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Do Backyard Chickens have Salmonella?

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At the mention of the term “salmonella”, almost every backyard chicken owner freaks out. Whether this is true or just an allegation, we are yet to find out. But here is the question, do backyard chickens have Salmonella? Mostly, Salmonella is contracted from undercooked poultry products such as eggs. One in every 20, 000 eggs has been found to contain these deadly bacteria. And this is the main link with which humans especially those raising chickens contract it. 

The Spread of Salmonella

Your backyard chickens are likely to be carriers of various germs including Salmonella. Whenever you touch them or anything in the backyard where they roam and live, you are at great risk of contracting Salmonella. The Salmonella bacteria spread to chickens through the mouse or rat droppings in damp soil, feed, water, or even bedding/litter. 

Eventually, the salmonella germ gets transmitted to human beings through the consumption of semi-cooked or improperly cooked eggs and meat from infected backyard chickens. On the other hand, the bacteria can be spread by putting your hands in your mouth after getting into contact with infected birds or touching the eggs that are already contaminated by chickens or rodent feces. 

Kids below five years old are susceptible to salmonella infection. This happens quite often and it is always from hands to mouth transmission of this dreaded pathogen. Children of this age are fond of playing or handling chicks and in the process, they may come into contact with the affected ones. In addition, the kids have a weak immune system that cannot prevent these bacteria from making them sick.

Backyard chickens might harbor Salmonella bacteria on their bodies and their droppings. These chickens are known to carry these germs on their feet, beaks, and feathers. Some of the infected chickens may appear clean, strong and healthy much to your surprise. 

But the bacteria can get on coops, cages, feed, water dishes, plants, hay and soil found within where your birds live and spend most of their time. Also, these germs can get on your shoes, hands, and clothes if you are the person handling and taking care of the infected poultry.

Salmonella infection can become so severe that the victims may have to seek medical advice to get well.

The infection is more likely to affect the following groups of people:

  • Kids below 5 years of age
  • Grown-ups who are older than 65 years

Symptoms of Salmonella Infections

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Persistent diarrhea that lasts for more than a day
  • Vomiting lasting more than a day for babies, one day for kids younger than 2 years old and two days for older children
  • Dehydration, dry mouth, and tongue, not urinating in three or more hours and cries without tears
  • High fever (more than 102 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Blood in the stool.

In your case, you may visit the doctor if you show the following signs:

  • Prolonged diarrhea that does not improve even after two days
  • Vomiting for more than two days
  • Signs of being dehydrated with little or no urination, dry mouth, excessive thirst, dizziness or lightheadedness. 

Fever higher than 103 degrees Fahrenheit

Bloody stool

Sometimes Salmonella bacterial infection does not become fatal in healthy individuals. This means they can recover on their own without seeking medical intervention. But it can cause death among the elderly, the sick, expectant mothers, children and anyone with a compromised immune system.

In chickens, the symptoms may include:

  1. Weak and lethargic birds
  2. Loose green or yellow droppings
  3. Combs and wattles turn purplish
  4. A drastic drop in egg production
  5. Increased thirst
  6. Loss of appetite 
  7. Weight loss

If not treated in time, Salmonella infection in chickens can be lethal or cause death.

How to Prevent Salmonella in Your Backyard Chickens

The most effective way of preventing the spread of Salmonella is by practicing good personal hygiene. This means you should always wash your hands after handling your backyard chickens or anything related to them. Additionally, you should keep your chicken coop clean all the time. 

Backyard biosecurity is crucial if you want to keep Salmonella bacteria in check. This simply refers to keeping your backyard chickens safe and healthy throughout.

Cooking kills all bacteria, so you need to cook your eggs well before eating them. Keep in mind that the practice of freezing eggs doesn’t destroy bacteria at all.

Below are a few tips that can help you prevent the infection or spread of Salmonella:

Practice Proper Hygiene

You must ensure that you have chicken footwear that can be used only when anyone is entering the coop. 

Clean your hands in warm water using soap for about 20 seconds or more after handling hens, chicks or eggs. Or you may use a hand sanitizer instead of washing your hands in soapy water

Keep an eye on kids when they are around your backyard chickens. On top of that, teach them not to put their dirty hands in their mouths when handling chickens

Avoid eating, drinking or sharing food near your flock.

Never allow your backyard chickens to come into your house. If you notice an infected chick or chicken, you must quarantine them to prevent the spread of Salmonella.

Egg/Meat Safety

Keep all the nesting boxes clean

Get rid of extremely dirty or cracked eggs

Allow the eggs’ natural ‘bloom’ to protect them against bacteria rather than washing them

Keep the eggs in the refrigerator immediately after collecting them to slow down the growth of bacteria

Before cooking your eggs, make sure that they’re rinsed in warm water

While cooking your eggs, the temperature should be raised to 160 degrees Fahrenheit to make the whites firm

In case you are cooking your poultry, the temperature should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit to eliminate all bacteria

Keep raw poultry away from other types of food and only use a cutting board dedicated to poultry meat

Safety of Your Flock

Buy new chicks from reliable and reputable sources to minimize chances of spreading Salmonella bacteria

Make sure that your flock has a strong immune system

When feeding eggshells back to the chickens, ensure that the shells are rinsed and air-dried before crushing and passing to your flock.

What you need to do when you discover that your backyard Chickens are infected with Salmonella

The moment you suspect that your chickens have been infected with Salmonella bacteria, you need to consult with your avian veterinarian for testing and treatment with antibiotics. Alternatively, you may use herbs such as sage to treat your infected flock where you cannot access a poultry vet. 

Studies have shown that the culinary herb sage can yield promising results by combating Salmonella bacteria infection in birds. So, you can prepare fresh sage and give it to your chickens or add some amount of dried sage to their feed. Better still, you may turn to sage essential oils to help bring down the effects of these bacteria.

The addition of sage to your backyard chickens’ regular diet is an effective preventive measure in any case. Maybe that could be a reason why sage is used as a recipe for roasted chickens or other dishes. 

Taking preventive measures into account plays a significant role in eliminating Salmonella in your flock. This is important because some birds may survive this bacteria overload and become carriers. If that happens, such chickens are likely to pass the disease to others or humans through eggs or meat.

Related Questions

What is Salmonella? Without going deeper into technical and biological details, Salmonella is a form of bacterial infection that affects the intestinal tract of chickens, humans, other birds and mammals. It is also related to the bacteria responsible for causing typhoid fever.

Can you get sick from Salmonella infection without touching chickens? Yes, you can become sick without actually coming into direct contact with your hens or chicks. This happens so often when germs from the hands of those infected spreads to surfaces or other people. That’s why you must always wash your hands immediately with soap and clean water after touching your chickens or anything found within their living space.

In Conclusion:

To answer the question as to whether backyard chickens have Salmonella, the truth of the matter is that they do get infected with the bacteria and can transmit it to humans or other healthy chickens if not treated in time. However, the threat of Salmonella bacteria shouldn’t dissuade you from keeping backyard chickens, handling them or enjoying their meat and eggs. With preventive and curative measures in place, you can easily contain Salmonella bacteria and keep your backyard flock healthy and productive. 

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