Can my backyard chickens get salmonella?

Salmonella is a type of bacteria related to food poisoning in form of a disease called salmonellosis. It affects the intestinal tract of humans, chickens, and other poultry and mammals in general.

According to a July 2010 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, humans can become infected with the Salmonella bacteria after eating foods that come in direct or indirect contact with infected animal droppings.

This disease is symptomized by stomach upsets, diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps that are very painful within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food.

The symptoms may sometimes be severe and they can actually be life-threatening. You can get Salmonella through poor hygiene, eating raw or undercooked animal products, or eating raw vegetables. 

Why should Backyard Poultry keepers be concerned about Salmonella?

The dangerous fact is that food contaminated with Salmonella does not look, smell, or taste spoiled. Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection the most vulnerable being Infants, children, aged people, and people living with a weakened immune system. This is according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Salmonella outbreaks are so real almost 100 people in the US fell sick in 2020 with 17 needing hospitalization. The outbreak was traced back to a backyard poultry farm.

Computer generated graphic of Salmonella Typhi. source: CDC

To add to the numbers, in 2019, there were more than 1000 reported Salmonella infections with 2 people dying from the diseases. This is just statistics from one country from only the reported cases. The situation could be far much worse among the unreported cases.

Having established how dangerous Salmonella is and that it is transferable to humans, are your chicken at risk of contracting salmonella? Today, we will try and establish concrete facts and the risk factors associated with contracting salmonella from farm chicken, and what you can do to mitigate the risks.

How the Salmonella bacteria spreads 

Unlike other deadly poultry diseases, Salmonella is not an airborne disease. The bacteria is usually spread to chickens by direct contact or vertically through the eggs. The main ways Salmonella spreads is through;

  1. Infected mouse or rat droppings

This is one of the major ways through which chickens get salmonella infections. Your chicken can come into contact with infected rat droppings as they scratch litter while they look for hiding insects. This is why it is important to regularly change the litter in the chicken coop when the chicken is kept indoors. 

  1. Infected feeds

This is mainly through contaminated water and feed. If once hen is infected with the bacteria and shares the same feeding and watering points with the rest of the healthy flock, it is highly likely that the infected chicken will leave traces of the bacteria on the water and on the feeds thereby infected the rest of the flock sharing the same feeds.

  1. Damp soil or litter

Damp places are usually a heaven for bacteria and other viruses to thrive Salmonella being no exception. Dry and aerated litter is vital for the health of the poultry flock. Having your flock live on damp litter increases the risk of salmonella infection and transmission.

  1. Eggs by mother hens which are infected

Sometimes when Salmonella infection goes unnoticed, an infected healthy looking hen may lay eggs which are already infected with the bacteria. The chicks then hatch already ill with salmonella, having had it passed to them by their mothers. 

  1. Human contact

If you or your staff comes into contact unknowingly with an infected chicken, you may easily pass the bacteria onto health chicken as you are monitoring or administering medication to the rest of the flock. This is why it is very important to maintain high levels of hygiene while handling the chicken.

  1. Wild birds

An infected wild bird such as a pigeon can come and interact with your flock as they usually share places such as dust baths which are usually in the open. Any infected wild bird will almost surely leave traces of the bacteria which will then infect your chicken using the same dust baths.

Live infected chickens that are purchased at markets and auctions or other places may pass the illness onto your own flock. The disease spreads easily through the droppings of the infected chicken coming into contact with shared food and water. Also, the disease may be transmitted through infected feather dander.

Symptoms of salmonella in chicken

Symptoms of Salmonella bacteria in chickens include; 

  1. The chicken will be weak and will have a sick looking stature. 
  2. Your chicken will have loose droppings with a yellow or green color. 
  3. Its combs and wattles will have a purplish shade.
  4. A noticeable drop in egg production. This should not be confused with the reduction in production during the molting stage.
  5. The chicken will reduce feed uptake and will eventually lose weight.
  6. An unexplainable increased thirst.

It is very important to note that Salmonella can be deadly to your flock if left untreated. The lack of these symptoms may not necessarily mean that you have a healthy flock. Poultry can also carry Salmonella pathogens even when the birds look clean and healthy. It is therefore vital that you enforce the following prevention steps to keep your flock Salmonella free.

Prevention and control of the spread of Salmonella

When dealing with poultry diseases, prevention is always preferred as the first line of defense. Some of the ways you can prevent the spread of the Salmonella bacteria include;

  1. Practicing good hygiene and disinfection

Before bringing in a new batch of chicken, you have to ensure that you disinfect the coup and all the equipment to be used by the chicken. This is very essential especially if your previous flock had an infestation of the bacteria.

  1. Enforcing rodent and bird control measures

Since we have established that rodents are a big threat in the spread of the bacteria, it is essential that you prevent rodents and any wild birds from accessing the coup. This can be done through use of bird netting and traps along routes you suspect may be used by the rodents. 

  1. Sourcing eggs from reputable suppliers

If you prefer to hatch your own chicken eggs, then it is important to source them from a reputable seller that practices disease control measures. The hatchery is a very sensitive place where disease transmission occurs very easily through direct contact and in the process of sexing and vaccination.

  1. Practicing disease spread control measures among staff

The biggest weak link in the spread of disease pathogens is the human element. It is very important that your staff maintain a very high level of hygiene by cleaning hands, clothing, and footwear. It is also important that they minimize contact with other birds within working hours to minimize any chance of spread.

  1. Use  of probiotics

The use of probiotics and other organic acids is vital in building up your chickens’ immune system to fight the salmonella bacteria. This is important not only in combating Salmonella but also other poultry diseases. Before using probiotics, consult your local vet to ensure you get the right time and doses.

  1. Vaccines

Vaccines from time immemorial have been a key tool in combating poultry diseases. In order to prevent Salmonella and other diseases, it is prudent to have a sit down with your veterinary doctor and establish a vaccination program suitable for your poultry farm. You can utilize live or killed vaccines or a combination of both to achieve efficient protection.

Salmonella bacteria infection is easily preventable if you adhere to set out guidelines.

You should always strive to prevent rather than to treat in order to save on costs and productivity on your farm. You should try and enforce strict disease prevention and control measures if you have staff on your farm to avert any possibility of a salmonella breakout that is potentially lethal.

 Above all, as deadly as the bacteria may sound, this should never hinder you from doing your job and taking care of your chicken. 

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About James

I grew up on a small farm. My parents used to grow food and keep animals for our sustenance. They would sell the surplus to make an extra coin to supplement the income from their jobs. I am taking the same path. I have over 40 chickens for eggs and meat. I also grow vegetables in my backyard. follow me on Twitter

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