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Five tips for maintaining biosecurity in your hatchery

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
Hatcheries should re-evaluate their standard operating procedures to allow for health and safety protocol in the age of COVID-19.

A Pennsylvania State University Extension webinar offers tips on how to approach operational biosecurity in the age of COVID-19.

While biosecurity is important at all times, it's especially important during the coronavirus pandemic to protect your chicks and workers from cross-contamination and outside bacterial and viral exposure. Hatchery owners should consider creating a plan and protocols for how your hatchery will handle sanitation.

Gregory Martin, a PennState Extension instructor in poultry, offers the following advice for raising chicks in a healthy environment and ensuring workers do not get sick, or bring sickness in.

1. Keep everything clean, clean, clean

This may seem like an obvious point, but Martin emphasizes that surfaces, equipment and people must be kept as clean as possible at all times. For surfaces and equipment, use your choice of disinfectant and make sure to scrub, rather than just wipe, so that the biofilm layer also comes off underneath dirt, dust and other particles.

Martin also points out that the type of disinfectant you use does matter, as different types do different things, so make sure you are using one that fits your needs. He also said that many hatcheries are moving away from using formaldehyde because it's a carcinogen, so if you use it, you may want to consider other options.

For people, make sure all workers and visitors within the facility are washing their hands, wearing masks and staying distant from others, at least 6 feet. It's a good idea to set up sanitation stations at certain points in the hatchery, where everyone has easy access to hand-washing or hand sanitizer. Personal protective equipment also works well to ensure that people are not being directly exposed to viral or bacterial particles in the air, whether they come from people or chicks.

2. Create infection barriers

Martin said there are three different types of infection barriers: physical, chemical and logical. A physical barrier, like gloves, boxes and fencing, bars people from coming into contact with potentially infectious surfaces. It's important to keep this barriers in place so that hands or feet do not spread infection to other surfaces where it can be picked up and transmitted to someone's eyes, nose or mouth, which are easy ways for bacteria and viral infections to sicken people. 

Chemical barriers include hand soap and sanitizer as well as disinfectants that kill viruses and bacteria. As mentioned before, washing and sanitizing hands often is one of the best ways to keep from getting sick because many people tend to touch their face. If their hands are contaminated, it's easy to transmit particles from a surface to the body.

Lastly, logical barriers are procedures and protocols that prevent infection by controlling movement and interaction. For instance, you should limit hatchery visitors to only those who are essential, and those who are not should meet you somewhere outside the hatchery. For deliveries, see if the delivery person can drop off packages at a mailbox or designated area. Separating people and parts of the hatchery is important too - see below.

3. Keep your hatchery compartmentalized

You can start implementing standard operating procedures by controlling the flow of movement between facility rooms and making sure equipment and people only stay in rooms where they are needed. For instance, you can install buffer perimeters, such as fencing, in hallways to control distance between people passing each other. Food and drinks, for instance, should only be kept in the break room so that no particles from chicken dander contaminate them.

If equipment needs to be moved from one section to another, sanitize it before it's moved so it won't bring any unwanted bacteria to its new location. This also is the same for people - try to have everyone stay in designated areas rather than have free reign of the facility, so you can minimize contact with other people.

Martin says to also consider the bacterial load of each room. The higher load in a room, the more protection needed. If you raise different species of poultry together, you should keep species separated so that they don't cross-contaminate.

4. Ensure workers and visitors are staying safe

In developing safety and health procedures, you should also document whether your workers have been trained on different aspects of your policies and protocols. Martin said to make sure your staff are all on the same page with you, because everyone needs to be in it together, or otherwise one person not following protocol can endanger everyone else.

Going back to health and wellness standards, not only should staff be washing their hands, maintaining social distancing and using PPE on the job, but they should also be taking these lessons home with them. Since COVID-19 can infect people unknowingly, your staff could accidentally bring the virus into the hatchery with them if they don't continue to practice health standards in the outside world.

When people come to work at or visit the hatchery, Martin suggested using the "wash in, wash out" method to protect inside surfaces from outside exposure. You can install showers as a barrier between outside and inside entry points, where people coming from outside can change out of their street clothes and shower to get rid of any contaminants. Then they can change into working clothes on the other side of the shower and enter the hatchery from there.

5. Look at the big picture

Martin also suggested pinpointing a specific staff member, like a supervisor or manager, to be head of operational biosecurity procedures. This person can more easily manage how workers, visitors, delivery people and others at the facility are properly following protocol so that it doesn't get swept under the rug.

The most important thing to remember is to not break the cycle, Martin said. The minute your biosecurity standards get broken, your hatchery could be in trouble, and the damage could be difficult or even impossible to undo.

"We need to keep areas as pristine as possible for the best outcome," Martin said. "Everyone needs to follow the rules of biosecurity or else it won’t work."