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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Chickens in the House is Nothing to Brag About

Chickens in the house? Really? This is not a practice I would boast about to the world, but yet I see pictures every single day online. Chickens wandering around kitchens, sitting on the back of couches, and looking in the back doors and windows of homes. The list goes on and on.

Chickens are not house pets, and though SO MANY people allow their mature chickens in the house, I consider this practice a potential health risk, and irresponsible to say the least.

The rule of thumb is to keep a clean area between chickens and your living space.  That means chickens don’t belong in the yard, on the patio, where children play, or anywhere that family traffic is common. Chickens should have their own area outside. They are NOT companion animals like dogs and cats, and shouldn’t be allowed the same indoor perks.

Why is This so Important?

It’s common for chickens to carry Salmonella, which is a type of germ that naturally lives in the intestines and is shed in their feces. Live poultry may have Salmonella germs on their bodies (including feathers, feet, and beaks) even when they appear healthy and clean. The germs can also get on coops, hay, plants, and soil in the area where the birds live and roam. Additionally, the germs can be found on the hands, shoes, and clothing of those who handle the birds or work or play where they live and roam.

Each spring, children become infected with Salmonella, but it’s important to remember that illness can occur from chicks or adult birds at any time of the year. Children are exposed to Salmonella by holding, cuddling, or kissing the birds and by touching things where the bird lives, such as cages or feed and water bowls. Young children are especially at risk for illness because their immune systems are still developing and because they are more likely than others to put their fingers or other items into their mouths.

How Common is Salmonella?

CDC estimates that approximately 1.2 million illnesses and approximately 450 deaths occur from Salmonella annually in the United States alone.

And Furthermore…  Shame on Manufacturers

It doesn’t help that chicken diapers and clothes are being marketed. These items are made simply because people will buy them. Nothing of the sort makes it safe to allow chickens indoors… nothing.

 

Chickens are NOT House Pets

Chickens live in coops and barns, people live in houses. A rule that should be followed for good reason… but isn’t always.

Keeping a chicken in the house is absolutely definitely not okay! Nevertheless, people do it all the time. While you enjoy the benefits of backyard chickens and other poultry, it is important to consider the risk of illness, especially for children, which can result from handling live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam.

I’ve seen chick brooders in kitchens, family rooms, even in bedrooms where a children sleep. Worse yet, there are pics of mature chickens all over the internet roaming free in family households. Even a short visit from a curious chicken that wanders through an open back door tells me there are serious flaws in a chicken keeper’s set-up.

There should always be what I call a clean area between the coop and a family home. There shouldn’t be a trace of chicken poop in the clean area, not even from your footwear. It’s a good practice to leave your boots outside the clean area, this will help keep contaminants at bay. Poultry droppings should never be present where they can be tracked into the house or where children play.

As far as baby chicks go, they don’t need to be inside your home. Radiant heat or a heat lamp in a garage or barn that protects them from drafts is perfectly suitable.  If it isn’t, then chicks are being purchased at the wrong time of the year. Buy in the spring when it’s easier to manage temperatures.

You can never be sure chicks shipped from hatcheries are healthy. In a recent outbreak, more than 350 people were infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Infantis, Salmonella Newport, or Salmonella Hadar across 43 states, 33% were hospitalized. The majority of these cases were from mail-order chicks shipped to backyard chicken keepers.

Whether chicks from a hatchery, the neighbors pampered flock, or your very own birds, be safe, responsible, keep them in their own area, and out of the family home.

Fact…

People get sick from Salmonella by hand to mouth contact. Usually this happens when people handle birds or their droppings and then accidentally touch their mouths or forget to wash their hands before eating or drinking.

Even birds that do not look sick may be shedding Salmonella. And even though a bird looks clean, it may still have germs like Salmonella on its feathers or feet.

Safety Tips for Poultry Keepers

Don’t let children younger than 5 years of age, older adults, or people with weak immune systems handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry.

Don’t eat or drink in the area where the birds live or roam.

Don’t let live poultry inside the house, in bathrooms, or especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored, such as kitchens or outdoor patios.

In recent outbreaks of Salmonella infections linked to contact with live poultry, ill people reported bringing live poultry into their homes.

Disinfectants for Good Poultry Housekeeping

• Roccal®: Mix 1/2 fluid oz of Roccal per gallon of water.
• Nolvasan® (chlorhexidine diacetate 2 percent): Mix
• 3 fluid oz of Nolvasan per gallon of water.
• Household bleach (sodium hypochlorite 6 percent):
• Mix 3/4 cup of household bleach per gallon of water.
• Lysol® spray for footwear
• Purell® hand pump for hand disinfection

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