Of course, when I hear this, I have to wonder: Is it a horrible idea that we’re keeping chickens? Are we putting our kids at risk? Is it a bad idea to encourage my customers to get a flock at home? The more I think about it, the more questions I have... Are these “outbreaks” localized? Are they becoming more prevalent? Can I do anything to avoid or reduce my chances of getting salmonella from my chickens if they do have it? If we haven't caught it from them in the last 8 years, can we assume we won’t in the future?
But before we made any rash decisions in our house, I chose to get more information. I need to know: How risky is it to keep backyard chickens compared to, say, preparing raw chicken at home, eating at a salad bar at a restaurant, or otherwise going about my regular business? While the news is interesting, a little alarming, and even dramatic, the information provided is woefully inadequate for the purpose of making an intelligent decision as to whether urban chicken-keeping is a relatively safe activity.
Turns out, an outbreak occurs when the CDC concludes that 2 or more people got an illness from the same source.
I started by reviewing the CDC reports of outbreaks for the last few years and found that there seems to be a “live poultry” or “backyard chicken” outbreak of some kind every year. When they can, the CDC specifies the likely source of the outbreak-- a hatchery in this or that state, etc.
In 2015, there were 252 cases; 363 cases in 2014; 990 cases in 2013; and 334 cases in 2012. That’s an average of 485 cases per year, using just the last 4 complete years. (While the 2016 outbreak is now considered over, the calendar year obviously isn’t.) For the sake of a broad analysis, let’s just use an average of 500 cases per year.
How does that compare to some other outbreaks?
To answer, it’s helpful to know how many people are engaging in the questionable activity in order to determine the rate at which people get sick from any given source.
Even though 133 people got Salmonella from tiny turtles, it matters if only 133 people owned tiny turtles in the first place... that would mean that 100% of tiny turtle owners got sick. That’s obviously not the case, but the fictional example makes a point about the relative riskiness of any given activity.
So, off I went to get some information on chicken ownership, as well as overall Salmonella cases throughout the US, to see if the rate of Salmonella infection could help me answer my question. Here’s what I found out:
So ownership is clearly going to be higher in suburban and rural areas, compared to densely populated cities. But for the sake of this discussion, let’s assume, conservatively, that ownership is only about 1% of households, even though it’s likely to be quite a bit higher.
There are 124 million households in the US, so if 1% of them have chickens, that’s about 1.24 million chicken-owning households who are playing Russian backyard-chicken roulette. So, from our average case number above, if roughly 500 of them get Salmonella per year, that’s.... drumroll please.... 500 divided by 1.24 million = .0004 or 4/100ths of 1 percent or 0.04%.
Put another way, that’s one case for every 2500 households in any given year.
Turns out there are 1,000,000 reported cases per year nationwide. Given there are 318,000,000 people in the US, that’s 1,000,000/318,000,000= .3% or one American in 318 that gets salmonella each year. That’s quite a bit more.
Therefore, owning chickens increases that risk from .3% to .34% (which still rounds down to .3% by the way). Math-minded folks out there may point out that I’m double-counting here: Those 1 million reported Salmonella cases include backyard poultry outbreaks, but 500 out of 1,000,000 is too small to have a meaningful effect on the answer.
Why? First, I assumed 1% chicken ownership. If that number were closer to 2%, that extra .04% turns into .02%. Second, the CDC sometimes indicates how many of the cases were kids under 5, and it’s usually around one third. So if you’re a backyard chicken owner and you’re 5 or older, that 0.02% risk drops to 0.013%. That’s pretty small.
Conclusion: I’m keeping my chickens, though I am going to continue to be careful with them. We’ve had our chickens for years now. They're part of the family. While it's possible to get salmonella from backyard flocks, outbreaks are frequently linked to specific hatcheries. It’s also possible for your hens to acquire and/or carry Salmonella without showing signs of being sick – and if that is the case, it doesn’t automatically mean they'll pass it along to humans.
Don’t kiss your chickens! (If you already keep chickens, you understand why this one actually isn't as crazy as it sounds-- lovable birds can be very tempting to kiss!)
Use separate shoes/crocs/flip flops for walking in the coop, and keep those shoes outside so you don’t track poop in the house.
Keep your chickens outside. Agains, sounds bananas at first. But yes, some people have house chickens... and yes, there is such a thing as a chicken diaper.
ALWAYS wash hands after handling the chickens and/or cleaning the coop.
Don’t let kids under 5 handle them.
Be careful and wash hands and clothes thoroughly when visiting other chicken owners, flocks, or farms.
Keep rodents out of the chicken coop. Rats and other vermin can carry Salmonella.
For us, the benefits far outweigh the minuscule Salmonella risk. This wonderful, rewarding hobby is teaching our kids about keeping animals... enjoying fresh eggs that have not been washed in chemicals and were collected from happy chickens that live healthy, happy lives.
http://www.statista.com/statistics/183635/number-of- households-in- the-us/