This post is about one of my concerns about backyard poultry keeping. How do you keep the chickens, eggs, the owner and her kids safe from the bacteria that often surround hens? Professional egg farmers invest a lot of time and money in sanitary programs, egg handling procedures, audits and environmental controls in order to keep the food supply safe. Backyarders don’t necessarily have the ability to do these things.
Now, don’t get me wrong, chickens are not walking bacteria factories…..well, I guess they are, but no more than a dog or cat. The difference is that a) you don’t eat your dog or cat, or their products, and b) most owners pick up after their dog, and cats have litter boxes. Chickens, like all birds, and most toddlers, are indiscriminate poopers….wherever, whenever the urge strikes. Often in the most awkward places, like the nest, or on an egg, or on the kid’s tricycle, if they have access to it. And the bad news is, poo is FULL of bacteria…even from healthy birds, and, while most of the bacteria actually won’t cause disease, enough of them will that it is a real risk.
When designing your coop, it is crucial to think ahead and set it up in such a way that
every aspect of the coop is clean-able. This speaks to materials….wood is considered un-cleanable by professional egg farmers….you can pressure wash it with hot water and detergent, disinfect it with strong disinfectants, and it will often still give a positive on a bacterial test. The reason is that it is porous, and the little critters get snug little hidey-holes that protect them from being cleaned out. Painted wood is much better, smooth plastic is better yet, and the Cadillac of clean is stainless steel.
The next important consideration for safety and hygiene (now that you built a stainless steel coop 😉 ) is nest design. This is where your eggs are going to be placed, all moist and warm, early in the morning. Then they sit there, and cool and dry off. As they cool,
the contents contract a little, actually acting as a tiny bit of suction through the pores of the egg shell….if the nest is dirty, there is a reasonable chance that some bacteria could get sucked into the shell matrix, or even into the egg itself.
Design your coop so that the nest-boxes can be cleaned out EASILY. Easy clean out means it will happen often. If the cleaning process is awkward, or messy, or annoying in any way, it will happen less and less often….it’s human nature. Drawers are a great idea, which allow for easy egg collection, and simple clean up.
Other considerations for managing your backyard chickens is dealing with eggs that may be dirty; getting eggs cool as soon as you can, and keeping them that way; and developing a system of cleaning up the areas that the hens have access to….this includes the ground in the chicken run, which will accumulate bacteria and nitrogen until it gets “fowl sick” and won’t grow anything at all. These are topics for another day, but keep em in mind….especially if you have little kids who like to play with the hens.
Mike the Chicken Vet.