Chickens are lovable. They’re therapeutic. They’re hilarious. Plus they provide us with delicious eggs (fr-hens with benefits!) But as wonderful as chickens are, they risk carrying salmonella, and therefore we must take precautions when handling our hens and their coops.
Salmonella is one of the most common causes of food poisoning in the United States. As many of us are aware, it only takes one dance with salmonella to know you never want that dance again. Some very simple practices can help reduce the risk of you or someone else who handles your chickens from getting salmonella so you can enjoy your backyard flock and all the benefits those fluffy gals bring.
The salmonella bacteria can be found in a chicken’s droppings, on the chicken, and pretty much anywhere the bird roams about. It can also get inside the egg during production. Some common symptoms of a hen sick with salmonella include lethargy, a drop in egg production, weight loss, and droppings that are yellow-greenish in color. A chicken carrying salmonella may not show any signs of sickness, though, so you may not even be aware your hens have it.
Salmonella can be passed when hands or other objects that have been in contact with the bacteria are put in or near the mouth. First and foremost, always wash your hands with soap and warm water after handling any birds in your flock. If children have been handling the birds, make sure to help them wash their hands thoroughly. If you want to take an extra precaution before you even reach your doorstep, Fresh Eggs Daily has instructions on how to install a hand sanitizer pump at your coop.
Keep chickens outdoors, and not in your home (especially not in the kitchen). Remember, salmonella can be carried on chickens’ feet and feathers. Salmonella + Hen-rietta in your kitchen = Well, you get it. Likewise, it’s best to have a separate pair of shoes for when you’re tending to your flock and cleaning out their coop. Leave those as outdoor shoes so any potential germs remain outside your home. When guests come to visit, ask them to bring a separate pair of shoes for the coop or have a bucket of suds for them to scrub their shoes after being around the chickens.
We know this is going to be a hard one for many of you to read, so brace yourselves: Kissing and snuggling with your hens comes with risks. Best practice is to save the snuggling for other loved ones in your life. If you absolutely cannot resist holding your hens, do not put your hands near your mouth, nose or eyes; scrub your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water afterward. You may even want to put your clothes in the wash for good measure.
Along with safe handling practices, around the coop cleanliness can also be a good preventative measure. Scoop their poop regularly, use a mixture of raw apple cider vinegar and water to scrub surfaces in your coop, and keep feeders and waterers clean. If other flock owners come to visit, make sure they wash their hands thoroughly before heading out to your coop. Even wearing a different pair of shoes than what they wear around their coop is good practice.
Yes, owning a backyard flock comes with risks. But awareness and good cleanliness habits can go a long way in preventing salmonella from entering your home (or your intestinal tract!) Be informed, be aware, and be cautious so you, your family, and your flock can continue to enjoy all the perks that come with backyard chicken keeping.