Staying safe with poultry (Backyard flocks)
(Editor’s note: Dr. Jonathan Moyle is a poultry Extension specialist with the University of Maryland.)
As we get closer to spring and chicks start to show up in feed stores, or as we are looking through poultry catalogs, both online and in print, trying to determine which breed to get, it is important to keep a few safety thoughts in mind.
While there is a lot of information about keeping our birds safe, it is also important to think about your own personal safety and the safety of your family as well.
According to the Center for Disease Control, campylobacter and salmonella are the two most common food borne illnesses in the United States, and both can be carried by poultry.
Children and those that are immune compromised are most at risk, and first-time poultry owners are at more of a risk than those that have been around poultry for years.
In 2020, there were 1,722 cases of illnesses in all 50 states linked to backyard flock salmonella, with 66 percent reporting contact with live poultry prior to the onset of illness. Because of this, it is important to wash your hands after working/playing with or coming in contact with poultry.
Sound familiar? It is also recommended that you do not kiss or snuggle your birds and do not let them live in the same house with you.
If a bird is brought into the home for reasons of injury or illness, the area in which it was treated needs to be cleaned and disinfected.
Birds should have their own coop (barn, house, shack) that is separate from your home, and their outside run area should not be used as a play area for children.
Eggs can be another safety concern if they are not handled properly, as salmonella can be present.
Egg safety starts in the chicken coop. Nests should be kept clean, it’s a good idea to replace bedding when it’s dirty to prevent the buildup of bacteria (old bedding can be put on the floor or composted).
Always gather eggs promptly to help keep them clean and discard any eggs that are cracked or have holes in them.
Floor eggs (those laid on the floor and not in a nest) and other heavily soiled eggs should be discarded.
If eggs are for personal use, clean eggs can be used without washing, as they have a natural protectant called the “bloom” when they are laid that can keep them safe to use.
Refrigeration is still recommended to preserve the eggs’ quality and extend their shelf life.
In Maryland, if eggs are for sale, they must be washed in clean, potable (drinkable) water that is at least 90 degrees F and 20 degrees F warmer than the egg.
Once cleaned, eggs should be stored in the refrigerator at 45 degrees F or less.
More information on Maryland’s egg safety rules can be found at https://mda.maryland.gov/foodfeedquality/pages/egg_inspection.aspx.
Another safety consideration in raising chicks is housing during the first few weeks.
Every year, hundreds of homes burn down when the heat lamp used to brood chicks in the home or garage causes a fire. It is important that all brooding be done in a building that is not attached to the home.
Make sure that the heat lamp is properly secured so that it cannot fall onto, or touch anything flammable.
Once secure, secure it again with a second safety mechanism to make sure that you prevent problems.
Keep all flammable material as far from the lamp as possible. Remember that plastic can melt and burn, so the lamp should not touch that as well.
Finally, remember that birds can be aggressive, especially males, and can be a danger to little kids.
If you are going to have roosters, try to select a breed that is not aggressive, like Orpingtons, Brahmas, Silkies and Wyandottes.
Avoid breeds like, Old English, Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds.
That said, there are exceptions to every rule and always use caution around roosters you do not know.
Roosters are fearless and are programmed to protect hens from predators and other dangers, so whenever you are working with the hens, keep an eye on the rooster.
In conclusion, always make sure to brood chicks safely to prevent fires and to wash your hands after interacting with birds.
Also, use caution around roosters, especially when handling hens, to prevent injury to you and others.