Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Poultry House

As spring approaches, the time is almost here to do a good cleaning and disinfecting of your poultry facilities after the long winter. This is especially true if you are considering bringing in new birds or replacing your flock, be they layers, meat birds or show birds. Decontaminating your poultry house is crucial in order to prevent Marek’s disease, mycoplasma, respiratory viruses, E.coli, mites, and other poultry health problems. Even more important is the control of Salmonella Enteritidis (SE), especially in laying hens. SE can colonize in a chicken’s intestinal tract without necessarily causing obvious disease in the chicken itself. This may lead to the organism invading other tissues and eventually finding its way into the reproductive tract and ovary, contaminating the egg itself.

In order to reduce SE and other health risks, a complete dry cleaning, washing and disinfection of the poultry house after each flock or at minimum once each year is recommended. Successful cleaning is hard work and requires systematic completion of several sequential steps. Every step is important. Skipping one step or doing an incomplete job at any point will make the next step harder and lead to failure.

Start by removing all birds from the building to be cleaned, along with all equipment that can be cleaned in another place, such as feeders and waterers.

Dry Cleaning
Sweep or blow dust and other loose dirt off ceilings, light fixtures, walls, cages or nest boxes, fans, air inlets etc. onto the floor. Remove all feed from feeders. Scrape manure and accumulated dust and dirt from perches and roosts. Remove all litter from the floor.  Litter can be added to a compost pile. Sweep the floor to remove as much dry material as possible. With a small coop, a wet-dry shop vacuum does a good job of removing this material. However, be careful to clean the filter often as the fine dust from the coop may easily clog the filter and make the vacuum work harder or lead to burn out of the motor.

Wet Cleaning
Turn the power off to the building prior to using any water for cleaning. Wet cleaning is done in three steps: soaking, washing and rinsing. Warm or hot water will do a better job getting through organic matter than cold water. You can use a cheap neutral detergent, like dish soap.

Soaking
Soak the heavily soiled areas (perches and roosting areas, floors, etc.) thoroughly. Use a low pressure sprayer to totally soak all surfaces. Soak until the accumulated dirt and manure has softened to the point it is easily removed.

Washing
Wash every surface in the building, especially window sills, ceiling trusses, wall sills and any surface where dirt and dust may accumulate. The washing solution can be either a neutral detergent (ph between 6 and 8) or an alkaline detergent (ph above 8). Alkaline substances vary in their strength with the strongest causing burns and internal injuries if swallowed. A mild alkali is baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and moderate alkalis include household ammonia, borax and trisodium phosphate. Strong alkalis include washing soda (sodium carbonate) and lye (caustic soda). Mix in hot water—160oF or hotter is best.

A high pressure sprayer is good for this step, but manual scrubbing with a moderately stiff brush is one of the best ways to insure a thorough cleaning. Inspect manually to be sure you have removed all of the dirt and manure from all surfaces. Make sure you carefully clean electrical parts.  You may have to remove cover plates and vacuum those areas.

If you have metal surfaces with hard water scale, then you will need to use an acid detergent on those surfaces to remove the scale. Acid detergent involves acid as the major component which is used in dissolving mineral deposits (Calcium and Magnesium precipitates) or hard water deposits from equipment surfaces. Two main groups of acid detergents are: inorganic (HCL, H2SO4), and organic (Vinegar, Citric Acid).

Rinsing
A final rinse immediately after washing is recommended to remove any harmful residues and to obtain a spotless building. Mop up puddles as they can rapidly become breeding grounds for salmonellae.

Drying
Thoroughly air-dry the building if disinfection cannot immediately follow rinsing. Open all windows and ventilation openings. Use a blower or fan if available. Cleaning on a dry, sunny day helps in the drying process.

Repairs
Make any repairs to the structure prior to the final disinfection step. Seal any rodent entry holes at the outside and inside of the building. Apply a small amount of spray foam insulation into the hole, then pack in fine steel wool and top with more spray foam.

Disinfecting
This is a crucial step which the small flock owner might normally overlook. Disinfectants should be applied only after the building and equipment have been thoroughly cleaned, ideally right after rinsing. Disinfectants can be applied by sprays, aerosols or fumigation. Don’t be intimidated by the thought of “fumigating” your hen house: for most small flock facilities, using a garden type sprayer is the easiest method, and chances are you already have a suitable disinfectant around the house. The types of disinfectants generally used are phenolic compounds (e.g., Pine-sol, One Stroke, Osyl),  iodine or iodophors, (e.g., Betadine and Weladol), chlorine compounds (e.g., Clorox, generic bleach), quaternary ammonium compound (e.g., Roccal D Plus) and oxidizing compounds (e.g., Virkon S, Oxy-Sept 333).

Follow the manufacturer’s directions for mixing and dilution of these disinfectants.  A good rule of thumb is to apply at the rate of one gallon of diluted disinfectant per 150-200 square feet of surface area. For a more thorough disinfecting, soak waterers and feeders in a 200 ppm chlorine solution (1 tablespoon chlorine bleach per gallon of boiling water).


Aldo Zaffalon
Aldo Zaffalon

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