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Those spring chicks are so cute! Think you want to raise chickens? Here’s what you need to know

At feed and farm supply stores across Virginia right now, baby chicks are chirping away. According to Dr. Charles Broaddus, State Veterinarian with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, before making on-the-spot decisions about buying chicks, people need to learn what the birds require. “I love to see people connecting with agriculture in a way that is so personal,” says Broaddus, “but they need to keep in mind their responsibility to defend the flock.”

In four to five weeks, those little chicks will become full-grown chickens that require housing, feed, water and protection from predators. They also need good biosecurity to keep the birds and their owners healthy and disease-free. Biosecurity is a program designed to prevent the introduction and transmission of diseases into a flock or herd.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers six points about biosecurity that all bird owners should follow:
·      Keep your distance. Restrict access to your property and your birds. People who care for birds should be careful when attending bird shows or other events where birds are present, and should take extreme precautions when doing so, including changing and washing clothes and footwear before interacting with their own birds. If visitors to your property want to see your birds, be sure they wash up first and clean their shoes, or keep clean boots or shoe covers for visitors to wear.
·      Keep it clean.  To keep your birds germ-free, have a pair of shoes and a set of clothes to wear only around your birds, or clean and disinfect your shoes and launder your clothes before you work with your birds.
·      Do not haul disease home. If you travel to a location where other birds are present, or even to the feed store, be sure to clean and disinfect truck tires, poultry cages and equipment before you return to your property.
·      Do not borrow disease from your neighbors. Do not share birds, lawn and garden equipment, tools or poultry supplies with your neighbors or other bird owners.
·      Know the warning signs of infectious bird diseases: Sudden increase in bird deaths; sneezing, gasping for air, coughing and nasal discharge; watery and green diarrhea; drop in egg production; swelling around the eyes, neck and head; purple discoloration of the wattles, combs and legs; and tremors, drooping wings, circling, twisting of the head and neck, or lack of movement are all signs to call a veterinarian knowledgeable about poultry.
·      Report sick birds. Call your local Cooperative Extension agent, local veterinarian, the State Veterinarian (804.786.2483), or USDA Veterinary Services office (866.536.7593).

“Enjoy your birds,” Dr. Broaddus says, “but please keep them and your family safe and healthy by observing these six rules. And remember, it is always a good idea to wash your hands after handling your birds, especially for younger children.”

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