I was at our local farm supply store the other day and saw a sign indicating they were out of chicken coops and trying to find more from different sources. I wonder if there’s a run on backyard chickens as people spend more time at home.  There are some positive aspects to that – and then… there’s Salmonella.

I’m not anti-backyard chicken. (In fact, if I wasn’t convinced they’d be coyote-food, and that Heather would kick me out of the house, I’d consider getting some myself.)

I’m anti-diarrhea and anti-preventable death. It’s clear that backyard chickens pose some risk to people. How much of that is non-preventable vs preventable with basic common sense and hygiene is a big question (and one we’re working on, but like so many other things has been stalled by COVID-19).

The CDC’s latest Investigation Notice of Outbreaks of Salmonella Infections Linked to Backyard Poultry (24-Jun-2020) highlights many of the concerns with this trendy practice, and need for better education of the public and management of the birds.

Here’s the really quick version of the report:

  • Since their May 2020 update, another (whopping) 368 Salmonella infections linked to backyard bird have been diagnosed in people. That brings the total diagnosed to 465 (meaning there were probably many thousand people truly infected).
  • 36% of those with available information were hospitalized, and one person died.
  • As is common, young kids appeared to bear the brunt of disease: 31% of cases were kids less than 5 years of age. That’s probably also a reflection of their higher likelihood of close contact with the birds (e.g. kissing them), inadequate supervision and inadequate hygiene (hand washing in particular).
  • Chickens came from a range of sources, such as farm stores, hatcheries and websites.

Risk reduction isn’t rocket science. It’s some basic management and hygiene practices, and some common sense.  (No, putting a diaper on a your chicken does not make letting it run around your kitchen a safe proposition, despite the availability of chicken diapers online).

  • Keep backyard poultry in the backyard – don’t let the birds roam the house.
  • Wash your hands after contact with poultry.
  • Look at where runoff can carry bacteria from manure in the pens (not a good place for a garden).
  • Don’t kiss poultry.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Supervise kids around poultry.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Handle eggs like commercially sourced eggs. (Your home-raised, all-natural, organic, antibiotic-free egg is as likely (or maybe more likely) to have something nasty on it as the eggs you buy in the store.)

Enjoy your chickens, but… wash your hands.