raising backyard chickens

Backyard Chickens: Cute, Innocent, Delicious…and Deadly?

Raising backyard chickens is a great way to get local, organic food—until they make you sick, that is.

Backyard Chickens: Cute, Innocent, Delicious…and Deadly?

Backyard chickens are fabulous egg producers. Pets, not so much.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Backyard chicken rearing has become so popular that hens and roosters now reside atop ritzy Manhattan apartment complexes, hunt and peck in community gardens in Madison, Wisconsin, and live as pets in suburban backyards. The lure of fresh-from-the-henhouse eggs has made them the poster poultry for the "Buy Local" and small-scale agriculture movements.

But now these birds are beginning to show their dark meat. After an investigation that began in February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that backyard chickens living in 20 states have infected 92 people, mostly children, with various strains of salmonella. As a result, the agency is urging people to rethink their enthusiasm over backyard chickens.

THE DETAILS: In late August, CDC announced it had traced two outbreaks of salmonella to live chicks and ducks sold by Mt. Healthy Hatchery, based in Ohio. The two salmonella strains detected in these animals, Salmonella Altona and Salmonella Johannesburg, are both rare. And while no one has died as a result of infection, 25 out of the 92 people who were infected wound up in the hospital. On the upside, the strains don't exhibit the same kind of antibiotic resistance found in the recent turkey recall involving factory-farmed turkeys infected with the potent Salmonella Heidelberg strain.

Mt. Healthy Hatchery issued a statement on its website related to the outbreak, saying that owners there were able to trace the salmonella-contaminated chicks to a single supplier, with whom the company has ceased doing business.

WHAT IT MEANS: "This was just an unfortunate fluke," says Patricia Foreman, author of the book City Chicks and host of the daily talk-radio program, Backyard Poultry with the Chicken Whisperer. She says that Mt. Healthy Hatchery, which has been in business since 1924, has a very good track record and is a valued supplier to backyard chicken owners such as herself because the hatchery raises rare heritage breeds that other hatcheries shy away from. And she says she's impressed with the fact that the company doesn't use antibiotics on its birds and conducts extensive salmonella testing on both its breeder flocks and the babies.

In general, Foreman says, hatcheries do take these precautions to keep sick birds out of backyard flock owners' hands. "A good hatchery practices good hygiene, ensures proper air flow to keep bacteria at bay and efficient handling of any waste," she says. Hatcheries also are required to regularly test birds for salmonella, and any that test positive are destroyed.


Published on: September 6, 2011

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"Mostly Children"?

I was just wondering where the "mostly children" statement in the article comes from? Looking on the CDC report for the Salmonella outbreaks, the Altona outbreak reportedly had 19 (children under 5) of 65 people infected, and the Johannesburg outbreak shows that 21 of 27 people infected was a child under 5. So, 40 out of 92 people. Which, if my math is correct is only 43% - not "mostly children", not even half children. Is there some further information you have access to? I am interested in the age breakdown of this outbreak, as well as concerned that the seemingly unsupported statement "mostly children" might cause people to unnecessarily panic.


Deadly? Please. Put this story in context of the many thousands of people who get sick and die from eating industrial chicken and eggs every year. I'll take my chances with remembering to wash my hands after handling a backyard chicken any day.

backyard chickens

My 3 month old daughter also contracted Salmonella- 23 years ago- from supermarket chicken. She recovered but cultured positive for it for 6 months. My husband also tested positive then though did not get sick. Still don't know exactly how they got it since we were quite rigorous about food safety. My 3 other children born since then were all raised on the farm with chickens, calves, goats, sheep, and pigs. No one has ever had a serious GI illness. My guess is that their enteric flora is much better than most. Backyard chickens require common sense. If a child isn't old enough to keep their hands out of their mouth, you don't put them in the livestock pen.

On Chicken Meat

Is it true that chicken meat from chicken raised commercially are injected of so much hormones for fast growth (fast production, fast disposal) that eating chicken most of the time can affect our hormones too. I would love to hear some answers for this.

Carmela from Radiateur chaleur douce 

Backyard Chickens

Backyard chickens are here to stay. They are safer in the short run than factory farm poultry and enormously safer in the long term as far as nutrition and health are concerned.

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