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Keep safe keeping backyard chickens

The Kelly family raises chickens on their farm near Red Wing. Marty Kelly says he teaches his children safe handling and hygiene practices when caring for the birds. Photo courtesy of Marty Kelly

As backyard poultry-keepers prepare their flocks this spring season, Minnesota Department of Health is reminding families of a few safety tips to avoid spreading illness.

Though raising small flocks of poultry such chickens and ducks can provide sources of eggs, meat and learning opportunities, the MDH warns of the risk of bacterial infections from handling birds, especially for children under five, the elderly, women who are pregnant and people with weakened immune systems.

There was a large nationwide outbreak of salmonella infections in 2016 linked to poultry in small flocks, including 42 cases in Minnesota and 37 in Wisconsin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"One of the biggest things I have instilled in my children regarding raising (chickens) is keeping the pens clean and washing their hands after handling them," said Marty Kelly, whose family raises chickens on a farm in Hay Creek Township outside of Red Wing. The family recently began showing poultry for a local 4-H club.

MDH offers the following tips:

• Do not let live poultry into the house or areas where food or drinks are prepared, served or stored.

• Dedicate a pair of boots or shoes for use in poultry areas only.

• Wash hands with soap and water after contact with poultry or their environment. Hand sanitizer can be used as an alternative, but hands should be washed fully with soap and water as soon as possible.

• Keep poultry healthy and safe in a secure building with intact barriers.

• Refrain from cuddling baby poultry.

• Separate sick animals from the rest of the flock and consult a veterinarian.

Salmonella can cause a serious illness with symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, fever and abdominal cramps. It causes an estimated 1 million foodborne illnesses in the U.S. each year, with 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths, according to the CDC.

Backyard chickens

Raising backyard chickens is a growing trend as people become more interested in knowing where their food comes from, according to a University of Minnesota Extension website on small farming. Information on raising poultry can be found at www.extension.umn.edu/food/small-farms/livestock/poultry.

Kelly said raising chickens is a great way to teach children responsibility, and the birds also provide a source of gardening fertilizer.

The family built their pen inside a barn with an outside run and areas for roosting and nesting. Kelly said the nesting area was built so that the family does not have to enter the coop to get eggs, thus avoiding stepping in and tracking around manure.

He suggested raising larger breeds because they are more docile compared to smaller breeds or bantams. Roosters are more aggressive than hens, and local ordinances commonly forbid them because of the noise they make.

Rules for raising backyard chickens vary depending on municipalities.

The city of Farmington requires an urban chicken permit to keep birds on residential property less than 2 ½ acres in an R-1 zone, for instance.

In Hudson, Wis., an ordinance enacted in 2013 allows residents to apply for a yearly chicken permit for coops in residential backyards.

Local ordinances can be found on city government websites. BackYardChickens.com also compiles a list of chicken laws at www.backyardchickens.com/atype/3/Laws.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

(651) 301-7875
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