Backyard Poultry: It’s there for a reason

Published on Fri, 08/01/2014 - 2:21pm

An increasing number of people around the country are choosing to keep poultry—like chickens and ducks—as part of the local foods movement. Many people consider them pets, going as far as naming their birds. When I was growing up in rural Texas, we had chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, and even guinea fowl. And each one had a name. 

Poultry love the outdoors. They explore the yard, hunt for bugs and other goodies, and scratch the ground. While doing this, they can pick up germs like Salmonella. Poultry can even spread Salmonella germs that they might be carrying to the environment where they roam. Baby poultry can also get Salmonella germs from mother birds and spread those germs soon after hatching. Salmonella germs naturally live in the intestines of poultry and many other animals, such as reptiles, amphibians, and rodents. While Salmonella germs usually don’t make poultry sick, they can cause serious illness when passed to people. These germs can live in the environment for long periods—sometimes years. The last place you want Salmonella  germs to set up house is in your home. 

Baby poultry need to be kept in warm conditions and are mistakenly brought inside homes. Some poultry sneak indoors when they have the opportunity. Some people treat their poultry like a cat or dog and bring them indoors when temperatures drop. Regardless of the reason for bringing poultry inside your home, you are putting yourself, your family, and anyone who visits your home, at risk for Salmonella infection. Bringing your birds inside means that their germs can come inside, too, where they are closer to you and your family. 

Let live poultry live outside
To decrease the chance of Salmonella germs making their way into your home and causing illness, it’s important to keep live poultry outside of your home. Keeping poultry outside helps ensure that these harmful germs can’t contaminate your home and spread illness to your family. 

Chicken diapers aren’t enough to keep the germs outside the home where they belong. Poultry feathers and feet can have Salmonella germs on them that are too tiny to see with your eyes. Birds can appear clean and healthy but be covered in germs that can make people sick—even when the birds are wearing diapers. 

  • Use an outdoor brooder for baby poultry. Don’t use a bathtub or shower in your home as a brooder, even if it’s your spare bathroom. You can keep baby birds safe and healthy while keeping them outside of the home (and not with a heat lamp).
  • Create a safe area to separate sick and injured birds outside or in your garage. When birds are sick or injured, they get stressed out. Changing the birds’ normal environment can also cause stress. Stress can increase shedding of germs like Salmonella. Don’t bring sick or injured birds inside your home. Don’t wash your birds in the kitchen or bathroom sink to get them ready for shows or other events. This can cause cross-contamination of food, drinks—and even your toothbrushes—to help the germs spread much more easily.
  • Clean and disinfect all equipment and materials associated with raising or caring for live poultry outside the house, like feed and water containers and cages. 
  • Have a pair of shoes dedicated to coop-cleaning duty. After cleaning poultry housing areas, remove these shoes or boots outside of the home to keep the germs outside. 
  • When outside, don’t eat or drink in areas where the birds live or roam.

Always wash your hands
Just like washing your hands after handling raw poultry in the kitchen, it is important to wash your hands immediately after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam. Germs on hands can easily spread to other people. 

While you enjoy the benefits of backyard chickens and other poultry, it’s important to know how to stay healthy and prevent illness from germs like Salmonella. Remember, for young children, Salmonella infection is a big risk for making them sick. The good news is that you can follow these simple steps to reduce the risk of getting sick from your backyard poultry. A veterinarian with training to take care of poultry is a great resource for more information about preventing Salmonella infection in people and protecting your birds’ health. 

Hand-washing tips:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam 
  • Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available
  • Adults should supervise hand washing for young children
  • Wash your hands after removing soiled clothes and shoes

Fast Facts

Backyard poultry have many benefits, but they can pose some health risks to people.

Poultry can appear healthy while carrying germs that make people sick, like Salmonella.

Anyone can get sick with a Salmonella infection, even those who are otherwise healthy. Young children, especially those under five years old, people with weakened immune systems, pregnant women, and senior citizens over the age of 65 are more likely to have a serious illness.

Salmonella infections can cause more than just a few days of diarrhea and discomfort, ranging from mild, severe, to life-threatening, especially for children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.

Knowing the risks and simple steps you can do to protect yourself and your family is the first step to preventing infection.

Any age and any type of poultry, including those in backyard flocks and organically fed poultry, can have and shed Salmonella germs and appear healthy and clean. 

Learn more at www.cdc.gov/zoonotic/gi