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Keeping Backyard Poultry

Chickens in grassLive poultry, such as chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys, often carry harmful germs such as Salmonella. After you touch a bird, or anything in the area where they live and roam, wash your hands so you don't get sick!

More people are choosing to keep live poultry, such as chickens or ducks, as part of a greener, healthier lifestyle. Owning backyard chickens and other poultry can be a great experience. However, it’s important to consider the risk of illness, especially for children, from handling live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam.

Can live poultry make you sick from Salmonella?

It's common for chickens, ducks, and other poultry to carry Salmonella, a type of germ that naturally lives in the intestines of poultry and many other animals. Even organically fed poultry can have Salmonella. While it usually doesn't make the birds sick, Salmonella can cause serious illness when it is passed to people. Each year, outbreaks of Salmonella in people result from contact with live poultry and their environment.

Animals and Health

Check out two CDC websites with helpful resources.

Gastrointestinal (Enteric) Diseases from Animals: Information about zoonotic outbreaks, prevention messages, and helpful resources

Healthy Pets Healthy People: Information on health benefits of pets and disease risks

How do people get Salmonella infections from live poultry?

Live poultry may have Salmonella germs in their droppings and on their bodies (feathers, feet, and beaks) even when they appear healthy and clean. The germs can get on cages, coops, feed and water dishes, hay, plants, and soil in the area where the birds live and roam. And germs also can get on the hands, shoes, and clothes of people who handle the birds or work or play where they live and roam.

People become infected with Salmonella when they put their hands or other things that have been in contact with live poultry in or around their mouth. Young children are more likely to get sick because their immune systems are still developing and they are more likely to put their fingers or other items into their mouths. Some people who have contact with items in the area where poultry live can become ill without actually touching one of the birds.  Germs on your hands can spread easily to other people or surfaces, which is why it's important to wash hands immediately after touching poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam.

How do I reduce the chance of Salmonella infection?

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water right after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam.
    • Adults should supervise hand washing for young children.
    • Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available.
  • Do not let live poultry inside the house, in bathrooms, or especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored.
  • Don't let children younger than 5 years, adults older than 65, and people with weakened immune systems handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry.
  • If you collect eggs from the hens, thoroughly cook them.
  • Don't eat or drink in the area where the birds live or roam.
  • Avoid kissing your birds or snuggling them, then touching your mouth.
  • Stay outdoors when cleaning any equipment or materials used to raise or care for live poultry, such as cages or feed or water containers.
  • Buy birds from hatcheries that participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Poultry Improvement Plan (USDA-NPIP) U.S. voluntary Salmonella Monitoring Program [279 KB]. This program is intended to reduce the incidence of Salmonella in baby poultry in the hatchery.

What are the signs, symptoms, and treatment for Salmonella infection?

Salmonella can make peo ple sick with

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Abdominal cramps

Sometimes, people can become so sick from a Salmonella infection that they have to go to the hospital. Children younger than 5 years, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems, including pregnant women, are more likely to have a serious illness. When severe infection occurs, Salmonella may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other body sites, and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.

CDC's Salmonella website has more information about Salmonella infection. If you suspect you or your child has Salmonella infection, please contact your health care provider immediately.

What are the rules for owning live poultry?

Rules and regulations vary by city, county, and state, so check with your local government to know the rules for where you live.