Thinking About Keeping Live Poultry?

Posted on by Casey Barton Behravesh

Chickens and owner in backyard

An increasing number of people around the country are choosing to keep live poultry, such as chickens or ducks.  Along with the benefits of backyard chickens and other poultry, it is important to consider the risk of illness, especially for children, which can result from handling live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam.  In recent years, several human Salmonella outbreaks associated with live poultry contact have been reported to the CDC. 
It’s common for chickens, ducks, and other poultry to carry Salmonella, which is a type of germ that naturally lives in the intestines of many animals and is shed in their droppings or feces. Live poultry may have Salmonella germs in their droppings and on their bodies (including feathers, feet, and beaks) even when they appear healthy and clean. The germs can also get on cages, coops, hay, plants, and soil in the area where the birds live and roam. Additionally, the germs can be found on the hands, shoes, and clothing of those who handle the birds or work or play where they live and roam.

Raising chickens in your backyard can be fun and rewarding, but please be careful doing so.
Raising chickens in your backyard can be fun and rewarding, but please be careful doing so.

Salmonella can make people sick with diarrhea and fever, often with vomiting and abdominal cramps. Sometimes, people can become so sick from a Salmonella infection that they have to go to the hospital. Infants, elderly persons, and those with weakened immune systems are more likely than others to develop severe illness. You can learn more about the signs, symptoms, and treatment of Salmonella infection by visiting the CDC’s Salmonella web site.

How do I reduce the risk of Salmonella infection from live poultry?

  • Do not let children younger than 5 years of age handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry without supervision.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after touching live poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam. Avoid touching your mouth before washing your hands.  Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available.
  • Adults should supervise hand washing for young children.
  • Wash hands after removing soiled clothes and shoes.
  • Do not eat or drink in the area where the birds live or roam.
  • Do not let live poultry inside the house or in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored, such as kitchens, pantries, or outdoor patios.
  • If you have free-roaming live poultry, assume that where they live and roam is contaminated.
  • Clean equipment and materials associated with raising or caring for live poultry, such as cages, feed containers, and water containers, outside the house, not inside.

For more information, visit CDC’s Risk of Human Salmonella Infections from Live Baby Poultry  feature and the Healthy Pets Healthy People web site.

Posted on by Casey Barton BehraveshTags ,

34 comments on “Thinking About Keeping Live Poultry?”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    What do we do if our daughter’s preschool is letting chickens free-roam all over the outside play area of the school?

    I live in NYC. I’m not sure if local authorities will allow to keep poultry at home or even at backyard.


    The basic recommendation is that live poultry should not be kept in facilities with young children (<5 years old), such as child care centers or schools. If this is not possible, the area where the chickens roam should be considered contaminated and the children should not be allowed to play in these areas. The chicken house or area should be cleaned frequently. Children should be supervised if they are interacting with chickens. Their hands should be washed (under adult supervision) immediately after handling the birds.

    You can follow this link to access a pdf with more information

    Thanks for reading!

    Jim, this website allows you to search local laws regarding backyard chickens.

    Thanks for reading.

    (please note this is an external website and not related to CDC)

    Yes, cats and dogs can get salmonella and become ill. They may also carry and transmit the germ without showing signs of illness. Other animals, such as reptiles, amphibians, and poultry may also carry and transmit the salmonella germ without showing signs of illness. For more information you can visit CDC’s website about salmonella here.

    Thanks for reading!

    I love chickens, we use to have some growing up. Wish I could have them here in the city. Didn’t know they could carry salmonella. It just means you have to wash your hands afterwords…


    Are there any precautions regarding eating the eggs from non-commercially raised foul, like ones raised by private people?

    Is it possible to get a milder case, where you don’t vomit but a stomach cramping and loose stools can linger on for weeks?

    Jill Hathaway


    Most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most persons recover without treatment. However, in some persons, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.

    Persons with diarrhea usually recover completely, although it may be several months before their bowel habits are entirely normal. A small number of persons with Salmonella develop pain in their joints, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination. This is called Reiter’s syndrome. It can last for months or years, and can lead to chronic arthritis which is difficult to treat. Antibiotic treatment does not make a difference in whether or not the person develops arthritis.

    For more information visit:
    Thanks for reading!

    So, basically there is as much cause for a person or child to wash their hands after handling chickens as with “Fido” the family dog or “Fluffy” the cat. I think people just need to use wisdom with ALL animals. You wouldn’t let your child go and eat a hot dog right after they just pet the giraffe at the zoo or rode the camel? In this day and age, I think we have been well educated by the CDC and the media on the proper ways of keeping the spread of germs to a minimum. We have backyard chickens, 2 cats and a 2 yr old daughter. We supervise her closely and routinely wash our hands after handling the animals. We should follow the advice we get from the experts, but also not go into pandamonium over our neighbor having a few chickens.

    I must say you provide good information.
    If you want to chickens on your yard it`s important to have a good chicken coop.
    Not to big but surtenly not to small also clean your chicken coop once a week.

    I keep getting asked by people visiting my hobby blog site Keeping Chickens, about the various rules and regulations for keeping chickens in the USA. It would seem that you have different laws to us in the UK. Thanks to this post, I now have a place to direct them.
    This post is an ‘egg’cellent resources and I bookmark it myself!

    I’m so glad to find this site. My daughter loves animals and has been asking to raise chickens. Thanks for the guidance to help me keep us all safe. We work hard as a family to help our neighbors keep themselves safe from the dangers lurking in their dog’s waste, but I didn’t know about the concern with chickens.
    Webmaster of Pet Waste Removal Service

    I have a backyard garden that my chickens love to peck around in. Does thoroughly washing the produce reduce the risk of salmonella, or should I keep the chickens out of the garden alltogether?

    Thank you!

    @Kristin: Yes thoroughly washing produce is always a good idea and reduces the risk of salmonella. There is some risk of pathogen contamination if fresh chicken manure is put directly on food gardens. However, if given enough sun, heat and time, chicken manure that goes through the composting process will be stripped of any harmful bacteria. Please visit this website for more info:

    Is there a danger that chicken manure (pathogen contamination) can travel in the air? Especially in windy cities?

    My family has kept 70 chickens each year for over ten years for recreation and food, yet there has never been any health problems. The key is to keep the area where the chickens live free of feces–this requires weekly cleaning and easier if you let the chicken live among lawnless soil. Additionally, keep the chicken as far as possible from your personal garden and home (or simply fence the chicken within a contained area). Finally, like any other pets make sure you give them clean water and feed–not leftovers from the table. Raising poultry can be fun, but it does require a lot of work.

    I am so interested in zoonotic infections. I live in extreme western Nebraska surrounded by cattle, chickens, hogs, goats, canines, felines and all manner of fowl on surrounding farms and ranches. I have long been interested in studying farm and ranch family health. Your blog is fascinating and visually appealing! Thanks to all those who post interesting and appealing comments! What a pleasure!

    My neighbor has small children,and she has been keeping a chicken in her house,its really nasty.I told her it is not safe nor sanitary.But she wont listen.What should I do?

    Commercial poultry keepers are allowed to vaccinate their chickens against salmonella but small backyard chicken farmers are not allowed the vaccine. Why and will this change soon with growing evidence that the risk to small flocks is no different? How do we BYCF (back yard chicken farmers) petition for protection?

    Thanks! Love my chickens who talk and chatter to me, waddle over, and keep the weeds down.

    Is it ok to wash my chicken water dish in my kitchen sink? There is some bedding it but no poop. Is it a health risk?

    We bought chicks that have been contaminated with Salmonella.
    My son has been sick and tested positive for Salmonella.
    We are all very diligent about washing our hands and the coop is impeccably clean for a hen house.
    What do I do now?
    I really don’t want to cull the flock.
    Can I treat them with antibiotics?

    I was cleaning out a chicken coop of the house I just bought. I do not have chickens and I’m not sure how they were cared for by the others. I do know their was about 2 inches of poop left behind on everything inside the coop. I spent a long while in their yesterday not w a mask on getting all the poop out. Well I woke up today feeling very sick I can’t hold anything down food or water and feel very week. I don’t know if I just got sick or if it’s the chicken poop?

    Our chickens are free roaming. We live in the country. They spent their day along the edge of the woods, in the woods and our yard. I have observed them eating dog feces. I am wondering do they eat any animal droppings. We also have cats and ducks. I really need to know if it is safe to eat their eggs.

    My neighbors hens seem to escape 2-3 times a week, yesterday there was 4 hens in my yard for several hours, digging up gardens, and dropping feces everywhere..I have 2 indoor cats that enjoy going out in my yard on a leash for several hours during the day, could the hen feces get my cats sick? Would running a hose over all the feces help? I don’t want my furbabies to get sick! Help!

    Live poultry may have Salmonella germs in their droppings and on their bodies (feathers, feet, and beaks) even when they appear healthy and clean. The germs can get on cages, coops, feed and water dishes, hay, plants, and soil in the area where the birds live and roam. And germs also can get on the hands, shoes, and clothes of people who handle the birds or are in the areas where they live and roam.

    If the cats ingest the feces or roll in the dirt where the hen’s feces are present, then they could be exposed to the germ. Not all cats exposed to Salmonella will get sick; however, if your cats experience vomiting or diarrhea, they should be examined by a veterinarian.

    Unfortunately, once in the environment, Salmonella can be difficult to get rid of as Salmonella bacteria survive in wet environments shielded from the sun. They have the remarkable ability to survive under adverse conditions and can survive for long periods in soil and in water.
    If possible, keep the cat areas/yard separate from the hens.

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Page last reviewed: April 17, 2017
Page last updated: April 17, 2017