor and follow the corporate minimum farm withdrawal time (72 h) before returning to the poultry farm. This time may be extended to 7 days if a team member is exposed to diseased birds.

Flocks do not become infected with disease by chance. By tracing back over the processes, with all the standards, controls, and records available, we can identify the source of an infection. Traceability is as important as providing the clues necessary to determine the potential source of infection to prevent any future flock infections. Ask the appropriate questions, listen to the answers, use that information find the security breach, and make recommendations to restore flock biosecurity. Consider the following biosecurity basics:

Farm Location:

Before the first chicken house is built, consider the proximity of other poultry farms and place as much distance between farms as possible. The topography and drainage of the units must prevent water pooling around the houses and inside them. Vegetation can act as a barrier but could also be an unintended refuge for wild birds and animals. Keep poultry houses at a safe distance from busy highways or roads, especially roads that are heavily traveled by poultry vehicles. Site selection also includes avoiding farm ponds, lakes and streams that will bring waterfowl close to your farm.

Sanitary Gate:

A physical barrier, such as a sanitary gate, must reflect the importance of the work conducted on the property. At the gate, facilities are required to perform adequate cleaning and sanitizing, using wet or dry methods, of all essential vehicles accessing the property. Other physical barriers, including gates and fences, must be checked daily. Holes in fences or opened gates cannot be tolerated. Wash bay arches must be monitored to ensure proper pressure and operation. Wash bays must also use appropriate disinfectants at the active dosage.

People, Vehicles, and Materials:

The procedures required to enter the facility must be clear to all personnel. Only after disinfection and registration can they access the facility. Procedures for material disinfection must also be clear. Company team members who work at locations other than the farm and non-team members (visitors and contractors) may be granted access to the breeder unit after being evaluated and authorized by the team member responsible for the barrier. They must undergo an assessment including the person’s origin, previous contact with birds, health condition, and visit purpose. If all the prerequisites are not met, access must be refused.

Vehicle access should be severely restricted. Access should be given only to vehicles designated as essential including feed, eggs, placement, poultry transfers, and processing vehicles. For nonessential vehicles, a questionnaire must be completed that includes the vehicle origin, and cleaning and disinfection must be performed. In addition, collect information that allows adequate traceability of all vehicles entering the farm.

Food and Water Quality:

Cost of raw materials is important, but quality and security are more important and are based on good production practices of producers within their feed mills. The feed milling, transportation, and silo filling on farms must follow clear procedures to maintain the feed microbiological quality.

Water must have high-quality physical-chemical and microbiological standards. To sustain water quality, it must be chlorinated and consistently monitored, sampled, and analyzed.

House Access:

Access to poultry houses should have the same control and rigor, physical, and chemical barriers as the facility barrier to reduce the risk of flock infection. Cleaning boots, using footbaths with liquid or powder products, washing, and hand sanitization with alcohol gel are good practices of a biosecurity program.

Vermin Control:

Keep poultry houses closed to prevent wild birds from accessing the house. A preventive program for rodents and flies must be in place and maintained according to a schedule and checklist. If these controls are not performed as scheduled, they increase the risk for pathogen entry. Check with local regulations regarding the products used to control rodents and insects as they must be approved for use in the facility. Furthermore, ensure that insecticides and rodenticides are controlled and stored properly.

Good Practices Inside the House:

The daily operations within the houses are also critical for flock health and safety. Some key points include:

  • Spilled feed will attract wild birds and rodents. After filling feed bins, immediately clean and remove spilled feed and ensure feed bin covers are closed.
  • Eggs must be collected at least 4 times per day (up to 6 during peak production) and placed in storage in a temperature-controlled environment. Delay can compromise egg integrity, creating an environment that facilitates contamination.
  • Wash and sanitize hands for all tasks including egg collection, sorting, and weighing as well as flock weighing, vaccination, and grading.
  • Maintain floor sanitation as wet floors provide a good environment for microorganisms to multiply.
  • Applying good animal welfare principles, ensuring flock comfort, meeting the standards of feed and water, controlling the environment, and handling flocks carefully will promote a high level of flock health.

Cleaning and Disinfection:

Create a standard cleaning and disinfection protocol and check the performance of the protocol through monitoring and auditing activities. This program should be validated with microbiological methods. Modify and adjust the detergents and disinfectants based on the results of the validations and audits.

No disinfection should take place before thorough cleaning is complete. Washing the structures well and using effective detergents are required to reduce organic material that can harbor pathogens. Follow thorough disinfection with regulatory approved agents that are effective against specific microorganisms


The guidelines discussed in this article should be included when designing a biosecurity program. A good overall validation of your biosecurity program will include checking medication usage, the incidence of disease, mortality, and health program costs as these factors can indicate weaknesses in the biosecurity program. Additionally, training team members and constant monitoring and audits are also part of an effective biosecurity program that targets biosecurity, poultry health, and welfare. Biosecurity must be a part of the farm’s standard operating procedures and not something that becomes important only when disease is found on or close to your farm.


Site selection and a defined fenced perimeter are important for farm security.



Photo caption: Site selection is important for farm security.

Site selection is important for farm security.


Use dedicated footwear for each house.

Preparation of feed sample for microbial testing.