I recently read an article claiming that we've just had an outbreak of Salmonella from backyard chickens. Apparently, in the first half of this year, 611 people got sick, and one person even died, from Salmonella linked to backyard chicken flocks.
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?
The tempting conclusion to draw from this news is that we should get rid of our backyard flocks right away (and if you were considering getting chickens, it’s easy to read this and decide to take a pass on the whole thing).
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.
So I did a bit of research, and I want to share my basic analysis with you. I’ve taken some analytical liberties here and there, but I think my conclusions are sound, given the data that’s readily available. I’ve put links at the bottom of this post, if you want to look at my sources in more detail. Hopefully, this gives enough solid information to help you decide if the salmonella risk associated with keeping backyard chickens is worth it for you and your family.
First, what is an outbreak? When I think of an outbreak, I think of that terrifying movie: an army of doctors in hazmat suits tending to people quarantined under military guard.
Turns out, an outbreak occurs when the CDC concludes that 2 or more people got an illness from the same source.
So yes, they can report on “outbreaks” of Salmonella as small as 2 people. One particular outbreak I found involved only 5 people.
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?
In 2015, 907 people got Salmonella from Mexican cucumbers (the biggest one in the last 5 years), 192 got it from pork, and 133 got it from “small turtles.” There were many other smaller outbreaks caused, for example, by prepared products, like breaded chicken, pistachios, raw scraped ground tuna product (what on earth is that?), ground beef or protein shake powder, as well as from household pets, like crested geckos, bearded dragons and hedgehogs. So, does that mean backyard flocks are more dangerous than pork or tiny turtles, but safer than Mexican produce? Don’t answer that yet, because we still don’t have enough information.
While it’s somewhat reassuring that this outbreak isn’t hugely bigger (in terms of total numbers) than other outbreaks, it is among the larger of the typical “outbreaks.” Should that frighten us?
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.
Since it’s not possible to determine how many people keep tiny turtles (they’re illegal because they can carry Salmonella!) or how many people eat pistachios or bought a particular brand of vegetable, I decided to take a look at national numbers to get an idea of the relative rates of infection.
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:
One FDA study of 4 cities put average chicken ownership at 0.8%. But that includes New York, where, big surprise, it’s pretty close to zero, while Miami came in at 1.7%. Los Angeles was 1.2%. Homes across the US that have more than an acre are around 4%.
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.
Now, I still don’t know how that stacks up against my likelihood of getting Salmonella from all other sources. Is owning chickens wildly more dangerous than, say, just going about my daily routine? So to compare, I looked up overall infection rates for Salmonella each year in the US.
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.
It looks like I’m between 7 and 8 times more likely to get Salmonella from something other than backyard chickens, just by living in the US. Put another way, my chance of getting Salmonella if I don’t have backyard chickens is 0.3% and my chance of getting it from my chickens alone is 0.04%.
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.
Keep in mind, I think this is a very conservative number.
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.
So here’s what you can do to minimize your risk of getting anything from your flock:
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.
If you’ve been considering getting backyard chickens, I hope you don’t let scary news like this change your mind.
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.
The other chicken owners we know feel the same way. Hopefully you will, too.
Kids wanna garden, cook, and make stuff, too! That's why we're bringing a slew of new workshops just for them.
The holiday season is madness... but instead of adding to your load, we can help! The youngsters need gifts for teachers, and friends. Drop them at The Roost to make clever, creative presents from upcycled materials while you take care of all the other stuff on your list. When you come back for pick-up, your young ones will be happy and inspired, plus we'll knock out some charming homemade gifts with them in the meantime.
Kids Holiday Gifts and Crafts:
Saturday, December 12th: 2-4pm
Wednesday, December 16th: 4-6pm
And then, beginning in January, we offer an ongoing slate of kids workshops in gardening, cooking, and DIY projects. Soapmaking! Succulent gardening! Button art! Wholegrain baking!
We've scheduled at least one class per week after school, rotating which day every week (Tuesday through Friday) so that even if your child has soccer or ballet or karate at the same time each week, there are sure to be some workshops he or she can attend.
Check out our calendar here
to see the offerings for December and beyond. Registration is available in the online store
or by visiting in our retail shop.
Please help us spread the word, so we can build a robust community of creative and engaged children making, growing and cooking stuff.
Countless workshops, classes, and more!
We're finally installed in our new roost on Sunset Blvd, near Sunset Junction in the heart of Silver Lake. It's a terrific spot-- a warm and welcoming environment with a teaching kitchen and creative workshop space. Please come visit! We stock homesteading supplies and the inspiration for D.I.Y. adventures of all sorts; plus we're thrilled to announce a mouth-watering schedule of new classes and workshops.
Ever get the urge to make your own candles, soap, lip balm, body butter, or bath bombs ? How about ferment your own root beer, cider, ginger ale, kombucha, yogurt, vinegar, kefir, or home-brewed beer? Grow your own sprouts or mushrooms or sourdough starter? Pickle stuff? Make cheese? Tofu? Truffles? Keep bees, aquaponic gardens, or chickens in your yard? Mill, bake, and cook with whole grains? Design with succulent plants? Concoct fancy cocktails? Upcycle old junk in creative ways?
We're now offering classes in all these luscious subjects... and more!
Classes for adults meet on weekends and sometimes evenings during the week.
Our kids' workshop calendar has greatly expanded, as well! We now provide after-school classes every week on a rotating schedule to make time for each kid's busy schedule. Young folks can learn to cook (including lots of no-bake recipes), garden, and recycle things to make cool new stuff and creative gifts. Most classes are for children aged 6 and up, and parents are encouraged to drop off their kids, although sticking around to watch is always fine, too.
Visit our shop to pick up a calendar, or check out the listings here
. We're always adding more, so check back regularly to see what's new.
We encourage pre-registration, as some classes fill up fast. Pop into the Roost to register. Tickets to all events and full course descriptions are also available in our online store right here
Don't forget! The gift of DIY makes a terrific present! We offer gift certificates for single workshops, series of classes, any item in our store, or cash-value in any amount.
Thanks for your continued support, and see you soon at The Roost!
WHAT: Swap food and make friends!
WHEN: Saturday, May 16, 11AM
WHERE: King's Roost Patio
HOW MUCH: $10 per person; kids accompanied by grownups are free
We're thrilled to announce the Eastside Food Swap, hosted by The Kings Roost with special guest, The True Spoon.
The Eastside food swap is a community event celebrating homemade, homegrown, and foraged foods. This event aims to bring cooks, bakers, gardeners, and foragers together to swap their edible creations, share stories, and develop new friendships.
This event is open to anyone who pre-registers through The King's Roost (in store or online) The only other requirement is that you bring something you made, grew, or foraged yourself. If you're bringing kids, please plan to supervise them. There is a $10 fee to participate.
Most importantly you’ll be bringing food to swap. All swap items must be homemade, homegrown, or foraged by you. Think preserves, baked goods, fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, condiments, marinades, and beverages. You can bring a bunch of one thing or multiples of a few different things; 10-20 swap items are suggested (bring as many as you may want to trade for and bring home). Keep in mind that swappers will be examining and picking up your goods, so be sure to package them in a way that protects the food and makes it clear the amounts you want to swap. When applicable, it is recommended that you include food allergy information. If your food swap item is delicious, let it be known by providing samples to the other swappers. Since swappers will be trading at will, attractive presentation and cute packaging is a great idea to make your products visually appealing.
All swap participants adhere to an honor code; they agree to using the highest cleanliness standards in their own kitchens and gardens to prepare their swap items.
Swap participants also must agree to the following terms before registering for the Eastside Swap. By participating in these events, you are acknowledging that the food items being traded are not necessarily prepared in commercial kitchens or spaces inspected by any Government agency. By participating in these events, you are also acknowledging that you will use the highest standards of safety and cleanliness in food preparation.
By participating in these events, you assume all liability; specifically, you agree to not hold liable food swap hosts, swap venue owners/providers or other swap participants.
If you have any questions, contact Celeste@thetruespoon.com!
This week I'm excited to bring you one of my favorite DIY projects-- SPROUTS. It's so easy and inexpensive to sprout grains, seeds, legumes, it doesn't take up much space, and the return on your effort is HUGE. Sprouts are densely packed with vitamins, minerals, trace elements, micro-nutrients, and all kinds of healthy stuff. They're versatile and delicious on salads and sandwiches, as garnishes or snacks.
You can use all sorts of containers to grow your sprouts-- jars, tubs, trays. I have lots of options in the shop if you want to get started. In this week's video, I show you how to use a simple stacking garden system, with draining trays and covers that double as soaking bins. It's efficient and effective and will require a space on your kitchen counter no bigger than a dinner plate.
Growing your own sprouts, wheat grass, and micro-greens is anywhere from 20-100 times less expensive than buying them in the store... not to mention, the ones you grow will be even fresher. Have a peek!
When you get right down to it, what the heck *IS* yogurt in the first place? Yogurt is milk that has been cultured with one or more strains of lactobacillus-- bacteria that eat sugar, turning it into lactic acid. That's where yogurt gets its tangy flavor.
Why would we want our milk full of bacteria? Good question.
Like a bunch of other fermented foods, yogurt contains beneficial probiotics. These tiny organisms live naturally in our gut, helping to break down our food and making nutrients bioavailable. They also crowd out the harmful bacteria, helping to maintain a healthy digestive track. Lacto-fermentation is a natural food preserver, and it's responsible for many of the delicious and nutritious foods we love, like cheese, pickles, beer, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, and even sourdough bread.
Making yogurt at home is fast and easy, and you end up with a pure product that contains none of the added sugar, corn syrup, flavors, colors, thickening agents, preservatives and chemicals that are often found in store-bought yogurt. All you need is milk and a starter culture-- which is about a half cup of your favorite yogurt to kick things off.
Warm your milk, add your cultures, and let nature do the rest. A yogurt fermenter makes your job even easier, maintaining a steady 95 -100 degrees F while your yogurt incubates. But even that is optional as long as you have a warm spot to let your yogurt get going. Watch this week's video to see just how easy it is to have homemade yogurt!
If you're into baking and haven't yet discovered the pure joy of cultivating your own yeast, you are in for a treat.
The commercial yeast you've been buying in stores is manufactured, processed, refined and dried out. You spend money on the stuff, when countless strains of feral yeast abound right in your own kitchen! All you need to do is lure those little organisms into a jar, keep them happy, and feed them. They'll reward you by creating tastier, healthier, vibrantly natural and flavorful baked goods... AND they'll save you a bit of dough (HA!) in the meantime.
You may even find that the loved ones in your life who suffer from wheat belly, gluten sensitivities and other grain-related maladies are better able to tolerate baked goods that are made with wild yeast instead of the commercial variety.
All you need to begin is a jar, some water, and a bit of flour. Watch the video below to learn how it all works... and pick up a secret shortcut with pineapple juice!
Catching and keeping yeast is an art form that becomes pretty addictive over time. Crazy as it may sound, you'll become attached to your little yeast colony, learning its idiosyncrasies and individual moods as you play with flavor, texture, rise time, and moisture levels. Let us know how your personal yeasty adventure is going... or stop into the Roost to get a jump start with some of our own starter anytime.
This week we bring you a critical life skill-- picking up chicks.
It's simple and easy. Walter shows you how to woo the ladies, put them at ease, and make them feel loved.
This is vital information for anyone interested in a backyard flock! Plus, chickens and kids are adorable, so take a minute and a half to watch. Guaranteed, it'll make you smile.
Valentine's Day doesn't have to suck! You don't need to shell out tons of money or hours of your precious time to make your honeylamb feel loved. You don't have to be the most artsy, crafty, inspired and inventive person on earth to make something from scratch that's romantic, sensual, and beautiful. Because today, as our Valentine gift to you we bring you one of our favorite secrets-- you can make your own bath bombs at home... in one night... for just a few bucks... with stuff you find at the grocery store and around the house.
Just watch the video below to get all the details. You'll need baking soda, corn starch, citric acid, epsom salts, oil, and water. THAT'S IT. Forget expensive soap molds. You can use pretty much anything you have lying around to shape your luscious bath bombs: muffin tins, plastic Easter Eggs or Christmas ornaments, cookie cutters, you name it. Roe shows you how to slice a tennis ball in half for the perfect spherical mold.
In this demonstration, we made our favorite flavor-- orange creamsicle, using orange and vanilla essential oils. Smells so good, you'll want to gobble it up. We also added fresh oat flour for extra soothing relaxation. But you can go nuts trying various flavors and combinations of your own, adding spices, colors, decorative touches. Present your bombs in cute baskets, egg cartons, bowls, or bags. Be sure to seal and protect them so the moisture in the air doesn't destroy their fizzy powers before they hit the bath water.
This Valentine's Day, have a blast making bath bombs and spoiling your sugarpie without breaking the bank or resorting to commercialism and clichés. And from all of us at the King's Roost, WE LOVE YOU, TOO!
We've gotten really into making homemade soda at our house lately. Let's be honest-- sometimes, the stuff we get excited about here at the Roost (growing fava beans! making tofu! composting chicken crap!) doesn't really turn our kids on. But making soda? THEY'RE DOWN WITH THAT. There are so many delicious varieties-- your salivary glands will explode just imagining them. Honeydew mint? Vanilla pear? Pomegranate basil? Balsamic date? Homemade tonic water? Sour cherry cola? Cocoa chile tingler? Sparkling apricot nectar? Raspberry white tea spritzer? Lavender grape migraine buster? TOO MANY TO NAME. And if you're at all like Trish and me, the exotic cocktail possibilities just increase the excitement geometrically. Check out this great book at our store-- it's all inside.
And your kids can get onboard, not just because all kids like soda and because the flavors and combinations are endlessly exciting and intoxicating, but because these recipes are fast and simple. So they can create them with you and enjoy the process of making something from scratch. You can play with different types of natural sweeteners and the quantities you use. These drinks are healthier, lower in sugar, completely free of artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. You don't even need a soda machine, CO2 cartridge, or seltzer water to make them.
We'll start things out nice and easy with this homemade ginger ale recipe. Very basic and straightforward.. Making ginger ale yourself is so fast and such a no-brainer, you may never buy ginger ale again. But just wait. In the weeks to come, we have countless soda secrets to share. So cut your teeth on this one. And if you go down the soda rabbit hole like we have, let us know your favorite flavors and best discoveries. We'll trade secrets.