Keeping Backyard Poultry

An increasing number of people around the country are choosing to keep poultry, such as chickens or ducks, as part of a greener, healthier lifestyle. While you enjoy the benefits of backyard chickens and other poultry, it is important to consider the risk of illnesses, especially in children, that can result from handling live poultry or anything in the area where they are kept.
It is common for chickens, ducks, and other poultry to carry Salmonella and Campylobacter. These are bacteria that can live naturally in the intestines of poultry and many other animals and can be passed in their droppings or feces.  Even organically fed poultry can become infected with Salmonella and Campylobacter.  While these organisms rarely make the birds sick, they can cause serious illness when passed to people. 

How do people get sick from live poultry?

Live poultry may have Salmonella or Campylobacter germs in their droppings and on their bodies (feathers, feet, and beaks) even when they appear healthy and clean. The germs can spread to cages, coops, bedding, plants, and soil in the area where the birds live, and to the hands, shoes, and clothing of those who care for them. People become infected with Salmonella or Campylobacter when they put their hands or other things that have been in contact with the birds or their environment in or around their mouth. Young children are especially at risk for illness because they are more likely than others to put their fingers or other items into their mouths and because their immune systems are still developing. It is important to wash your hands immediately after touching poultry or anything in the area where they live, as the germs on your hands can easily spread to other people or things.

What are some ways to reduce the risk of illness from live poultry?

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after touching poultry or anything in the area where they are kept. Avoid touching your mouth before washing your hands. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available, but still wash your hands with soap and water at the earliest available opportunity. 
    • Adults should supervise hand washing for young children.
    • Wash hands again after removing soiled clothes and shoes.
  • Do not let children younger than 5 years of age handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other poultry.
  • Do not eat or drink in the area where the birds live.
  • Thoroughly cook eggs, as bacteria can pass from healthy looking hens into the interior of normal looking eggs.
  • Do not let your live birds inside the house, especially into areas where food or drink is prepared, served, stored, or where young children have access.  
  • Clean equipment and materials associated with raising or caring for poultry, such as cages or feed/water containers, outside the house, not inside.

What are the signs, symptoms, and types of treatment available for Salmonella or Campylobacter infections?

  • Salmonella
    You can learn more about the signs, symptoms and treatment of Salmonella infection by visiting the MDH Salmonella website
  • Campylobacter
    You can learn more about the signs, symptoms and treatment of Campylobacter infection by visiting the MDH Campylobacter website

  • If you suspect you or your child has an illness related to contact with backyard poultry, contact your health care provider immediately and mention recent contact with live poultry.

Are there any laws about owning backyard poultry?

  • Rules and regulations regarding backyard poultry vary by city and county, so check with your local municipality about local ordinances.

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Updated Monday, 23-Jun-2014 12:26:57 CDT