LAKE COUNTY — Raising backyard chickens is a hobby that has seen a rise in popularity over the last couple of years.

There are numerous benefits a family gains from raising chickens such as, hours of entertainment, free garden service, a fresh supply of eggs and meat.

However, the hobby also comes with responsibilities — just like you are required to provide your chickens with food and water, they also need protection from disease.

Biosecurity is a set of procedures you can follow to reduce your birds' exposure to diseases such as Avian Influenza, Exotic Newcastle Disease or Salmonella.

While chickens are generally healthy animals, if the contract a disease, it can easily wipe out your entire flock or spread to humans that have contact with the birds or eat the meat.

Blain's Farm and Fleet is providing information that will help ensure your flock remains disease free. With biosecurity, the goal is to keep any disease from coming into or leaving your flock.

The following steps can help prevent the spread of disease:

• Have designated clothing: contaminated clothing is one of the quickest ways to spread disease. Make sure to have clothing and boots that are only worn when around your birds and get taken off before moving to another location. If you go to a poultry show, be sure to sanitize your shows, clothes and hands before coming in contact with other humans or birds.

• Use caution when adding new birds to your flock: It is important to do your research and purchase your birds from a reliable source that participates in the National Poultry Improvement Plan. If you are adding birds to your flock it is recommended that you keep the new birds quarantined for about one month to monitor their health and keep your current birds safe.

• Keep your birds' environment clean: Birds that are kept in crowded, damp and dirty conditions are more at risk of contracting diseases. Be sure to keep your coop clean and dry, and provide plenty of space for the birds to roam around. Nesting boxes should also be kept clean and stocked with plenty of bedding. Dirty or empty boxes increase the risk of egg breakage and development of harmful bacteria. Always wash your eggs in warm water before you cook or eat them. Also, waterers and feeders, and any equipment used, should be clean and sanitized weekly.

• Provide your birds with proper nutrition and vaccinations: Just like humans, having a strong immune system will help prevent birds from contracting diseases. Nutrition-packed feed and supplements will give them the vitamins and minerals they need to fight off diseases. Vaccinations can also offer extra protection.

• Keep birds away from your face: Getting birds close to your face can allow disease like Salmonella to get into your lungs and cause infections. To ensure your own safety, keep birds away from you face and mouth, and make sure you wash your hands after handling birds. Wearing facemasks and gloves when handling birds can help protect you from disease.

• Do your research: This is a key component to maintaining your flock's health. It is important to have some knowledge about what diseases your birds can contract, as well as the early signs and symptoms of the diseases. You can't prevent illness completely, so it is best to be preapred for when it does happen.

The last thing you want is for your backyard flock to become infected with a disease. It is important to put in the effort to create an envirnoment that will keep your chickens, and everyone else, safe.