It is in the news again and I suspect that as the popularity of keeping backyard chickens continues to rise, so will the cases of salmonella. I haven’t really chimed in on this topic, so I think it is time. I also think that it is very important not to leave our common sense at the door, when reading the articles that are filling up the headlines. As I write this, it is chick days. New chicken keepers are going to be embarking on this amazing adventures and others will be adding to their flocks, because chicken keeping is so much fun! Here’s what you want to know.
What is Salmonella?
Salmonella is a group of bacteria that can make people sick. Onset of symptoms can occur anywhere from 12 to 72 hours after exposure. The most common symptoms are abdominal cramping, diarrhea, fever and vomiting (think food poisoning). Most people recover on their own within 4-7 days but those with compromised immune systems may require further medical attention. That group of individuals consists of infants, the elderly and adults with chronic diseases or are undergoing treatment for cancer, are HIV positive/or have AIDS, or are the recipient of an organ transplant. Usually treatment involves rest and pushing fluids to prevent dehydration. If symptoms continue or worsen, a medical provider may chose to put you on antibiotics.
Chickens can succumb to salmonella and if they survive, they are considered carriers. Salmonella is most often spread to backyard flocks when chickens eat rat droppings.
Prevent Getting Salmonella From Backyard Chickens?
Handling body fluids including urine and feces- excrement– no matter the source can make you sick. Period. It doesn’t matter who it comes from- you, your family, horses, cows, dogs, cats, lizards and chickens. There is a way to manage our waste and there is a way to manage chicken manure and their care for them that decreases the risk of all illnesses including salmonella.
Contracting salmonella is preventable. Salmonella must enter through your mouth to make you sick. You can get it from eating uncooked eggs and chicken meat. You can also get it if you handle your chickens, contaminate yourself with their feces (sometimes inadvertently), and then put your hands in your mouth. According to the CDC hand washing is key. Makes sense right?
Tips to Prevent Salmonella
- Wash your hands after handling your chickens. Keep hand-sanitizer by the coop until you can go inside and wash up properly with soap and water.
- Wash your clothes after handling chickens
- Keep shoes worn in the coop out of the house. Do not wear them in your home. Consider coop designated shoes.
- If you are immuno-compromised- don’t handle the chickens as your immune system is weakened and not working properly.
- Keep a clean coop, remove the manure and wipe things down with a 10% bleach solution on a regular basis.
- Do not consume food or beverages around your chickens and don’t share food with them that you are currently eating.
- While snuggling with your chickens, avoid touching your mouth until you have properly cleaned your hands.
- Purchase your flock from a hatchery that participates in the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP). Included in this plan is the US Voluntary Salmonella Monitoring Program. This program decreases the risk of chicks with salmonella. Ask and be sure the hatchery you use is NPIP certified. You can also ask them to send a copy of their NPIP papers with your baby chicks.
- Participate in your state’s NPIP program for backyard flocks. Conduct a Google search based on where you live to learn more.
- Prevent rats from coming in contact with your flock and their living space.
- Regularly clean chicken feeders, waterers and coop parts,chicken cages and the like outside. Do not bring them inside your home.
- Always supervise young children when handling chickens.
Clean Eggs = Less Salmonella Risk
It should also be noted that salmonella can be passed to you and their chicks via their eggs. So taking some simple precautions can help.
- Keep the nesting boxes free from chicken droppings.
- Soiled eggs should be cleaned with a light sandpaper.
- Wash your hands after collecting eggs.
- Throw away all cracked eggs.
- Collect eggs frequently.
- Refrigerate eggs after collecting to inhibit salmonella growth.
- Cook your eggs thoroughly.
Natural Prevention for Salmonella
Unfortunately, the available scientific studies have yet to show effective treatment of salmonella with natural products. However, preventative benefits of adding oregano oil, garlic oil, probiotics, organic acids to the flock’s food or water are promising.
The risk of contracting salmonella is really quite low. In fact, we see this with the rate of salmonella in backyard flocks given the hundreds of thousands of people keeping backyard chickens in the United States. According to the CDC from January 4, 2017-September 22, 2017 there were 1120 reported cases of salmonella in 48 states. Of those cases, 248 required hospitalization and there was one death. The CDC does not comment on the demographics of those 1120 cases in regards to age and whether or not they cases were immuno-compromised. So what do I say? Use your common sense and practice good hygiene with the flock and your family.