Focus on biosecurity in backyard and small-scale chickens

South Africa’s poultry represents an important sector in animal production, with backyard flocks representing the majority among villagers and small-scale farmers. These communities raise poultry to meet household food demands and an additional source of income.

For many of these biosecurity is a “BIG” word that makes one think of government intrusion, regulations and policies. However, biosecurity is a basic and fundamental requirement that anyone rearing chickens should be aware of if they want to protect their flock.

With no or limited biosecurity implementation, a backyard or small-scale poultry producer is at a high risk of infectious diseases, such as Newcastle disease, salmonella, and Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). 

To prevent and avoid these infectious poultry diseases some of which are also a threat to human health, national flock health and the economy, there is a need to implement basic biosecurity measures in small scale back-yard chickens. Biosecurity should be a regulated standard measure, implemented in all production facilities or places that rear poultry. It is the cheapest and most effective method of disease control in poultry.

What is biosecurity? Biosecurity is a measure (method) implemented in farms (mostly commercial farms) to prevent the introduction and persistence of infectious agents through control of traffic (both humans and vehicles) proper and adequate sanitation and isolation of flocks, particularly young chicks. Biosecurity literally means provision of safety to living things. “Bio” refers to life and “Security” means protection. 

A year ago I was invited to a broiler farmer’s day in Polokwane. This was a day to educate and share information with small scale farmers on broiler production, management and disease prevention. I was given the opportunity to do a presentation on biosecurity as a form of disease prevention to a broiler producer community located in Kga-Matlala rearing and producing 5500 birds per week, weighing between 370-400g at slaughter.

  • To demonstrate the low biosecurity measures in these flocks, the broiler houses were located and fenced with residential houses.
  • There was no entrance gate for human and vehicle traffic control and restriction of movement of vehicles.
  • There was no control or records of the visitors and, no farm safety clothes and shoes.
  • Cooking of poultry and other poultry products take place on the farm.
  • No rodents, wild birds and foreign animals’ isolation programme existed on farm.
  • A mortality pit was not available.
  • The community consumed and sold birds that had dies from unknown diseases to people in the same community. Feed and bedding was not stored in a secure place.
  • The above are some very simple basic biosecurity measures that need to be implemented by the community.

Because community members never understood how an operational biosecurity works on a farm, I gave them some few importance points on bio-security looking at the following points.


  • To prevent entry of pathogenic organism into the farm
  • To avoid profit losses due to diseases
  • To protect human health

Benefits of bio-security:

  • Helps keep out diseases
  • Protects human health
  • Limits the spread of diseases
  • Improves overall health of the flock
  • Reduces mortality
  • Improves profitability

Three major biosecurity measures required to control the spread of diseases:

  • Isolation of birds in different houses and far away from contact with ordinary people
  • Traffic Control of both people and vehicles
  • Sanitation

Record keeping as part of a disease prevention biosecurity plan:

  • Who was on the farm?
  • When were they on the farm?
  • What brought them onto the farm?
  • Have they been on another poultry facility?

What should we do? Given the current disease status at poultry farms in South Africa many may agree on the importance of shifting focus, investing time and standardising policies on implementing operational biosecurity measures to small-scale and backyard farms through educational programmes and practical training. This is an urgent matter due to the numerous reports of new castle disease outbreaks in the back-yard poultry flock. In 2013 an outbreak of Newcastle disease from backyard flock was reported to the Poultry Disease Management Agency office through our engagement with the State Veterinarians. One to a lack of reporting and co-ordination, the disease has spread into some commercial farms, affecting the industry’s economy and production. Once an outbreak of infectious diseases like Newcastle disease occurs and the diseases become established and endemic in the country, it is very difficult to eradicate these diseases from the farm and the control is both time consuming and money costly. 

Poultry Disease Management Agency can start by having discussions on running the biosecurity programme for small scale poultry farmers through engaging and liaising with government’s animal health technicians and agricultural advisors, who work directly with the small-scale producers and backyard chickens farmers, to eventually help these farmers and protect the national backyard flock.

Given the threat posed by poultry infectious diseases such as Newcastle as well as other zoonotic diseases in smallholder poultry flocks, a comprehensive plan or programme to identify simpler and adaptive methods/ways of implementing biosecurity measures in the smallholder poultry flocks and educate farmers is required.

The solely purpose is to protect the National Flock through education, monitoring and management of diseases which threaten the health of the flock and food security.

By Malesedi Mokgoatlheng