5 tips for backyard chicken owners concerned about salmonella outbreaks

Even if you’re not a chicken person, you’ve probably heard about the rise in salmonella outbreaks in the United States in the last few years. This rise in the number of salmonella cases directly corresponds with the rise in the number of people keeping chickens. But every time this issue comes up–and it does keep coming up–many backyard chicken owners dismiss the CDC reports as conspiracy.

image of hen with eggs

Public domain photo, Pixabay

But, during this most recent salmonella outbreak, a case was reported in Maine. According to this piece by Abigail Curtis from the BDN, by July 2018, there have been 212 people infected with salmonella this year, and one was reported in Maine. There have been no deaths, but, according to Curtis, 34 people have been hospitalized.

I’ve written about the rise in salmonella cases myself and wondered about my own chicken-keeping practices. When I first wrote that I would have to stop kissing my chickens and shared my post in chicken communities, some readers were downright angry with me. “It’s all a conspiracy” was the gist of the comments.

I have to admit that it’s hard to know what’s real and true about anything these days, and there’s a lot of misinformation out there about chickens. I can spend weeks researching something about my chickens, only to get conflicting answers from all the experts I can find. Plus, I totally understand the urge to have at least a little mistrust of government agencies who have very strong ties to agribusiness.

But I don’t think that’s the end of this story.

In the middle of all of those posts in the chicken forums about how all of this salmonella talk is just a lot of hype, I also read a few stories from chicken owners who had contracted salmonella from their chickens. It’s not fun. The women telling their stories were very, very sick.

But where does that leave us?

I think the thing we can all agree on, whether we think all of the salmonella reporting is just a bunch of hype or a serious issue to be addressed, is that some good common sense when it comes to keeping chickens is always a good idea. Here are 5 key tips from both the reports and from people who have kept chickens for years:

1. Just wash your hands. 

Really, anytime you’ve had contact with your chickens, it’s good to wash up–well. It’s a good habit to get into, though it can be tough to get kids into this habit.

2. Use different shoes for visiting your chickens. 

This is something we really have to work on in our house. Thankfully, we don’t have babies crawling around on the floor anymore, but, if we did, this would be a bigger issue for us. We really should wear different shoes out to visit the chickens.

3. Be aware that keeping chickens in your house is going to make things tougher. 

Of course, the CDC says to never keep a chicken in your house, but people do it. Plus, even though I’m not a house chicken kind of chicken lady, last summer, I ended up having to keep a chicken in our house because the baby was sick and needed care. But it was a risk. I think we have to know that.

4. Be very careful to wash up small children after they have played with your chickens. 

Let’s face it. Kids are going to put stuff in their mouths, so we have to be super careful with small children. Our youngest is getting older and no longer explores the world with his mouth, but just this week, I saw a little boy in front of us at mini golf with the bottom of the golf club in his mouth. Last week, my son was in a play, and during one of the scenes, I saw a few kids licking the stage. Yes, it’s what they do.

So it’s easy to see how small children would be a high risk. According to the stats, more than one-fourth of those infected in 2018 have been children under 5. So be sure to wash up your kiddos very well after they’ve been hanging out with the chickens.

5. Finally, don’t kiss your chickens–if you can help it. 

I always forget about this one, and I realize that I’m never going to stop snuggling my chickens as the CDC recommends. But, if I forget and kiss a chicken on the top of the head, I clean up. And, after I snuggle a chicken, I never wear those same clothes to cook meals in.

I honestly think it’s just unrealistic to expect people not to snuggle their chickens at least a little, but I also think that maybe there’s some good points behind all the hype. I’m definitely learning to be more careful.

But I’ve also had a chicken give me a hug on her own accord, so I’m always going to keep chickens.