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Don’t Kiss Chickens: A Practical Guide to Backyard Chicken Care

Posted in Outbreaks & Recalls,Salmonella on May 26, 2020

5 AM and what’s that sound? Oh yes, it’s the rooster and he is ready to rise and shine. People think of chickens as these pleasant little creatures who poop breakfast (and lunch, and dinner), and while that may be factual there is so much more to know about these feathered friends. So, here is our practical guide on chicken rearing. We just ask one thing, please don’t kiss chickens…

Recently with the rise of COVID-19 cases people have rushed to local feed stores and the internet to get chickens. Many of these people are first time owners who believe that they arrive ready to lay. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

When your chicks arrive by mail or in your local feed store they are literally about 24 hours old. They need nutrients added to their water to battle disease and infection. They need a constant supply of fresh water which can mean sometimes changing the water almost hourly and they also need a special chick food which often can contain medication. They also need a clean area to roam which has to grow with them and then let us not forget protection from prey at all times.

Fast forward a few weeks when your new friends have wing feathers are attempting to “fly the coop” and that brings another whole issue; keeping them contained. At this point you are still months from your first egg as many birds start to lay eggs 4-6 months after birth. Timing is essential with weather and other elements as well.

The CDC gives us so much information about how to safely have backyard chickens and the care of the birds. They begin by telling us that poultry can carry many germs.

These germs can cause a variety of illnesses in people, ranging from minor skin infections to serious illnesses that could cause death. One of the best ways to protect yourself from getting sick is to wash your hands thoroughly right after touching poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam.

Whether you are building your first coop or are a seasoned backyard poultry owner, you should know the risks of keeping poultry and the simple things you can do to stay safe.

Preparing for Backyard Poultry:

  • Check your state and local laws before selecting or buying baby chicks, adult poultry (hens, roosters), or waterfowl. Many cities have rules against owning roosters because their crowing violates noise ordinances. Hens will lay eggs without a rooster.
  • Find out if there is a local veterinarian who has experience with poultry to help you keep your poultry healthy.
  • Learn what types of poultry are suitable for your family. Though most poultry are quite gentle, some breeds are more aggressive and may be more likely to bite or scratch you.
  • Learn how to properly care for your poultry before you buy them. Ask your veterinarian or local cooperative extension agent about the best food, care, and enclosure or environment for the poultry you are selecting.
  • Build a coop for your poultry outside your home. Backyard poultry need a sturdy environment to protect them from organisms that spread disease such as insects and rodents and provide shelter from the weather and predators. The coop should be easy to clean.
  • Set up an area outdoors to clean and disinfect all equipment used to care for the poultry and clean their enclosure. Do not clean any items indoors, where the germs could contaminate your home.
  • Poultry can shed germs in their droppings (poop). Wear gloves when cleaning bird cages and poultry houses. Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after contact with the poultry or their environment.

How to choose and introduce poultry

  • Buy backyard poultry from hatcheries that participate in the S. Department of Agriculture National Poultry Improvement Plan (USDA-NPIP)
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  • . This program is intended to reduce Salmonella in baby poultry in the hatchery, which can help prevent the spread of illness from poultry to people.
  • Pick poultry that are bright, alert, and active. Poultry should have smooth, sleek, and soft feathers that are free of debris or droppings. Poultry that seem sluggish, aren’t moving around very much, or look dirty may be ill.
  • When bringing new poultry to an existing flock:
    • Keep new poultry separated for at least 30 days before they are introduced to your other poultry. This will help prevent the new poultry from passing disease to your flock. Remember that poultry can appear healthy and clean, but still spread harmful germs that make people sick.
    • Clean your hands, shoes, clothing, and equipment when moving between the two groups of poultry during this period of separation. For example, you can dedicate separate pairs of gloves, coveralls, and boots to each group, and you should wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you go between the two groups.
    • Always take care of your existing flock before caring for your new poultry.
  • Contact your veterinarian or local extension agent if you notice any signs of illness in your poultry. Sick poultry can:
    • Be less active than normal
    • Eat or drink less than normal
    • Have ruffled feathers, discharge from the eyes or nose, difficulty breathing, or runny diarrhea
    • Produce fewer eggs than normal
    • Produce discolored, irregular, or misshapen eggs
    • Die unexpectedly of no apparent cause
  • Your veterinarian or local extension agent can work with you to determine the cause of the illness and help ensure that it does not spread to the rest of the poultry.

How to clean poultry cages and coops

  • Use a diluted bleach solution or another disinfectant to clean and disinfect surfaces that have come in contact with poultry.
  • Clean poultry enclosures or cages with bottled dish soap and a commercial disinfectant made for this purpose. When using disinfectants, follow the label instructions for diluting the disinfectant and for how long to leave it on the surface before wiping or rinsing it off.
  • Go outside to clean any equipment or materials used to raise or care for live poultry, such as cages or feed or water containers. Don’t clean these items inside the house. This could bring harmful germs into your home.
  • Tips for cleaning poultry cages or enclosures:
    • First, remove debris (manure, broken egg material, droppings, dirt) by wiping the equipment with a brush soaked in warm water and soap.
    • Once most of the debris is removed and the surface is generally clean, then apply the disinfectant. Dilute the disinfectant properly according to label directions before applying it. Most disinfectants only work on clean surfaces and don’t work if they are applied directly to a dirty surface.
    • Leave the disinfectant on the surface for the amount of time listed on the label (usually anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes). Then rinse and allow the surface to dry before reuse.

Practice biosecurity

Biosecurity is the key to keeping your poultry healthy. Practicing good biosecurity reduces the chance of your poultry or your yard being exposed to diseases like avian influenza or Newcastle disease. These diseases can be spread by people, animals, equipment, or vehicles, either accidentally or on purpose.

The following steps are important in keeping your poultry healthy and having good biosecurity practices:

  • Keep your distance — Isolate your birds from visitors and other birds.
  • Keep it clean — Prevent germs from spreading by cleaning shoes, tools, and equipment.
  • Don’t haul disease home — Also clean vehicles and cages.
  • Don’t borrow disease from your neighbor — Avoid sharing tools and equipment with neighbors.
  • Know the warning signs of infectious bird diseases — Watch for early signs to prevent the spread of disease.

Using these tips and common sense measures while handling your chickens and eggs is key to keeping yourself and your chickens healthy. Also remember, don’t kiss chickens. They are happy to be left alone.

By: Samantha Cooper