Remember: Safety First!

I have just become aware of a study from the New England Journal of Medicine that has traced 316 confirmed illnesses in 43 states to a mail order chick supplier.  This hatchery supplied backyard flocks across the US.  The NEJM estimated that there were thousands of unreported illnesses in the same outbreak.  The illnesses were caused by the same strain of Salmonella montevideo.  The article goes on to describe the interesting methods that the investigators used to discover the cause and course of the disease (think CSI, but in an agricultural setting….and with less attractive investigators, most likely).  The story was interesting, but the bottom line is that a bunch of people got seriously ill from their day old chicks.

An Electron Micrograph of Salmonella bacteria.

It is easy to forget that the cute balls of fluff can harbour seriously nasty bacteria.  Salmonella are a common inhabitant of chicken’s intestines, and every egg and every chick has the potential to make you….or your kids….or your neighbours sick. 

I am not an alarmist.  It is rare that chickens are a source of illness.  Your Barred Rocks or Araucana or Black Copper Marin is not a ticking time bomb.  However, you do need to be realistic and realize that your chickens and eggs are a potential risk.  Professional egg producers spend a WHOLE lot of time and money maintaining food safety programs and hygiene.  Backyarders need to keep a similar priority when handling their chickens and eggs.

The general rules are easy, and intuitive.  Keep manure and eggs separate.  Wash your hands each time you handle your hens.  If you wash your eggs, rinse them in running water, and don’t use hot water (it will cause the egg to expand, and when it contracts again, it can draw bacteria into the interior of the egg, where the bacteria can grow at an exponential rate).  Keep manure out of your house (shoes dedicated to the coop and kept by the back door are a good, simple way to separate dirty and clean areas).   Don’t allow your chickens free roam of your house…especially your kitchen….chickens will often have manure on their feet, or will inconsiderately leave droppings anywhere (and everywhere). 

Remember….the major source of dangerous bacteria is manure.  The major vehicle by which it gets to your body is your hands.  Do what you can to break the connection between these things.  It is best if you develop some kinds of routines that you follow to maintain cleanliness in your eggs and house.  It is worth reducing the risk to yourself and your loved ones.

Mike the Chicken Vet


13 responses to “Remember: Safety First!

  1. Thank you for this article. Very informative especially health issues which is very important in chicken farming.


  2. Hi Dr. Petrik!

    Thanks for posting.

    We actually practise most of the things mentioned in the video! We each have outdoor “clog-like” rubber shoes. We leave these outside, and they never come in! We also wash the eggs (in cold running water) and we do not let the hens inside (mommy would have a fit)!


  3. Hi, I am new at this and am hearthbreaking to see that my rooster has diarrhea, very small (1 mm) white parasite that move on him (I see it on one of his eye that her keeps closed), looks at the corner of the henhouse and doesn’t look very strong. I tried DE on him but it doesn’t seem to work. I could use help! What to you suggest? I have 11 hen and 2 roosters that are all free run during the day and in the henhouse during the night.

    • Hi Véronique;

      I’m sorry to hear that your rooster is sick……how old is he, how long have you had him, and where do you live? Parasites live in certain areas, so knowing where you are from might help. In general, clean out the coop well, make sure you keep water close to him, keep him warm, and keep him isolated from the other chickens. Let me know the other hints, and I will try to help.


      • You are so nice. This rooster is the kids favorite! He is a brahma rooster with his feather paws and I have had him for almost a year. He was grown up when I bought him so I don’t really know his age! Seller can tell you anything since I am no expert. When we started, I didn’t except that much worriyng! I love my hens! I live in Gatineau, near Ottawa. Cactus (the rooster) is presently in a cage in the house, away from the coop and the kitchen! Many of my hen have soft of diarrhea stools but just tought it was normal. Their is not that much information on the web for hens. They run everywhere, come when you call them and some are very friendly.
        Let me know if you need more information.
        Thanks again, Véronique.

  4. Hello,
    This morning, the rooster seems to have swollen eyes on the upper near the front of the beak. Still liquid stool. !
    Thanks again.

  5. we have a separate hutch and we have recently hatched 5 chicks with a broody silky. We want to hatch some more, but she is to interested in her chicks. The chicks are about 10 weeks old now, but we don’t want to put them with the other flock. It is spring time here in new zealand

  6. Plz help!!!!

    • At 10 weeks of age, pullets are plenty old enough to fend for themselves. If you put them in their own pen, where the silkie can’t get to them, she should be willing to sit on more eggs.


  7. Thanks for that. We have tried to seperate them and get her to be on her own but she wasn’t showing any interest. We are now opting for the incubator option. I quess she will get in the mood again soon.

    • Almost all the questions are about how to STOP a hen from being broody….I’ve never considered how to make one broody. Have you tried leaving a “nest egg” in with her, something she can get used to having in the nest that will attract her to sit on?

  8. Yes! She isn’t interested in that either!! we tried that for the other chickens, and they sat on it for about an hour and then left, so they were probably not broody!

  9. We have started to incubate the eggs now, but we will only have the incubator just this once, so the silky will still be a problem!

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