Our family has been keeping chickens for years, but we’re always careful to regularly clean their coup and always wash our hands after handling them to avoid falling ill. But can backyard chickens actually get salmonella?
Backyard chickens can get salmonella and pass it on to humans. As a food-based bacteria, to catch it directly from your flock you’d have to handle an infected bird then transfer the bacteria into your gut via your mouth. You can also get salmonella by eating the eggs of infected chickens.
Let’s look at the subject of salmonella in chickens in more detail, and discover how we can prevent it from harming our birds and potentially spreading to ourselves and our families…
(*Please note – although we are experienced at keeping chickens and rear them from chicks, we are not vets, so please consult your local animal health professional if you have any further questions after reading this article).
What Percentage of Backyard Chickens Have Salmonella?
It’s not possible to tell how many backyard chickens have salmonella. It’s thought that many backyard chooks carry the bacteria in their gut, but as they rarely become ill from it, you can’t tell.
So, it’s safest to assume that every member of your flock could be a carrier, and be super-cautious around all your chickens. By staying cautious and making sure your hands, equipment, and chicken coops are spotlessly clean, you should be able to mitigate the risk of transmission.
If you want to know about chicken-to-human cases, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) publishes regular data. Take a look at the current figures on the CDC website if you want to know more about backyard chicken-related salmonella case rates.
How Do You Prevent Salmonella in Backyard Chickens?
Preventing salmonella in chickens isn’t straightforward. As we said earlier, it’s hard to tell which birds may be living with the bacteria in their bodies.
Buying your chickens and chicks from a reputable source can help, and once they’re home, stick to a strict cleaning routine. As chicken poop spreads the bacteria, good hen-housekeeping is essential.
Here’s a useful short film about how to give your chicken coop a monthly clean. Once you’ve got into the habit, it’ll simply be part of your regular yard routine. Keeping on top of coop hygiene will benefit both your flock and your family.
How Do I Know if My Chicken Have Salmonella?
OK, so it can be hard to tell if a chicken is carrying the salmonella bacteria. However, sometimes the poor bird becomes truly sick. If a bird has started to become poorly with salmonella, there are a few obvious symptoms:
- Runny green or yellow poop
- Lethargy and listenessness
- Off their food, possibly losing weight
- Purple wattle and comb
- Increased need to drink
How Do You Treat Salmonella in Backyard Chickens?
If you suspect one of your chickens has salmonella, isolate her and call the vet. She can be treated with antibiotics, and the vet can advise if any other members of the flock need help.
Be very careful how you bring a sick bird indoors, if you choose to. Putting her in the kitchen is a bacteria-spreading disaster waiting to happen! Create a dedicated isolation space in your utility room, shed, or garage.
There’s also a traditional remedy involving feeding your chickens sage. We’re not sure if this works, but maybe it’s the origin of sage served with poultry dishes…? Better stick to calling the vet.
Do Fresh Eggs Have Salmonella?
Eggs produced by an infected chicken are likely to have salmonella. At first, there won’t be much in the way of salmonella bacteria inside the egg. However, the longer the egg is left before being cooked, or if it’s kept unrefrigerated, the greater the risk that the bacteria will penetrate the shell and reach the yolk. Once it’s done this, there’s plenty of protein for the bacteria to feed on, thrive, and multiply.
So, gather your eggs promptly, brush the shells clean, then store them in a cool place such as the fridge. Don’t assume that this will remove all the bacteria, however. Always cook your backyard eggs thoroughly. If you want to check, a temperature of 160 degrees fahrenheit should kill off the bacteria (or, cook until the white is firm).
Another precaution is to be careful with the shells. Many of us feed our hens crushed up eggshells. Make sure the shells have been brushed clean before you crush them, then leave them outdoors for a few hours before scattering them. Salmonella bacteria can’t live on the shells for long.
Can You Get Sick With Salmonella From Backyard Chickens?
Salmonella is not a pleasant sickness, and you can pick it up from your backyard chickens. Unlike a virus, you don’t simply “catch” salmonella from being around your chooks, as it’s a food-based bacteria. So, to catch it directly from your flock, you’d have to handle an infected bird then somehow transfer the bacteria into your gut via your mouth.
As an example, you’ve just cleaned out the coop where salmonella bacteria is present. Without thinking, you take a call on your cell phone, before you’ve reached the faucet. You finish the call, stick the phone in your back pocket, then wash your hands before lunch. Before you sit down for lunch, you take your (unwashed) phone out of your pocket…
It really is as simple as that to pick up salmonella. Then of course, you can also get sick with salmonella through undercooked or raw meat, eggs, and milk. A million people a year in the US catch salmonella, and most recover after a few (truly awful) days. People at greater risk from becoming seriously sick include very old or young people, pregnant women, and anyone with a weakened immune system.
What are the symptoms of salmonella? Signs that you’ve picked up this bug can be:
- Stomach pain or cramps
If you experience these symptoms and think you might have salmonella, please seek medical advice. We’re not doctors here at Take A Yard, and we will always recommend that you get any symptoms checked out asap. Find out more about salmonella transmission and symptoms at healthline.com.
How Do You Stop Salmonella Spreading From Chickens To Humans?
There are a few simple hygiene measures you can take to prevent salmonella spreading from chickens to you and your family.
- Wash your hands. This is your #1 defence against the salmonella bacteria. Ideally, you have an outside faucet so you can wish your hands (with soap) as soon as you leave the coop. If not, use an alcohol-based hand rub before opening the back door. Soon, handwashing will become second nature
- Keep the coop clean. The less chicken poop lying around, the less chance you have of catching salmonella. Change their bedding and clean their food and water dishes regularly. Give the whole coop a good, regular disinfecting, and remember to also clean your tools and utensils
- Teach your kids. If you have kids, they probably see your chickens as pets. Now, we know that it’s next to impossible to stop kids from picking up and cuddling their pets, so we have to be realistic here. Have very strict handwashing and hygiene rules (get the kids to make a poster), and don’t let them kiss the chickens. Handwashing is usually pretty regimented at school, so your kids will easily adapt to your backyard hygiene routine
- No coop items inside the house. Imagine washing your chickens’ water bowl in the kitchen sink: there are so many opportunities for the bacteria to spread… Have a dedicated washing area outdoors, and you should keep your shoes and gloves there, too
- No human food or drink near the chickens. Not eating or drinking near the chickens or their coop reduces the risk of hand-to-mouth contact.
- Take care with the eggs. Collect them regularly, brushing off any mess on the shell (don’t wash them, because water can penetrate the shell, drawing germs into the white and yolk). Then, store them in the refrigerator, and never eat them raw or undercooked.
As mentioned – me, my wife and kids all love keeping hens and relish discovering new eggs every morning, but we always take care to properly clean and maintain their coup and wash our hands after handling them.
This is really a common-sense issue, and just so long as you follow the guidelines in this article and don’t take unnecessary risks – you should be able to enjoy owning your chickens without ever falling ill.
However, if you need more clarity on any of the issues discussed in this article, we always advise consulting your local vet. 🙂