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Common concerns with backyard or urban poultry keeping

Quick facts

  • Common concerns for backyard or urban poultry can include disease, noise, odor, pests and waste management.

  • Washing your hands before and after handling birds can help prevent disease spread.

  • Always properly prepare and cook poultry products to prevent illness.

  • Keeping your coop clean and free of wet feed can manage odor and pests around small flocks.

  • Roosters and hens vary in vocalization, where roosters crow and hens cluck.

Four chickens in backyard

Town and city governments have expressed a few common concerns when asked to consider the request to keep poultry in urban settings. These concerns can include disease, noise, odor, pests and waste management.

Poultry diseases and transmission to humans (zoonosis)

The main diseases of concern in poultry include:

  • Salmonellosis

  • Campylobacteriosis

  • Chlamydophilosis (psittacosis)

  • Avian influenza

Salmonella and campylobacter

Illness from salmonella and campylobacter typically result from eating contaminated food that is improperly cooked or prepared. Salmonella and campylobacter can exist in the bird’s gut and in turn the bird’s feces. Thus handling feces can be a concern. However, usually neither are present in the gut of poultry.

The number of human salmonella outbreaks from handling live poultry has increased over the years. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), from 1990 to 2005 the United States saw 17 outbreaks of salmonella from live poultry. In comparison, there were 36 outbreaks from 2006 to 2014.

People, especially children, should wash their hands before and after handling live poultry to prevent disease. The CDC reports that 62 percent of individuals with salmonella had handled chicks or ducklings. Of those individuals, 45 percent were children. Being aware of and educating children on proper poultry handling can help prevent salmonella illness.

Washing hands with soap and water
Washing your hands before and after handling poultry can prevent the spread of disease.
  • Avoid close contact with birds such as hugging or kissing—13 percent of sick patients had kissed birds.

  • When handling birds, don’t touch your hands to your face until you’ve washed them with soap and warm water; don’t eat or drink around birds.

  • Avoid keeping poultry inside your household—46 percent of sick patients had housed poultry inside their homes.

  • Always wash your hands with warm soapy water after handling birds.

  • Change your clothing and shoes after handling and caring for birds.

Read tips on preventing salmonella infection from the CDC’s website.

Avian influenza

Avian influenza is a respiratory disease in birds that can occur from many different subtypes of influenza virus. Most subtypes don’t affect humans (zoonotic). One subtype, found in Europe and East Asia, can pass from birds to humans. This subtype has not been diagnosed in people in the United States, but national and state programs exist to monitor U.S. poultry and wild birds for this subtype.

Parasites

Parasites of poultry must live on or inside the birds to survive. These parasites don’t infect humans. External parasites such as the northern fowl mite, live on birds and aren’t infectious for people. Intestinal parasites, such as coccidia and roundworms can live in the gut of poultry but don’t infect humans, dogs or cats.

Chlamydophila

Chlamydophilosis is rarely diagnosed in domestic poultry, usually turkeys or pigeons, and is generally not a disease of chickens. Most cases of chlamydophila infection are diagnosed in psittacine birds such as parrots and only on rare occasions. Chlamydophila infection spreads after coming in contact with respiratory secretions or feces of sick birds.

Noise

Male (rooster) and female (hen) chickens vary in their vocalizations. Mature roosters will crow while hens make a clucking noise. The clucking tends to be a soft tone, but the hens can have loud call-alarm call if startled or threatened. These calls occur over a short time period and end when the threat is over or identified. Typically, there will be little vocalization during the night time hours unless the birds become startled. Hens that have reproductive failures are known to have spontaneous sex reversal and can adopt male characteristics like crowing.

Odor and manure management

Odor occurs when poultry manure accumulates. A small number of birds won’t produce much manure. Routine cleaning of the coop will prevent odor issues from arising. Owners can use removed bedding and manure as a fertilizer in the fresh or composted form.

Pests

Birds, manure and feed can all attract pests to small flocks. Keeping the coop clean and properly storing feed can reduce the number of flies around flocks. Maintain dry bedding and removed soiled bedding and wet feed. Cleanliness will also reduce potential problems with rodents such as house mice and Norway rats.

Larger pests or predators such as foxes, raccoons and coyotes that already reside in urban areas may take an occasional chicken. However, small flocks kept in any one area are unlikely to attract and sustain any number of predators.

Sally Noll, Extension poultry scientist; Rob Porter, DVM, Extension poultry specialist; Wayne Martin, Extension educator; Todd Arnold, associate professor, College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resource Sciences

Reviewed in 2019

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