Salmonella Safety Practices for Backyard Chicken Keepers

Fact: People can get sick with Salmonella infections from touching backyard poultry, their feed, and the places where they live and roam.

Here’s What You Need to Know

Keeping chickens can be a healthy & rewarding hobby, but what we really need to talk about is the proper management that will keep your family safe from the dangers of salmonella.

This isn’t talked about near enough and I feel too many chicken keepers are dismissing the fact that salmonella is found in bird droppings. If eggs are not handled properly, salmonella can be passed along to people. That’s the basic truth. But the facts are much broader than just safe egg handling, every chicken keeper should be well educated on proper housekeeping and coop management to safeguard against Salmonella.

Simple Rules for Good Chicken Housekeeping

  • Backyard poultry can carry Salmonella germs even if they look clean and well kept after. After handling baby chicks, (especially children and people with weakened immune systems) should immediately wash their hands thoroughly.
  • There should be a clean space between your home and where your chickens roam. That means they must have their own space where people won’t be constantly exposed to their droppings.
  • Wear special shoes or boots when tending to your birds, and store them away from the designated clean space.
  • Never eat or drink where your chickens live or roam.
  • Keep your coop and where the chickens roam clean. Regular coop cleaning and fresh bedding should be at the top of your chore list.
  • Collect eggs daily and keep the nest box clean. Eggs should never lay in droppings.
  • Refrigerate your eggs, this slows the growth of germs.
  • Coop equipment such as water or feed containers should be cleaned outdoors only.
  • Chickens are not indoor pets and shouldn’t under any circumstances be allowed in your home. They aren’t to be cuddled and certainly not kissed.

Outbreaks of Salmonella Infections Linked to Backyard Poultry in 2020

  • As of December 17, 2020, a total of 1,722 people infected with one of the outbreak strains of Salmonella were reported from all 50 states.
  • 333 people (33% of those with information available) were hospitalized.
  • One death in Oklahoma was reported.
  • 24% of ill people were children younger than 5 years of age.
  • Epidemiologic and laboratory evidence showed that contact with backyard poultry was the likely source of these outbreaks.
  • 576 (66%) of the 876 ill people interviewed reported contact with chicks and ducklings.
  • People reported obtaining chicks and ducklings from several sources, including agricultural stores, websites, and hatcheries.Testing of backyard poultry and their environments (such as backyard coops) in Kentucky and Oregon found three of the outbreak strains.

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Winter Chicken Keeping in Phoenix

Preparing the Chicken Coop for the Colder Months Ahead

The winters are rather mild in Phoenix and your birds will be quite comfortable without heat added, as long as they are protected from wind, drafts, and especially rain.

Temperatures rarely drop below freezing in Phoenix, with the usual overnight temperature in the 4o’s. As long as your birds are kept dry, cool weather is quite welcomed, especially after a long summer of brutal heat.

A heavy weight tarp is suitable protection from wind, along with ample clean pine shavings (preferred) or straw in the coop and nest boxes. Your birds will huddle together for warmth at night, if you stick your finger deep inside their feathers you’ll see they are toasty warm, even at freezing temps.

Never put a heat lamp in your coop, the risk of fire is far to dangerous. I wouldn’t use a light bulb for heat either. First of all, your birds don’t need it in Phoenix, and second, light is annoying and disruptive to the normalcy of nature.

You will hear other chicken keepers say egg laying is reduced or halted completely in the winter months. That may be so in other parts of the country, but in Phoenix I never notice much change in frequency. Remember, the key to keeping the egg basket full is defined in two simple words… happy birds.

Raising Chicks this Winter in Phoenix?

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Chicken Coop is Finished

Preparing for the Brooder to Coop Transition

The chicks are heading into their 5th week in the brooder and will be ready to move into the coop the following week. This is what I call their transitional week. Their radiant heat heat source is slowly taken away, and they’ll also lose their all-night red lighting.
The first few nights I switch from red lighting to a white night light, then the night light is taken away. By the time they transition from brooder to coop they will have learned to accept cooler temperatures and total darkness at night.
In most parts of the country chicks are kept in the brooder until they are fully feathered, which is usually around 8 weeks. Here in Phoenix, Arizona, by the end of April temperatures during the day reach about 85-90, lows about 65. Therefore, it’s plenty warm to move the chicks to the coop at about 6 weeks. As you can see, they’re pretty well feathered already!

The Finished Coop
The coop is an existing 10×10 x walk-in covered dog enclosure converted to a chicken coop. It’s inside a 3 stall covered open air barn, offering them plenty of shade and fresh air. It has taken almost 3 weeks to completely cover the chair link fencing with 1/2 inch hardware cloth.
Needless to say, I have spent my self-quarantine time wisely. Unfortunately, my fingers are a mess from working with stubborn wire and zip ties.

Predators have been a problem in the past, we have had our share of traumatic experiences with hawks, bobcats, and coyotes. I’ve lost at 8 birds over the years, with so much time on my hands, this was a good time to put the effort into predator proofing the coop. Not to mention keeping wild birds from entering the coop and eating all the chicken feed!

Tip: Chicken wire isn’t going to keep your birds safe from predators, always use hardware cloth. Chicken wire can be chewed through or easily bent to give predators access.
Also, lay /bury hardware cloth at the base of the coop to prevent digging by raccoons and coyotes, etc.  More About Predators

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