Cute and fluffy and often calling your name in the local farm shops each spring the chirps and pips make us say awww, and we immediately have dreams of the farm life right in our own backyard.
Many people are not aware of the real work and potential health concerns that come with having backyard chickens – like Salmonella. As a child I was certainly not aware but am thankful that my parents taught us the real threats that could potentially leave us so ill that we would have to be hospitalized and in the very worst case scenario even die from complications.
The CDC says “Don’t Play Chicken with Your Health”
Since the year 2000 there have been 4,794 incidences of Salmonella illness linked directly to backyard chickens, of those 894 have been hospitalized, and unfortunately, 7 died from the illness. And we are neck deep in yet another outbreak.
What You Need to Know
First things first, the little baby chicks do turn into pretty messy and sometimes large animals. The gender selection can be wrong and you might end up with a pack of roosters instead of the egg laying hens that you were expecting.
There are some serious health rules to follow when having backyard chickens, too. We ALWAYS had what we called barn shoes and to this day we have them. Those were shoes that were absolutely never worn indoors. They were also cleaned very well. Salmonella and other illnesses can be tracked throughout your home if you wore those shoes inside, and honestly, who wants that?
Did you know that kids under the age of 5 should not handle live poultry? This also goes for the immunocompromised and elderly as well. While many expecting mothers handle live poultry; they must also take caution. Many people assume that live poultry just means chickens, but this also includes ducks, geese, and turkeys, too.
No matter how short your handling of the birds was, wash your hands. Supervise children while they wash and teach proper washing techniques. If you are not somewhere that hot water and soap is readily available, then use hand sanitizer.
Do not allow the birds to touch your face, and please for the love of all things feathered do not kiss or cuddle them.
Care for Cages & Coops
From a young age, when caring for my own backyard chickens, we quickly learned that bleach was our best friend. We made sure that the coops and any cages used for the transport of birds was done in a sanitary environment, and that when the transport was finished that cage was washed again.
The coops were cleaned often, but a deep cleaning happened monthly. I am sure that it could have been done more often but time was always a restraint. Weekly spot cleaning happened and hay/bedding was changed. This made a great opportunity to build a compost pile in a safe area of our yard as well.
Some people practice the “deep litter method,” which means just adding shavings until they compost themselves with help of the chickens. We have never personally used this method, but know that it is quite popular.
A method that we do participate in now with the cleaning of our coops is a mixture of white vinegar and water. We simply spray it wherever needs to be cleaned and use rags/towels to wipe it clean. Please note that these rags and towels are usually thrown away or washed completely by themselves to prevent any infectious material from passing through to our household.
Weekly, we also deep clean the water and food containers by soaking in vinegar and water and rinsing well. This prevents creatures from appearing that you do not want around. Food can mold quickly especially in damp seasons and while we usually give what we know the birds can eat right away, we have found that sometimes even with the best prevention you will see some bugs.
Where Does The Mess Go?
We are so fortunate that we have some land where we can compost the “chicken mess” and make sure that it is in an area that is safe for us and also for our children and those visiting our home. I love that we are able to compost, and it does make for a great gardening experience once everything breaks down, but in some communities this is not so easy.
Some people have to literally carry the chicken droppings and other coop material to the landfill or local trash facility. There are also many places online and in brick and mortar stores to purchase compost bins that you can use to keep things clean and tidy around your home.
Personally, we built one using landscaping timber and other materials, but in some communities those types of compost bins are not allowed.
Clean the Eggs
When we purchase eggs in the store, they are clean. Backyard eggs are not so clean. There is a simple cleaning process to ensure that your eggs are clean and Salmonella-free:
- Do not wash the eggs– Yes, you read that right. Cold water can pull bacteria into the egg instead of washing it off.
- Use rags, a brush or fine sandpaper to clean the eggs.
- Put them in the fridge. While many people believe that keeping eggs in a bowl on the counter is a safe practice it absolutely isn’t.
- When preparing eggs, make sure you cook them thoroughly. Raw or undercooked eggs contain Salmonella bacteria that can make you very ill.
Obey the Law
Believe it or not there are local laws and regulations about backyard chickens. With their popularity on the rise, people are often not aware that their community could have regulations about them. Many localities have regulations on the amount of birds you can have and some even outlaw roosters because of noise.
Check with your local community to find out the laws, regulations and also to see if you need a license to sell your fresh eggs including how to package them for sale. Many require you to purchase your own labeled cartons with your contact information on them in case of outbreaks of illness so that proper means can be taken should your eggs be the cause of an illness in your community.
Every locality varies when it comes to live poultry; so it is best to be safe rather than sorry.
Know the Symptoms
Do you think you have become ill from your backyard chickens? Here are some symptoms to look for:
- Stomach cramps
A stool sample is used to determine if you have Salmonella and you should contact a healthcare provider immediately if you think you have contracted the illness.
By: Samantha Cooper, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)