Here's how to keep your flock—and your family—safe.

Spring and summer are popular times to buy backyard birds—and more people are raising chickens due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. But just because you’re cooped up at home, doesn’t mean you should resort to starting your own coop just yet. The CDC is currently investigating a multi-state outbreak of salmonella infections linked to backyard chicks and ducklings.

There are currently 97 people ill across 28 states and 17 people have been hospitalized. About 30% of those sick are children under the age of 5. Nearly all of those sick from salmonella reported buying chicks or ducklings from agricultural stores, websites or hatcheries.

The CDC says, “People can get sick from salmonella by touching live poultry or their environment. Birds carrying the bacteria can appear healthy and clean.”

Signs and symptoms of salmonella include diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps and could take as long as 6 days after exposure to manifest. The illness itself usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment. However, children, elderly and those with weakened immune systems are more likely to have severe illness and may require hospitalization.

backyard chicken coop
Credit: Getty / georgeclerk

How to Keep a Backyard Chicken Coop and Stay Healthy

Whether you’re a veteran chicken-raiser or wanting to start your first backyard coop, there are a few things you should know to stay safe. The CDC recommends following these precautions to limit the spread of salmonella from backyard birds:

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water right after touching backyard poultry, their eggs, or anything in the area where they live and roam. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t readily available.
  • Don’t let children younger than 5 years touch live poultry, since they're more likely to get a severe salmonella infection.
  • Set aside a pair of shoes to wear while taking care of your birds and keep those outside of your home. Do not wear them inside your house.
  • Don’t let live poultry inside the house. This is especially important in areas where food or drink is prepared, served or stored, including kitchens and outdoor patios.
  • Don’t eat or drink where live poultry live or roam.
  • Don’t kiss or snuggle backyard poultry.
  • Stay outdoors when cleaning any equipment or materials used to raise or care for poultry, such as cages and containers for feed or water.
  • Collect eggs often. Eggs that sit in the nest can become dirty or break.
  • Throw away cracked eggs, and don’t wash warm, fresh eggs because colder water can pull germs into the egg.
  • Refrigerate eggs after collection to maintain freshness and slow germ growth.
  • Cook eggs until both the yolk and white are firm. Egg dishes should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C) or hotter. Raw and undercooked eggs may contain salmonella bacteria that can make you sick.

The Bottom Line

Raising backyard chickens or ducks can be a wonderful hobby, but you should be extra careful while handling your flock. As long as you’re washing your hands, maintaining proper hygiene, practicing food safety and avoiding cuddling your adorable chicks (we know, it’s hard!), you should be good. Want to do some more research? The CDC has a helpful guide on safely raising backyard poultry