A chicken struts in the grass.

Are You Safely Handling Your Backyard Chickens?

Are You Safely Handling Your Backyard Chickens?

Thanks to quarantine, the year 2020 has created thousands of new victory gardeners, balcony-container farmers, and eggcited pet chicken enthusiasts!

Not everything’s peachy keen, however, as the increase in backyard chicken coops has resulted in an outbreak in poultry-linked salmonella cases. According to a CDC report, as of June 23, 465 people from 42 states have gotten sick from contact with backyard chickens. Of those that have gotten ill, 36% have been hospitalized, and a whopping 31% of them were children under the age of 5. So, what is the safest way to handle these fair-feathered creatures?

Tips for Safe Poultry Handling

Chickens at play. Photo by Isabella Kwei.

PetPlace asked two backyard chicken enthusiasts (a long-time chicken coop expert and a novice “chicken mom”) for their tips on avoiding salmonella transfer.

Tory McCagg is the author of At Crossroads With Chickens: A “What If It Works? Adventure in Off-Grid Living And Quest for Home, and has been raising chickens since 2008. She has not gotten sick and says the key is to know how to handle chickens mindfully and safely.

  1. ALWAYS WASH YOUR HANDS! Thanks to COVID-19, you’re already used to washing your hands frequently. Wash with soap every single time you come in from the coop, hang out with the chickens, or collect their eggs.
  2. Wash the clothes you wore while near the chickens. The coop, like the chickens, is covered with manure and dust. As soon as you leave their space, get out of those clothes and wash them immediately. Don’t forget to take a hot shower with lots of soap.
  3. Maintain boundaries. Chickens need chicken space. Keep them in a dedicated space set apart from your house and avoid bringing them inside — even if they protest. While chickens can be pets, they aren’t cats or dogs.
  4. Wear dedicated “chicken boots” and store them in an area outside. These boots are the ones that will be worn in the coop and only in the coop. Do not wear them out on the streets (because then you might bring disease back into your coop), and definitely not in the house.
  5. Keep your home clean. You may, on occasion, find a feather or dirt from outdoors in your living area or kitchen. Clean it up immediately and, again, wash your hands.

More Sanitation Tips

The aptly-named Feathering Heights. Photo by Isabella Kwei.

The new “chicken mom” is Stacia Campbell Howard, who started raising chickens in September 2019. She has 7 doting chickens (so far) in a coop named Feathering Heights, which is a witty nod to her love of literature.

In addition to McCagg’s advice above, here are some of Campbell-Howard’s chicken safety tips and tricks:

  1. Have a wash or sanitary station near the coop or by your home entry door. This way, you’ve doubly sanitized your hands and feet before you even enter the house. Stacia uses her station to rinse off her dedicated coop shoes or feet if she’s been wearing flip flops.
  2. Don’t let your other indoor pets into the coop. This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you have a small dog that is curious, you should train them to stay away from the coop. The benefits are twofold: the chickens will be happy to avoid any canine intruders and the dog won’t bring coop mess into the house.
  3. Join social media groups for additional tips and support, like The Chicken Chick. The growing community of backyard chicken enthusiasts is a fun way to connect and learn from knowledgeable experts.

General Backyard Farming Tips

Other tips that go beyond handling chickens include:

  1. Raise your own chicks. Campbell-Howard recommends getting chicks and raising them yourself. Her first group of chickens were fully grown, but a majority of the hens did not survive due to a virus. She suspects her group could have been mishandled (not fed the best feed) by the breeder, so she brought up baby chicks for her next group. They are thriving and happy, eager to integrate with the older hens.
  2. Wash your fresh eggs. All eggs are coated with an invisible layer of film called bloom, which protects the eggs and helps keep them at room temperature for up to 3 weeks. If you plan to bring in the freshly laid eggs, wash them to discard the bloom and keep them refrigerated.
  3. Wash your hands. After handling eggs, cracking one open for cooking or baking, wash your hands thoroughly.