More People Are Getting Backyard Chickens During the Pandemic

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By , KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Some people took advantage of the time stuck at home during the pandemic to take online classes or catch up on reading.

Others are adding chickens to their backyards.

“This year, we have in fact seen an increase,” Dr. Sherrill Davison, Penn Vet lead avian health expert, said of the popularity of backyard flocks.

With that demand, of course, comes a side effect: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, salmonella infections associated with backyard flocks in the U.S. are up 22% compared to this time last year.

Unfortunately, Davison said it's not always easy for a new flock owner to tell if a chicken is healthy.

“Some of the chickens will be sick that have salmonella, but many of them will not be sick,” she explained. “They will carry the organism in their intestinal tract but not be sick. So you may not be able to tell whether the bird has salmonella or not.”

Before you consider swapping store-bought eggs for fresh ones just outside your kitchen, Davison recommends consulting a professional.

“First, you need to reach out to somebody, such as your local veterinarian or poultry specialist,” she said. 

Davison has received many calls recently.

“For the most part, they are contacting me because the birds are sick. There are some that have had flocks for a while, and the birds have gotten ill. There are some that are new poultry owners, and they’ve gotten ill and they don’t know how to handle the situation,” she said.

“Many of the owners that I’ve spoken to recently — and these would be the new owners — did not understand what they needed to do with respect to how to keep the area clean and dry. And that’s key not only for bacteria like salmonella, but for other diseases of poultry.”

The No. 1 rule to prevent an outbreak: Always wash your hands whenever you’ve been near birds or their coops, and never let the birds inside your house. You can also take off your shoes before you enter your home, so you don’t spread the bacteria further. 

“I think it’s important to get the message across and have people understand how to protect themselves from salmonella,” Davison emphasized, “and making sure people — when they pick up their birds and they’re handling their birds — wash.”

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