Know the basics of baby chick care, handling and the risks of Salmonella

With Easter coming up, understand the risks before purchasing baby chicks
calendar icon 4 March 2024
clock icon 3 minute read

Baby chicks are popular gifts in the spring, but it is important to remember that even birds that look healthy can transmit Salmonella, said Oklahoma State University Extension specialists.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention final update on the 2020 Salmonella outbreak associated with backyard poultry indicated there were a total of 1,722 cases of Salmonella infections in people in the United States. More than 3,300 people were hospitalized with the disease in that instance. One person died from the bacterium, and that lone death occurred in Oklahoma.

“Nearly one in four cases were in children under 5 years of age,” said Dr. Barry Whitworth, OSU Extension veterinarian and food animal quality and health specialist. “Oklahoma reported 15 cases of Salmonella infections, with 66% of the sick people reporting they had contact with chicks or ducklings. Keep in mind the CDC believes that many cases go unreported.”

Chicken, ducks and other poultry carry the Salmonella organism. 

Key facts to remember include:

  • Salmonella bacteria do not typically make birds sick.
  • The bacteria are in the droppings of poultry and can be found on their bodies. The bacteria can contaminate cages, coops, feed and water dishes, and the area where the birds roam.
  • People can be infected when handling poultry, entering poultry areas, handling equipment associated with poultry and gathering eggs, in addition to eating poultry.

Salmonella infections in humans are associated with the digestive tract. Typical clinical signs are diarrhea, vomiting, fever and abdominal cramps. If the infection goes from the intestinal tract to the blood, the disease will usually become more severe. Most people with severe infections will require hospitalization.

Parents and leaders overseeing 4-H or FFA poultry projects must ensure that children and other participants wash their hands after poultry contact. Whitworth recommended the following guidelines to reduce the chance of contracting Salmonella:

  • Wash hands with soap and water after having any contact with poultry or any area where poultry are located. If soap is not available, use a hand sanitizer.
  • Do not allow poultry to enter areas where food and drinks are prepared, served and stored.
  • Do not eat or drink where poultry are located.
  • Cook eggs thoroughly.
  • Clean equipment associated with poultry outdoors. Do not wash food and water dishes for animals in the kitchen sink.

“Having chickens in the backyard or exhibiting poultry at the county fair can be very rewarding experiences,” Whitworth said. “However, poultry owners should be aware of the potential for a Salmonella infection and always practice good hygiene and biosecurity.”

Biosecurity tips

Dana Zook, OSU Extension area livestock specialist for northwestern Oklahoma, offered the following biosecurity checklist for small flock operators:

  • Use gloves when handling poultry or cleaning poultry house.
  • Quarantine all birds that have been to a show, exhibition or swap meet. Birds may have picked up a disease from the event and steps should be taken to keep it from infecting the rest of the flock.
  • Do not allow wild birds to comingle with domestic poultry. Waterfowl and small flying birds can introduce diseases into the flock.
  • Maintaining cleanliness is an important biosecurity measure for all livestock, but even more so for small flocks in urban areas. Properly maintaining structures and keeping things clean will prevent strong smells and flies.
  • Wear a mask when conditions are dusty, such as during a deep clean.
  • Resist the temptation to show off poultry on-site. Minimizing interaction with the birds will keep people safe from disease and birds safe from any potential health problems people may unwittingly introduce.

“Be aware that some people don’t have immunity to many of the organisms found in chickens and other livestock,” Zook said. “Good hygiene and biosecurity can go a long way in keeping people safe and preserve the excellent learning experience that comes with caring for livestock.”

Oklahoma State University

© 2000 - 2024 - Global Ag Media. All Rights Reserved | No part of this site may be reproduced without permission.