Backyard Poultry

What to know

  • Backyard poultry includes birds like chickens, ducks, geese, guinea fowl, and turkeys.
  • These animals can sometimes carry germs that can make people sick.
  • Young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to get sick from these germs.
  • Wash your hands after handling poultry, their food, or items in their environment.
  • Provide poultry with routine veterinary care to keep them healthy and prevent the spread of disease.
Backyard chickens


Keeping backyard poultry is becoming more popular. Poultry includes any domesticated bird often kept for producing eggs or meat, such as chickens, ducks, geese, guinea fowl, and turkeys. People enjoy raising baby poultry including chicks, ducklings, goslings, and poults. Many people keep chickens to have fresh eggs.

Keeping backyard poultry can be fun and educational. However, owners should be aware that poultry can sometimes carry harmful germs that make people sick. These germs can cause illnesses in people ranging from minor skin infections to serious illnesses that could cause death.

Whether you are just getting started or are a seasoned backyard poultry owner, you should know the risks of keeping poultry.

Recent outbreaks‎

Outbreaks of Salmonella linked to backyard poultry are common.


Below is a list of diseases backyard poultry can spread.

How to stay healthy around backyard poultry

Wash your hands

Wash your hands with soap and running water after touching backyard poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam. This includes after:

  • Collecting eggs
  • Handling food or water containers or other equipment used for poultry

Adults should supervise handwashing for young children. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available. You can also put hand sanitizer near your coop for easy access.

Be safe around poultry

A row of boots outside
Use dedicated shoes when caring for poultry and keep them outdoors.

Don't put poultry near your face

Don't kiss backyard poultry or snuggle them and then touch your face or mouth.

Keep poultry and equipment outside

Don't let backyard poultry inside the house, especially in areas where food or drinks are prepared, served, or stored. Don't eat or drink in areas where poultry live or roam.

Stay outdoors when cleaning any equipment or materials used to raise or care for poultry. This includes cages or food and water containers.

Wear dedicated shoes

Set aside a pair of shoes to wear while taking care of poultry and keep those shoes outside of the house.

Handle eggs safely

Eggshells may become contaminated with Salmonella and other germs 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.

Keep hands and coop clean

Always wash your hands with soap and water right after handling eggs, chickens, or anything in their environment.

Keep a clean coop. Cleaning the coop, floor, nests, and perches regularly will help to keep eggs clean.

Egg collection and storage

A woman collects eggs
Clean and refrigerate eggs after collection.

Collect eggs often. Eggs that sit in the nest can become dirty or break.

Throw away cracked eggs. Bacteria on the shell can more easily enter the egg though a cracked shell.

Eggs with dirt and debris can be cleaned carefully with fine sandpaper, a brush, or a cloth. Don't wash warm, fresh eggs because colder water can pull bacteria into the egg. Refrigerate eggs after collection to maintain freshness and slow bacterial growth.

Cooking eggs

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.

Selling eggs

Know local regulations for selling eggs. If you sell eggs, follow local licensing requirements.

Supervise kids around poultry

Protect young kids‎

Don't let children younger than 5 years old handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other poultry. Young children are more likely to get sick from germs like Salmonella.

Always supervise children around poultry and while they wash their hands afterward.

Don't give chicks and ducklings to young children as gifts. Children are more likely to get sick from germs commonly associated with poultry, such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E. coli. This is because children's immune systems are still developing.

Live poultry should not be kept in schools, childcare centers, and other facilities with children younger than 5 years old.

Prevent poultry bites and scratches

Backyard poultry and waterfowl do not have teeth. However, their bills and beaks can still cause a lot of damage if they bite you. Germs can spread from poultry bites, pecks, and scratches, even when the wound does not seem deep or serious.

Avoid bites and scratches from your backyard poultry or waterfowl.

What to do if you are scratched or bitten:

Wash wounds immediately‎

Wash wounds with soap and warm water immediately if poultry scratch or bite you.

Seek medical attention and tell your doctor you were bitten or scratched by a bird, especially if:

  • The bird appears sick or is acting unusually.
  • The wound or injury is serious.
  • The wound or site of injury becomes red, painful, warm, or swollen.
  • It has been more than 5 years since your last tetanus shot.

Serious wounds are characterized by uncontrolled bleeding, being unable to move, and extreme pain. A wound is also serious if muscle or bone is showing, or the bite is over a joint.

How to keep backyard poultry healthy

A woman crouches to feed ducks
Keeping poultry healthy helps keep you and your family healthy.

Prepare for your backyard poultry

Check local and state laws

Check your state and local laws before selecting or buying baby chicks, adult poultry (hens, roosters), or waterfowl. Many cities have rules against owning roosters because their crowing violates noise ordinances.

Research how to care for poultry

Find out if there is a local veterinarian who has experience with poultry to help you keep your poultry healthy.

Learn how to properly care for your poultry before you buy them. Ask your veterinarian or local cooperative extension agent about the best food and care. They can also provide recommendations on the proper enclosure or environment for the poultry you are selecting.

Learn what types of poultry are suitable for your family. Most poultry are quite gentle. However, some breeds are more aggressive and may be more likely to bite or scratch you.

Set up their habitat

Build a coop for your poultry outside your home. Backyard poultry need a sturdy environment to protect them from animals that spread disease such as insects and rodents. It also will provide shelter from the weather and predators. The coop should be easy to clean.

Set up an area outdoors to clean and disinfect all equipment used to care for the poultry and clean their enclosure. Do not clean any items indoors, where the germs could contaminate your home.

Cleaning up after poultry

Poultry can shed germs in their droppings (poop). Wear gloves when cleaning bird cages and poultry houses. Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after contact with the poultry or their environment.

How to choose and introduce poultry

Choosing poultry

Buy backyard poultry from hatcheries that participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Poultry Improvement Plan (USDA-NPIP). This program is intended to reduce Salmonella in baby poultry in the hatchery. This can help prevent the spread of illness from poultry to people.

Pick poultry that are bright, alert, and active. Poultry should have smooth, sleek, and soft feathers that are free of debris or droppings. Poultry that seem sluggish, aren't moving around very much, or look dirty may be ill.

Introducing poultry

Keep new poultry separated for at least 30 days before they are introduced to your other poultry. This will help prevent the new poultry from passing disease to your flock. Remember that poultry can appear healthy and clean, but still spread harmful germs that make people sick.

Clean your hands, shoes, clothing, and equipment when moving between the two groups of poultry during this period of separation. For example, you can dedicate separate pairs of gloves, coveralls, and boots to each group. You should wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you go between the two groups.

Signs of sick poultry

Always take care of your existing flock before caring for your new poultry. Contact your veterinarian or local extension agent if you notice any signs of illness in your poultry.

Sick poultry can:

  • Eat or drink less than normal.
  • Have ruffled feathers.
  • Have runny diarrhea.
  • Have discharge from the eyes or nose or difficulty breathing.
  • Produce fewer eggs than normal.
  • Produce discolored, irregular, or misshapen eggs.
  • Die unexpectedly of no apparent cause.

Your veterinarian or local extension agent can work with you to determine the cause of the illness. They can also help ensure that it does not spread to the rest of the poultry.

Importing poultry into the United States

USDA regulates the importation of poultry and poultry hatching eggs. USDA restricts the importation of poultry and poultry hatching eggs from countries with reported cases of avian influenza.

People interested in importing poultry or poultry hatching eggs should visit the USDA live animal importation website.

How to house backyard poultry

A chicken coop in yard
Talk to an expert on proper living environments for poultry.

Provide your backyard poultry with a safe, sturdy environment outdoors. It should include housing areas and feeders and waterers that can be easily cleaned and disinfected. Poultry can be kept warm outdoors in the winter in a draft-free shelter or by using a safe heating source.

Don't allow poultry or waterfowl inside your home for any reason. This includes areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored, such as kitchens or outdoor patios.

How to clean poultry cages and coops

What to use to clean cages and coops

Use a diluted bleach solution or another disinfectant to clean and disinfect surfaces that have come in contact with poultry.

Clean poultry enclosures or cages with bottled dish soap and a commercial disinfectant made for this purpose. Follow the label instructions for diluting the disinfectant when using disinfectants. Refer to the label for guidance on how long to leave it on the surface before wiping or rinsing it off.

Where to clean cages and coops

Go outside to clean any equipment or materials used to raise or care for live poultry. This includes cages or feed or water containers. Don't clean these items inside the house. This could bring harmful germs into your home.

Steps for cleaning poultry cages or enclosures

  1. Remove debris (manure, broken egg material, droppings, dirt) by wiping the equipment with a brush soaked in warm water and soap.
  2. Once most of the debris is removed and the surface is generally clean, then apply the disinfectant. Dilute the disinfectant properly according to label directions before applying it. Most disinfectants only work on clean surfaces and don't work if they are applied directly to a dirty surface.
  3. Leave the disinfectant on the surface for the amount of time listed on the label (usually anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes).
  4. Rinse and allow the surface to dry before reuse.

Monitor your poultry's health

A veterinarian looks closely at chicks for signs of illness.
Find a veterinarian that specializes in poultry.

Work closely with a veterinarian or local extension agent who has experience with poultry for routine evaluation. They can help you keep your flock healthy and prevent diseases. If you aren't sure if your veterinarian treats poultry, call ahead to ask. If they do not see poultry, they can refer you to a qualified veterinarian in your area that does.

Prevent build up of animal droppings

Keep coops and enclosures clean to prevent the build-up of animal droppings. These droppings could attract insects, rodents, and wildlife that carry disease. When you clean droppings and cages, wear work or utility gloves.

Don't pick up droppings with your bare hands and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.

If your poultry becomes sick or dies

If your poultry become sick or die soon after purchase, inform the feed store or hatchery. Also, contact your veterinarian or local cooperative extension agent to investigate the cause of death.

Consider waiting at least 30 days before replacing the poultry. Don't reuse the enclosure until it has been properly cleaned and disinfected.

If you become sick

Healthy poultry can still spread germs to people and other animals. If you become sick shortly after buying or adopting a bird, tell your healthcare provider. Inform them about your new animal and other animals that live in your household.

Practice biosecurity

Biosecurity is the key to keeping your poultry healthy. Biosecurity means the things we can do to keep diseases away from birds, property, and people.

Practicing good biosecurity reduces the chance of your poultry or yard being exposed to diseases like avian influenza or Newcastle disease. These diseases can be spread by people, animals, equipment, or vehicles, either accidentally or on purpose.

The following steps are important in keeping your poultry healthy and having good biosecurity practices:

  1. Keep your distance: Isolate your birds from visitors and other birds.
  2. Keep it clean: Prevent germs from spreading by cleaning shoes, tools, and equipment.
  3. Don't haul disease home: Also, clean vehicles and cages.
  4. Don't borrow disease from your neighbor: Avoid sharing tools and equipment with neighbors.
  5. Know the warning signs of infectious bird diseases: Watch for early signs to prevent the spread of disease.
  6. Report sick birds: Report unusual signs of disease or unexpected deaths.