Keeping Backyard Chickens and Other Poultry

Backyard chickens and other poultry (ducks, turkeys) can carry germs like Salmonella. After you touch a bird, or anything in the area where birds live and roam, wash your hands so you don’t get sick!

Two young girls feeding chickens in the backyard

Owning backyard chickens and other poultry can be a great experience. However, people have gotten sick with Salmonella from handling poultry or items in the area where they live and roam. Even handling baby birds displayed at stores or exhibits can spread Salmonella infections to people.

There Are Many Ways You Can Get Salmonella from Poultry

Poultry might 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. Germs also can get on the hands, shoes, and clothes of people who handle or care for poultry.

People can be infected with Salmonella germs when they put their hands or equipment that has been in contact with poultry, in or around their mouth. Children younger than 5 years are more likely to get sick because their immune systems are still developing, and they are more likely to put their fingers and other objects into their mouths.

People can also get sick without actually touching a bird. Germs on your hands can spread easily to other people or surfaces. That’s why it’s important to wash hands immediately with soap and water after touching poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam.

Sometimes, people can become so sick from a Salmonella infection that they have to go to the hospital. Serious Salmonella infections are more likely to occur in people in these groups:

  • Children younger than 5 years
  • Adults older than 65 years
  • People with immune systems weakened from a medical condition, such as diabetes, liver or kidney disease, and cancer or its treatment

Watch Tyler’s story to learn how he got Salmonella from his family’s backyard poultry.

Infographic: Don't play chicken with your health. Wash your hands.

Don’t play chicken with your health. Since 2000, 76 Salmonella outbreaks have been linked to live poultry – 4,794 illnesses, 894 hospitalizations and 7 deaths. Don’t Play Chicken with Your Health pdf icon[887 KB] | En Español pdf icon[886 KB]

Wash Your Hands and Take Other Steps to Reduce Yours Chances of Getting Salmonella

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water right after touching backyard poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam.
    • Adults should supervise handwashing by young children.
    • Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available.
  • Don’t let backyard poultry inside the house, especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored.
  • Set aside a pair of shoes to wear while taking care of poultry and keep those shoes outside of the house.
  • Children younger than 5, adults older than 65, and people with weakened immune systems shouldn’t handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other poultry.
  • Poultry should not be kept in daycares, preschools, hospitals, or nursing homes.
  • Don’t eat or drink where poultry live or roam.
  • Don’t kiss backyard poultry, or snuggle them and then touch your face or mouth.
  • Stay outdoors when cleaning any equipment or materials used to raise or care for poultry, such as cages or feed or water containers.
  • Buy backyard poultry from hatcheries that participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Poultry Improvement Plan (USDA-NPIP) U.S. voluntary Salmonella Monitoring Program pdf icon[279 KB]external icon. This program is intended to reduce Salmonella in baby poultry in the hatchery, which can help prevent the spread of illness from poultry to people.
Basket of eggs

Chickens and other poultry may carry bacteria such as Salmonella that can get inside of eggs before the shells are formed. Eggs can also become contaminated from poultry droppings.

Safe Handling Tips for Eggs from Backyard Poultry

Egg shells may become contaminated with Salmonella from poultry droppings (poop) or the area where they are laid. To keep your family healthy, follow the tips below when collecting and handling eggs from a backyard flock:

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water right after handling eggs, chickens, or anything in their environment.
  • Maintain a clean coop. Cleaning the coop, floor, nests and perches regularly will help to keep eggs clean.
  • Collect eggs often. Eggs that spend more time in the nest can get more poop on them, or break. Throw away cracked eggs.
  • Clean eggs that have dirt and debris with fine sandpaper, a brush, or cloth. Don’t wash eggs, because colder water can pull Salmonella on the egg shell into the egg.
  • Refrigerate eggs after collecting them.
  • Cook eggs thoroughly so that yolks are not runny and whites are firm. Raw and undercooked eggs may contain Salmonella bacteria that can make you sick.
  • Know local regulations for selling eggs. If you sell eggs, follow local licensing requirements.

Learn more about Salmonella and Eggs.

Avian Flu
Young chicken being tested for avian flu

Poultry also can carry avian influenza (flu) viruses. Avian flu very rarely makes people sick. Learn more about avian flu and steps you can take to protect yourself.

Symptoms of Salmonella Infection

Salmonella germs can make people sick with:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Abdominal cramps

CDC’s Salmonella website has more information about Salmonella infections and the signs of a severe infection.

Call your child’s doctor if your child has:

  • Diarrhea that doesn’t improve after 1 day
  • Vomiting lasting more than 12 hours for infants, 1 day for children younger than age 2, or 2 days for other children
  • Signs of dehydration, including not urinating in 3 or more hours, dry mouth or tongue, or cries without tears
  • Fever higher than 102˚F (39˚C)
  • Bloody stools

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Diarrhea that doesn’t improve after 2 days
  • Vomiting lasting more than 2 days
  • Signs of dehydration, including little or no urination, excessive thirst, a very dry mouth, dizziness or lightheadedness, or very dark urine
  • Fever higher than 102˚F (39˚C)
  • Bloody stools

Rules About Owning Live Poultry Depend on Where You Live

Rules for poultry ownership vary by city, county, and state. Check with your local government to know the rules for where you live.