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Backyard Poultry

Two chickens in a yard

Recent Outbreaks

See the latest outbreaks linked to backyard poultry

Anne-Marie and Scarlett

Chickens In The City

Meet Anne-Marie and Scarlett, mother and daughter who keep backyard poultry as a hobby.

Keeping backyard poultry (chicks, chickens, ducks, ducklings, geese, and turkeys) is becoming more and more popular. People enjoy raising baby chicks and having fresh eggs from their established flocks. Though keeping chickens can be fun and educational, poultry owners should be aware that chickens and other poultry used for meat and eggs can carry germs that make people sick.

Germs from these poultry can cause a variety of illnesses in people, ranging from minor skin infections to serious illnesses that can cause death. To protect yourself from getting sick, thoroughly wash your hands with running water and soap after contact with poultry or their droppings. Although running water and soap are best, you can use alcohol-based hand sanitizer until you can get to a sink to wash your hands thoroughly.

Whether you are thinking about building your first chicken coop or are a seasoned backyard poultry enthusiast, you need to be aware of the risks of keeping poultry and learn about the simple things that can be done to help protect yourself and your family from illness. Click the tabs above for a list of diseases shared between people and poultry (known as zoonotic diseases) and information on how to keep yourself and your flock healthy.

Poultry includes any domesticated bird kept for producing eggs or meat, such as chickens, turkeys, ducks, and guinea fowl.

Diseases shared between people and poultry include:

Bird flu, Avian influenza

Avian influenza is a virus whose natural hosts include many species of waterfowl. Waterfowl, such as ducks, geese, and swans, do not always show signs of avian influenza infection, but poultry flocks can experience a range of illness, from decreased egg production to extremely high death rates. Strains of avian influenza that kill poultry will not necessarily make people sick, and strains of avian influenza that sicken people will not necessarily sicken or kill poultry.

No severe human illnesses caused by avian influenza have been reported in the United States. However, avian influenza has infected people in Africa, Asia, and Europe. In infected people, symptoms can range from fever, muscle aches, and conjunctivitis to severe respiratory distress, pneumonia, organ failure, and death.

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Campylobacteriosis (Campylobacter spp.)

Campylobacter is a type of bacteria that spreads to people through contaminated food (meat and eggs), water or touching stool of infected animals. It is difficult to predict the risk of Campylobacter from animals, because many animals, such as backyard poultry, can carry the bacteria without showing any signs of illness.

Most people who become ill with campylobacteriosis will have diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever 2 to 5 days after exposure to Campylobacter. Campylobacter can cause serious life-threatening infections such as Guillain-Barré syndrome in infants, elderly people, and those with weak immune systems.

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E. coli (Escherichia coli)

Escherichia coli (E. coli) are bacteria found in the environment, foods, and intestines of people and animals, including poultry. E. coli are a large and diverse group of bacteria. Although most strains of E. coli are harmless, others can make people sick. Some kinds of E. coli can cause diarrhea, while others cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and other illnesses. The types of E. coli that can cause illness in people can be spread through contaminated water or food, or through contact with infected animals or their feces.

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Salmonellosis (Salmonella spp.)

Salmonella spreads to people through contaminated food (eggs and meat) or stool of certain animals, including backyard poultry. Live poultry might acquire Salmonella from a contaminated environment or feed, or from carrier rodents, insects, wildlife, etc. Poultry may have Salmonella in their droppings and on their bodies (feathers, feet, and beaks), even when they appear healthy and clean. While it usually doesn’t make the birds sick, Salmonella can cause serious illness when it is passed to people.

People exposed to Salmonella might have diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal cramps. Infants, the elderly, and those with weak immune systems are more likely than others to develop severe illness.

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West Nile virus (WNV)

West Nile virus is carried by birds and spread by mosquitoes. People, birds, and horses get WNV infection by being bitten by a carrier mosquito. Although many birds, such as poultry, show no signs of infection, the virus can kill some birds, such as crows.

People infected with WNV can have a wide variety of symptoms, ranging from flu-like illness to seizures or more serious disease. WNV infection can be fatal in people.

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Tips for preventing the spread of diseases from backyard poultry and waterfowl

CDC recommendations for keeping live poultry

Person washing their hands with soap and water

Person washing their hands with soap and water.

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water
    • After handling poultry food and water dishes or other equipment
    • After cleaning poultry coops, or anything in enclosures such as perches or other equipment
    • After being in areas near poultry even if you did not touch the birds
    • Before you eat, drink, or smoke
  • Adults should supervise hand washing for children under 5 years of age.
  • Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available. Be sure to have an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol near the poultry enclosure to encourage guests and children to clean their hands after handling poultry.
  • Do not let children younger than 5 years of age handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry without supervision. Children younger than 5 years of age are more likely to get sick from exposure to germs like Salmonella.
    • Don’t give live baby chicks and ducklings to young children as gifts or Easter presents. Because their immune systems are still developing, children are more likely to get sick from germs commonly associated with live baby poultry, such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E. coli.
    • Make sure that your children and anyone who is visiting your home follow these rules as well.
  • Do not let live poultry inside the house, in bathrooms, or especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored, such as kitchens or outdoor patios.
  • Do not eat or drink in the area where the live poultry live or roam.
  • Don’t snuggle, kiss, or touch your mouth to live baby poultry.
  • Set aside a pair of shoes to wear while taking care of poultry and keep those shoes outside of the house.
  • Stay outdoors when cleaning any equipment or materials used to raise or care for live poultry, such as cages, feeds, or water containers.

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Safe egg handling

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water after handling eggs, chickens, or anything in their environment.
  • Collect eggs often. Eggs that spend a significant amount of time in the nest can become dirty or break. Cracked eggs should be thrown away because bacteria on the shell can more easily enter the egg though a cracked shell.
  • Refrigerate eggs after collection both to maintain freshness and to slow bacterial growth.
  • Eggs with dirt and debris can be cleaned with fine sandpaper, a brush or cloth. Don’t wash warm, fresh eggs because colder water can pull bacteria into the egg.
  • 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.

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Bird bites and scratches

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

  • Avoid bites and scratches from your backyard poultry or waterfowl. This will prevent injury and reduce the risk of your poultry spreading germs to you.
  • If you are bitten or scratched by poultry, you should:
    • Wash wounds thoroughly with soap and water immediately — hand sanitizer is not as effective at removing germs as washing your hands with soap and water.
    • Seek medical attention and tell your doctor you were bitten or scratched by a bird, especially if:
      • The poultry appears sick.
      • The wound is serious (uncontrolled bleeding, loss of function, extreme pain, or deep wound with the muscle or bone exposed).
      • The wound becomes red, painful, warm, or swollen.
      • It has been more than 5 years since your last tetanus shot.

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Healthy Poultry

Preparing for your backyard poultry

Group of baby chicks

Group of baby chicks.

  • Check your state, local, and property laws before selecting or buying baby chicks, adult poultry (hens, roosters), or waterfowl. Many cities have rules against owning roosters because they violate noise ordinances with their loud crowing. Also, hens will lay eggs without a rooster.
  • Find out if there is a local veterinarian who has experience with poultry to help you keep your poultry healthy.
  • Learn what types of poultry are suitable for your family. Certain types of poultry, like young chicks, ducklings, goslings, and turkey poults, might not be suitable for young children or people with weak immune systems who are living in the household. Though most poultry are quite docile, some breeds of poultry are more aggressive and may be more likely to inflict bite or scratch wounds.
  • Research and learn how to properly care for your poultry before you buy them. Ask your veterinarian or local cooperative extension agent about the proper food, care, and enclosure or environment that is best for the poultry you are selecting.
  • Build an enclosure for your poultry outside your home. Backyard poultry need a sturdy environment that is easy to clean and that will protect them from disease vectors such as insects and rodents, and provide shelter from the weather and predators.
  • Set up an area outdoors to clean and disinfect all equipment used to care for the poultry and clean their enclosure. This will help you avoid having to clean any items indoors, where the germs could contaminate your living space.
  • Be aware that poultry can shed Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli, avian influenza, and other germs in their droppings. Plan to wear gloves when cleaning bird cages and poultry houses, and wash your hands and equipment thoroughly with soap and water after you have any contact with the poultry or their environment.

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Biosecurity: The Key To Keeping Your Poultry Healthy

Biosecurity is the key to keeping your poultry healthy. It is what you do to reduce the chances of diseases being carried to your poultry yard or your poultry by people, animals, equipment, or vehicles, either accidentally or on purpose. By practicing biosecurity, you can help reduce the chances of your poultry being exposed to poultry diseases such as avian influenza or virulent Newcastle disease.

The following steps can help you keep your poultry healthy:

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

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Choosing and introducing poultry

  • Pick poultry that are bright, alert, and active. Poultry should have smooth, sleek, and soft feathers that are free of debris or droppings. Poultry who seem depressed, aren’t moving around very much, or look dirty may be ill. Poultry that appear healthy and clean can still spread harmful germs that can make people sick.
  • When bringing new poultry to an existing flock be sure to keep them 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. Make sure to clean and disinfect your hands, shoes and clothing, and equipment when working 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, and you should wash your hands or at least use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you go between the two groups. 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:
    • Be less active than normal
    • Eat or drink less than normal
    • Have ruffled feathers, discharge from the eyes or nose, difficulty breathing, or runny diarrhea
    • 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 and help ensure that it does not spread to the rest of the poultry.

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Housing backyard poultry

A woman stands near her chicken coop

A woman stands near her chicken coop.

  • Do not allow poultry or waterfowl inside your home for any reason.
  • Provide your backyard poultry with a safe, sturdy environment outdoors, with housing areas and feeders/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.
  • Do not house live baby poultry in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored, such as kitchens or outdoor patios.
  • Bleach or another disinfectant can be used to clean and disinfect surfaces that have come in contact with poultry. When using disinfectants, make sure to follow the label instructions for diluting the disinfectant and for leaving it on surfaces for the proper contact time before wiping or rinsing it off.
  • Clean poultry enclosures or cages with bottled dish soap and a commercial disinfectant dedicated to this purpose. Go outside to clean any equipment or materials associated with raising or caring for live poultry, such as cages or feed or water containers. Do not clean these items inside the house. This could bring harmful germs into your home.
    • First remove debris (manure, broken egg material, droppings, dirt) by wiping the equipment with a sponge or brush soaked in warm water and dish soap.
    • Once most of the debris is removed and the surface is generally clean, then apply the disinfectant, diluted properly according to label directions. Most disinfectants only work on clean surfaces and don’t work if they are applied directly to a dirty surface.
    • Leave the disinfectant on the surface for the proper contact time listed on the disinfectant label (usually anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes), then rinse and allow the surface to dry before reuse.
  • Set aside a pair of shoes to wear while taking care of poultry and keep those shoes outside of the house.

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Monitor your pet’s health

A veterinarian looks closely at chicks for signs of illness

A veterinarian looks closely at chicks for signs of illness.

  • Work closely with a veterinarian or local extension agent who has experience with poultry for routine evaluation and care to keep your flock healthy and prevent infectious diseases.
    • If you aren’t sure if your veterinarian treats poultry, call ahead to the clinic to ask. If they do not see poultry, they can refer you to a qualified veterinarian in your area that does.
  • Keep coops and enclosures clean to prevent the build-up of animal droppings, which could attract insects, rodents, and wildlife carrying disease agents. When you clean droppings and cages, use disposable gloves, do not pick up droppings with your bare hands, and make sure to wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
  • If your poultry become sick or die soon after purchase, inform the feed store or hatchery. Consider waiting at least 30 days before replacing the poultry, and contact your veterinarian or local cooperative extension agent to investigate the cause of death. Do not reuse the enclosure until it has been properly cleaned and disinfected.
  • A healthy bird can still spread germs to people and other animals. If you become sick shortly after buying or adopting a bird, tell your health care provider about your new animal and other animals that live in your household.

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Importing poultry into the United States

  • USDA regulates the importation of poultry and poultry hatching eggs. Because avian influenza can cause serious illness and even death in poultry, USDA restricts the importation of poultry and poultry hatching eggs from countries where avian influenza has been reported. People interested in importing poultry or poultry hatching eggs should visit the USDA Live Animal Importation website.

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FAQs

  1. What do we do if our child’s preschool is letting chickens free-roam all over the outside play area of the school?
    Live poultry should not be kept in facilities with children younger than 5 years, such as child care centers or schools. If this is not possible, the area where the chickens roam should be considered contaminated, and the children should not be allowed to play, eat, or drink in these areas. The chicken enclosure should be cleaned frequently. Older children should be supervised if they are interacting with chickens. Their hands should be washed (under adult supervision) immediately after handling the poultry. In some states certain animals, including live poultry, are prohibited in child care facilities [PDF – 47 pages] as a result of the health risk. For more information, refer to the NASPHV Compendium of Measures to Prevent Diseases Associated with Animals in Public Settings.
  2. Can animals such as cats and dogs become sick with Salmonella?
    Yes, cats and dogs can get Salmonella and become ill. They may also carry and transmit the germ without showing signs of illness. Other animals, such as reptiles, amphibians, rodents, and poultry may also carry and transmit Salmonella without showing signs of illness. For more information, you can visit CDC’s website about Salmonella here.
  3. Who is most likely to get a severe illness from Salmonella?
    Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. This mild illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment. However, in some people, the illness can be more severe. Severe illness is more likely to affect children younger than 5 years old, adults older than 65 years old , and those with weakened immune systems.
  4. I have a backyard garden that my chickens love to peck around in. Does thoroughly washing the produce reduce the risk of Salmonella, or should I keep the chickens out of the garden?
    Yes, thoroughly washing produce is always a good idea and can help reduce (although not eliminate) the risk of Salmonella infection. There is risk of contamination of produce with germs if fresh chicken manure is put directly on food gardens. Keeping chickens out of the garden helps reduce the risk of Salmonella infection, as does the practice of using chicken manure that has gone through the complete composting process. The University of Idaho offers more information regarding composting of chicken manure [PDF – 6 pages].
  5. Can I put chicken manure on my garden?
    It is okay to put chicken manure that has been fully composted on gardens. The University of Idaho offers more information regarding composting of chicken manure [PDF – 6 pages].
  6. My family has kept chickens for many years and there have never been any health problems. Why?
    If your family has properly handled chickens and practiced hand washing, they greatly reduced their risk of illness. Many people experience diarrheal illness and might not attribute it to a known cause or might not be diagnosed with Salmonella infection by a healthcare provider. Thus, the true number of people who become ill after contact with live poultry is likely underestimated. Additionally, those who often do become ill are more likely to be children younger than 5 years old, adults older than age 65 years old, and those with weakened immune systems. Some healthy adults might experience very mild illness.
  7. My neighbor has small children and she has been keeping a chicken in her house. How can I share information with her?
    You can print our safe handling instructions for live poultry [PDF – 1 page] and share it with your neighbor as a conversation starter.
  8. Is it OK to wash my chicken’s water dish in my kitchen sink? There is some bedding in it but no poop. Is it a health risk?
    Items such as food and water bowls from chicken coops should not be washed or cleaned where human food is prepared or served, because there is a risk of cross-contamination of these areas with germs such as Salmonella. It is best to set up an area outdoors to clean and disinfect equipment used to care for poultry.
  9. We bought chicks that have Salmonella and my son became sick and tested positive. I really don’t want to cull the flock. Can I treat them with antibiotics?
    Administering antibiotics to live poultry is not recommended to ‘treat’ Salmonella. In live poultry, Salmonella is a part of the intestinal flora and often does not make them sick. Additionally, giving antibiotics when not medically necessary can result in antibiotic resistance. Before bringing home live poultry, it is important to consider if they are right for your family and check your local ordinances regarding ownership of poultry. If you purchased live poultry and are unable to keep them, talk with the store or hatchery where the poultry were purchased to see about returning or rehoming them. You can also speak with your local agriculture extension agent or poultry veterinarian for advice and testing options for the flock.
  10. Where can I get more information on backyard poultry and Salmonella?
    More information about Salmonella and steps people can take to reduce their risk of infection with Salmonella in general can be found in this article. Please consider sharing these resources on social media or backyard poultry forums. Other great resources for information are your veterinarian and your local cooperative extension agent; be sure to talk to them about your poultry flock’s health. They can play a key role in helping you and your poultry stay healthy. Another resource is your county extension agent.
  11. Where can I get more information about backyard poultry and avian influenza (bird flu)?
    More information about avian influenza in backyard poultry is available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health inspection Service. More information about Avian Influenza in humans is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Feature stories

Risk of human Salmonella infections from live baby poultry
CDC feature

Thinking About Keeping Live Poultry?
CDC Public Health Matters Blog, October 5, 2010

Brochures/posters

Poster: Healthy Families and Flocks
CDC

Poster: Don’t Play Chicken with your Health [PDF – 1 page]

Spanish version [PDF – 1 page]
CDC

Sticker: Always Wash Your Hands After Handling Live Poultry

In Spanish (en español)
CDC

Poster: How Infected Backyard Poultry Could Spread Bird Flu to People [PDF – 2 pages]
CDC

Videos

Facebook Live: CDC’s Dr. Megin Nichols talks about Salmonella and backyard flocks
CDC

Podcasts

Why Parents Should Think Twice Before Giving Baby Poultry to Young Children for Easter
CDC

Poultry-associated outbreaks

US Outbreaks of Zoonotic Diseases Linked to Poultry

Basler C, Nguyen T, Anderson TC, et al. Outbreaks of Human Salmonella Infections Associated with Live Poultry, United States, 1990–2014. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2016;22(10):1705-1711. doi:10.3201/eid2210.150765.

Barton Behravesh C, Brinson D, Hopkins BA, Gomez, TM; Backyard Poultry Flocks and Salmonellosis: A Recurring, Yet Preventable Public Health Challenge. Clinical Infectious Diseases. 2014;58(10):1432–1438.

Investigation of a Multistate Outbreak of Human Salmonella Altona and Salmonella Johannesburg Infections Linked to Chicks and Ducklings
CDC Salmonella site

Multistate Outbreaks of Salmonella Infections Associated with Live Poultry – United States, 2007
CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. January 23, 2009 / 58(02);25-89.

Three Outbreaks of Salmonellosis Associated with Baby Poultry from Three Hatcheries – United States, 2006
CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. March 30, 2007 / 56(12);273-276.

Salmonellosis Associated with Chicks and Ducklings – Michigan and Missouri, Spring 1999 [PDF – 20 pages]
CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. April 14, 2000 / 49(14);297-298.

Salmonella Serotype Montevideo Infections Associated with chicks – Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, Spring 1995 and 1996
CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. March 21, 1997 / 46(11);237-239.

Beyer RS. West Nile Virus and Chickens [PDF – 2 pages] . Kansas State University, February 2003.

Guidance on using live poultry in classrooms or farm exhibits

Compendium of Measures to Prevent Disease Associated with Animals in Public Settings, 2017
Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. December 1, 2017, Vol. 251, No. 11, Pages 1268-1292

Research articles

Ewers C, Antão EM, Diehl I, Philipp HC, Wieler LH. Intestine and environment of the chick as reservoirs for extraintestinal pathogenic Escherichia coli strains with zoonotic potential. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Jan 2009: 75 (1), 184-92.

Poultry and poultry hatching egg import information

Animal and Animal Product Import Information
United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA/APHIS)

Procedures for Importing Live Poultry
United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA/APHIS)

Procedures for Importing Poultry Hatching Eggs into the United States
United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA/APHIS)

Additional information

Backyard Poultry Biosecurity Practices to Keep Your Birds Healthy
United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA/APHIS)

Healthy Flocks in Upcoming Seasons: Learn from the Experts [WMV]
Twitter Chat, August 19, 2014
Chat transcript

Antimicrobial Products Registered for Use Against Influenza A Virus on Hard Surfaces. [PDF – 20 pages]
List of approved Avian influenza disinfectants. Office of Pesticide Programs, Antimicrobials Division, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

National Poultry Improvement Plan
U.S. Poultry & Egg Association

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