Remember safety and cleanliness when raising backyard birds

By Greg Hamilton • Published: April 4th, 2018
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Raising your own chickens can give your family benefits, from fresh eggs to a greater understanding of how food gets to the table. It can also give your family a bad case of salmonella poisoning.

With the number of families setting up chicken coops in their yards rising nationwide, health experts are seeing a corresponding rise in the number of poultry-related diseases, some of them fatal.

Last year, more than 1,100 people contracted salmonella poisoning from raising chickens and ducks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, nearly 250 were hospitalized and one person died. And those numbers are likely on the conservative side. The CDC estimates that for every salmonella case they know about, there can be 30 more that are not reported.

Part of the problem is that many people treat their birds like pets, kissing and hugging them and letting them wander around the house. Poultry can shed salmonella bacteria in their waste, and the bacteria can then attach to feathers and, later, to shoes, clothing and people.

Proper hygiene is important at home because there are limited safeguards against salmonella at the commercial hatcheries that supply the baby chicks and ducklings to farm supply retailers. The Department of Agriculture encourages the hatcheries to be tested for salmonella contamination regularly, but the testing is voluntary.

There are plenty of good reasons for getting back to nature with backyard birds, but experts say just use some down-home common sense. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling the birds, eggs or nesting materials, and leave any shoes worn in a chicken coop outside.