So, You Want a Back Yard Flock? Here’s What to Consider to Keep Your Family Safe.
By: Heather Williams
The concept of a backyard flock, or raising chickens on your own property for eggs or meat, is increasing in popularity. Who doesn’t like fresh eggs? What better way to know where your food comes from than to raise it yourself?
If you are in Texas and want to start your own back yard flock, you are in luck! Effective September 1, 2017, Senate Bill 1620 now allows individuals to raise up to six chickens. According to Sec. 251.007, “a political subdivision may not impose a government requirement that prohibits an individual from raising or keeping six or fewer chickens in the boundaries of the political subdivision”. The local municipality may, however, impose reasonable requirements such as establishing a minimum distance between the coop and a residential structure, limiting the number of chickens to no more than six, and prohibiting keeping roosters or breeding within the subdivision. Many other states are beginning to follow suit and providing citizens the opportunity to raise their own backyard flock. But before you pick up those cute little peepers, consider the following concerns and steps you can take to minimize risk to protect them and your family:
What are the Health Risks?
Backyard poultry, such as chickens, quail, and ducks, carry a host of germs harmful to humans. You can’t see them, but they can see you. These germs are found in the droppings as well as on the bird itself and may cause illness ranging anywhere from minor skin infections to more life-threatening illnesses that can cause death. Common diseases that can be transmitted from birds to people include Avian Influenza (Bird Flu), Botulism (from Clostridium botulinum), Camplyobacteriosis (from Campylobacter spp.), E. coli (known as Escherichia coli 0157:H7), Salmonellosis (from Salmonella ssp.), and West Nile Virus to name a few. Don’t let yourself or your family be host to these terrible guests.
What Can I Do to Keep My Family Safe?
Keep Family Safe
After contact with birds or bird droppings, such as cleaning out the coop, feeding the birds, collecting eggs, or socializing with them, it is very important to wash your hands with running water and soap. This is the most important thing you can do for your overall health outside of the backyard flock and even more important when dealing with known germ carriers. Always supervise children when they have contact with the birds, the coop, or any tools you use with the birds or the coop. Children often put things in their mouths and do not always understand the dangers. Something simple as touching an egg or a bird and then later putting their hands in their mouths could cause illness. Also pay attention to whether you have had the birds against your clothing. Contaminated clothing will need to be changed so keep the germs from spreading throughout your home.
For best results, refer to the following CDC hand washing guidance.
- “Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off tap, and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.”
After raising your chickens to egg laying maturity, you can finally enjoy the fruits of your labor. Well, their labor. Some chickens may lay an egg a day while others are somewhat less frequent. If you have 6 chickens, the eggs will begin to pile up fairly quickly. But what do you do with them? You can eat them yourself, give them to a friend or neighbor, or believe it or not… Feed it back to the chickens as a great source of protein. Whatever you decide to do with the eggs, you will need to follow some simple health guidelines.
After collecting eggs, limit surfaces you touch prior to handwashing. You can spread the germs through contact to other surfaces. Consider the door handle, light switch, kitchen counter that you are touching along the way.
If you intend on room temperature storage, do not wash them. Eggs are equipped with a protective layer called a bloom that creates a natural antibacterial coating. If the egg appears slightly soiled, brush the dirt off with a dedicated abrasive cloth. Eggs are generally good for about a month depending on the ambient temperature of your kitchen, but are best consumed within two weeks. Keep eggs in a basket or container with a dish towel for them to rest on and be sure to wash the dish towel regularly. Follow the egg washing guidelines below prior to using the eggs or cooking with them.
If you intend to refrigerate immediately (this is recommended), you will need to wash the eggs before placing them in the refrigerator. Use warm water. Cold water can draw the external bacteria through the porous shell inside the egg. Soap is not necessary but a recommended approach to ensure the egg is clean before refrigeration. Dry the eggs completely and transfer to an egg carton. You can reuse egg cartons or pick them up at your local feed store. Egg carton storage helps protect the egg from moisture which could cause premature spoilage.
To reduce the chance of foodborne illness, the CDC recommends refrigerating eggs at 40º F (4º C) or colder, discarding cracked eggs, and cooking eggs to a temperature of 160º F (71º C) or hotter. You should also wash anything that comes in contact with unwashed or raw eggs with soap and water.
Keeping Birds Safe
Your backyard flock will need protection. Providing a structure for them to live in is very important in ensuring their protection. They will need to be secured at night from birds of prey such as owls and depending on your area, ground predators such as skunk, mink, raccoon, opossum, and neighborhood dogs. During the day, birds of prey such as hawks are also a concern. The birds will want a safe place to lay eggs and an enclosed run area to spend time in during the day. This protection is both for the birds and for your family. This enclosure will keep droppings out of the general area of your yard. Don’t be afraid to allow your birds to stretch their legs and have some time in the yard, but containment is going to be important if you live in a residential neighborhood with a very small backyard.
Keep the Coop Clean
The most important aspect of safe flock keeping is cleanliness. This helps keep the birds from getting sick and also shields your family from gross contact with droppings. Choose a bedding that is functional and easy for you to work with. Horse bedding such as pine pellets with cedar or pine shavings on top gives good odor control, is comfortable for the birds, and the pellets decompose into a powder as it absorbs moisture. This powder can be shoveled out of the coop every 2 weeks or so depending on coop size and number of chickens. If you have a compost pile, add some of waste bedding to it. The bacteria in the bedding will help break down your compost mulch and add a great nitrogen source to future soil.
Are You Ready?
If you think you have what it takes to raise your own backyard flock, get your coop ready and head to your local feed store or get online to order those cute little peepers. Enjoy watching them grow and the benefits of having peace of mind that comes from knowing where your food comes from. As you begin this new journey remember to always keep safety in mind.