7 Safety Practices for Handling Backyard Chickens
By Tracy Lynn
When you first bring home new chickens, more often than not your biggest concern is their safety. Today, however, we are going to talk about the safety of ourselves and our families.
Let’s face it, there is nothing quite as cute as a baby chick. Small and fluffy, you just want to nuzzle and kiss them. With all that cuteness going on, it can be easy to forget that live poultry may carry harmful germs such as Salmonella. This includes not only chickens but ducks, geese, and turkeys as well.
Salmonella can cause diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. Although most folks recover on their own, those with a weakened immune system and the very young or old, may require hospitalization.
If a bird carries Salmonella germs, more often than not, they will show no obvious signs. This can make it tricky to spot. A good rule of thumb is, “treat them like they do, so you don’t get it too.” It is commonly believed that the risk of getting sick all lies with the eggs, however, most infections actually happen when people are handling the birds themselves.
Now, this doesn’t mean that your dreams of gathering eggs from your very own chickens is dashed. Not at all. It is important to be aware of what can happen so you can take precautions to ensure they do not.
7 Safety Practices for Handling Backyard Poultry
1. Wash your hands.
Your number one weapon in fighting germs is a good old-fashioned hand wash. It goes without saying that washing your hands after handling any animal is a good practice, but this is particularly true with poultry. Get into the habit of always washing your hands after handling your birds and be sure to use a good supply of soap when doing so. If you have young children that will be in contact with your birds on a regular basis, teach them to wash up immediately after.
2. Love from afar.
Give your kisses and snuggles away from the bird’s beak. Chickens spend their day pecking at the dirty ground. For this reason, it is always best to keep your mouth away from your hens, again most especially with younger children. This doesn’t mean you can’t love on your birds, just use common sense. No matter how clean you believe your animals are, they do live their lives outside, and for that reason, I would keep your mouth away from their beaks.
3. Keep your birds outside.
If you have a situation where you need to bring a bird inside to treat, you will want to do so in an area of the home that does not contain food. A basement or garage would be acceptable when there are no other options. Once finished, give things (and yourself) a good cleaning to be sure no germs are left behind.
I like to have a designated spot to treat any animals that are in my barn rather than in our home. The main items needed in a medical situation are a contained area and a strong light. This will allow you to look over your bird so you can treat accordingly. Keep a labeled tote of poultry supplies such as towels, a flashlight, medical tools, and medications nearby. Again, always wash your hands before and after treating your birds.
4. Keep your coop clean.
Get into a routine of cleaning your chicken coop and any feeders, waterers, and cages. A good rule of thumb is to clean nesting boxes, feeders, and waterers daily and clean the coop monthly or weekly if you feel that is needed. Cleaning frequently will not only keep your birds healthy but you as well.
5. Toss dirty eggs.
If you find some of your eggs have feces on them, I would suggest you toss rather than wash. Soiled eggs are not something that happen frequently so the loss of an egg every now and then won’t have a huge impact. If you find soiled eggs routinely, you will want to look into your coop’s layout and correct where needed.
6. Change your shoes.
I like to have separate footwear for our coop and coverings for any visitors that stop by. This will keep poultry poo out in the coop where it belongs.
7. Give health checks.
Finally, always be aware of your bird’s health. Observe them each time you feed for any signs. This is the very best way to catch symptoms before they become an issue that can hurt the entire flock.
Follow these simple tips to ensure your family stays healthy while enjoying delicious, fresh eggs from your own chickens all year long.
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