Coop Tours: Taking the show on the road—safely

Published on Mon, 09/22/2014 - 10:15am

With the growing popularity of backyard chickens, chicken coop tours have popped up all over the country. Local chicken and garden clubs organize chicken coop tours to both raise money for their organization and promote backyard chicken awareness. Most chicken coop tours are concentrated in one area of town to make it easier for the attendees to see all the chicken coops on the tour—some are so concentrated you could take the tour on your bicycle. Most are self-guided tours and can last all day.

Tour benefits
Coop tours are a great idea for a several reasons. First, people who want to get started with their own backyard flocks can see how others have set up their coops and runs. They can also see many different breeds of chickens.
Most tours also require the property owners to be on-site during the event. This, too, can benefit prospective chicken owners by allowing them to ask questions about getting started, costs involved, and maintenance requirements.
Second, these tours allow people that currently keep backyard chickens to meet others with the same hobby they may have never had a chance to meet otherwise. For instance, there may be another chicken keeper right down the street from you that you never knew about. Many great friendships have been made through chicken coop tours.
Lastly, if neighboring cities or towns are contemplating changing their laws to allow backyard chickens, members of those communities—including city council members and county commissioners—can attend the chicken coop tour to see what it really means to keep a few chickens in the backyard. It might even help them change their vote from “no” to “yes” once they see a few of the nice chicken coops with their own eyes.

Biosecurity blues

Unfortunately, the one thing I see missing from most of the chicken coop tours across the country is biosecurity. As the national spokesperson for the USDA- APHIS Biosecurity for Birds Program, I’m currently working with a poultry scientist to come up with some good guidelines for the organizers of these chicken coop tours to use to make sure they employ the best biosecurity practices available.
Chickens can and do carry diseases. There are precautions that need to be taken to make sure both the chickens on the tour and the chickens that belong to the attendees are safe from any unwanted diseases. Think about how easily a disease can spread from flock to flock on the tour. One attendee walks into the run and coop of the first coop on the tour. They step in some feces and then get in their car and drive one mile down the street to the second coop on the tour. They then walk in that coop and run spreading the disease they picked up from the first coop, and so on. This is a disaster just waiting to happen. Without even thinking about it, every flock on the tour has the potential to be wiped out by just one person.
Let’s face it, there will be people holding chickens on the tour. It happens all the time. One attendee holds a cute chicken at the first coop on the tour, and gets dander from the chicken on their clothes. Then they hold another chicken at the fourth coop on the tour, and now they have just contaminated the chicken at the fourth coop with dander from the chicken at the first coop. That dander can carry the deadly Marek’s disease. These are just two examples of how if biosecurity is ignored, every flock on the tour could be wiped out.

The solution
One of the suggestions that will be in the coop tour guidelines we are developing will be to either limit the attendees to a certain area of the backyard on tour—and not allow any attendees to walk in the coop or run—or provide disposable shoe covers, or booties, at every coop on the tour.
Depending on the size of the coop tour this could be quite an expense, so I suspect the popular decision will be to limit the attendees to an area of the backyard where they can observe the coop, run, and chickens without being able to actually walk in: You can see everything you need to see at a distance without getting up close and personal. The coop owner could also provide pictures of inside the coop for the tour attendees if they want to show off any custom features.
While I think chicken coop tours are beneficial for many reasons, they can also be a potential hazard for both the chickens on the tour and the chickens owned by the tour attendees. With a little biosecurity implementation, fun can be had by all while still minimizing the potential risk.