Q & A “What is the best hygiene practice that I can use in my aviary?” By: Tony Silva
Many that have read my writings, visited my home, or heard my lectures will know that I am a great proponent of strict hygiene in the aviary and nursery. The time and effort spent in cleaning will quickly repay itself in fewer health issues. How do I define hygiene?
I prefer suspended enclosures for housing parrots, though understand that some terrestrial species and climatic conditions make the traditional walk-in aviaries more practical. My favor of the suspended cages is because they allow feces and spilled food to fall out of reach of the birds. In traditional walk-in aviaries, the birds can descend to the floor, walk amongst their droppings (which they will clean from their feet with their tongue and beak when they return to a perch), and eat food that dropped to the floor, which could be spoiled.
Because of this, the risk of parasite infestation is greatest in a traditional walk-in enclosure. A cement floor with a drain that allows the floor to be washed is best for the standard aviaries. For the suspended enclosures, any substrate is suitable, including a dirt floor, because the birds cannot reach the ground.
The worst cages are those that have a dirt, gravel, or wooded floor. Dirt is impossible to disinfect. Traditionally the method to clean such cages is to remove the occupants once a year, turn the ground and then lime it, returning the birds after a period of time. Gravel is better if it sits on a porous floor that will permit washing. Wood is porous and can never be cleaned thoroughly. I write this from experience.
In 1978, when I was starting in aviculture, I acquired some very nice cages that had a wooden floor. The idea was that I could cover the floor with shavings. Cleaning them proved nightmarish and breaking the cycle of ascarid worm infestation in Slender-billed Conures Enicognathus leptorhynchus proved so difficult that I lost several birds. I was fighting a losing battle. The cycle was broken when the birds were transferred to suspended aviaries.
I stress that wooden and dirt-floored aviaries be avoided because in South-East Asia and India they are still commonly used. Many of these breeders are continuously writing to ask for advice on treating sick birds. The problem is that treatment is merely forestalling another outbreak as the cycle of reinfection cannot be broken.
Cages with a grid are best. A tray that collects falling debris is optimum for maintaining hygiene.
How bowls and cages are disinfected is important. Simply washing with copious amounts of water or using a sponge soaked in a disinfectant is ineffective. Most disinfectants work best when they are not in the presence of organic matter. This means that food and droppings should first be washed away. Soapy water is ideal for this. Afterwards, water can be used to remove the soap. Immediately afterward a disinfectant can be used, followed again by a rinse.
In my collection, bowls are disinfected in the following manner. They are soaked in water to soften any bits of food or the occasional dropping. Each bowl is then cleaned using soapy water. The bowls are rinsed and then soaked in a chlorine bleach solution. They are allowed to soak for 5 minutes. The bowls are then rinsed again. We have the advantage of living in South Florida, where the sun is bright for the majority of the year.
The bowls are placed on racks in the sun to dry and for additional disinfection by the sun´s rays. Once dried, the bowls are stored on a shelf in a room where there are no rodents or insects. The bowls are distributed from a cart–they are never allowed to touch the ground. I stress not allowing them to come in contact with the ground because from Panama to India, from Europe to the Pacific I have visited collections where the clean bowls come in contact with the ground, effectively undermining the disinfection process.
My cages and aviaries are cleaned with a hose. Originally we used a pressure cleaner but the pressure of the water can disperse fomites. We now use a hose with a fine spigot. Soapy water from a bucket is applied using a plastic brush, ensuring that the feed hatches and the wire mesh are scrubbed. The soapy water is then rinsed and a chlorinated bleach solution from a spray bottle is applied. If birds are inside the cage, extreme care is taken that they DO NOT come in contact with the bleach. The cage is finally rinsed with copious amounts of water.
Hygiene is probably the most time-consuming task in an aviary or bird room but it can save countless losses of valuable stock.
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