Thursday, July 16, 2015

Backyard Flocks & Salmonella: Our Perspective on the CDC's Warning

"Hey Myrtle, we're safer than the press is reporting"

The CDC recently issued guidance to backyard flock owners encouraging them to wash their hands after handling chickens and advising against cuddling or kissing poultry. The reminder comes in response to related data showing that 181 people have sickened with Salmonella poisoning this year as a result of exposure to backyard flocks. The CDC's data and guidance has been been widely reported by the press including NBC, Reuters, NPR and others.

While we support the CDC's guidance, we believe the widespread media attention leads to a distorted picture of the dangers of keeping poultry.  This article provides additional data that puts recent media reports  in perspective.

Salmonella bacteria shown in red

Salmonella Outbreaks Related To Poultry

According to the CDC, there were major outbreaks of poultry related salmonella in each of the last few years.  What's clear is that the number of cases in any given year is well below 1,000 individuals.

  • 2015 - 181 illnesses (year-to-date)
  • 2014 - 363 illnesses
  • 2013 - 514 illnesses
  • 2012 -334 illnesses
Salmonella & Other Illnesses Related To Food

Now let's compare this data to the CDC's data on total cases of salmonella resulting from exposure to contaminated food. The first table shows number of illnesses related to a specific type of pathogen (bacteria, virus etc). The second table shows total cases of food poisoning related to any type of pathogen.

Salmonella sickens over 1 million Americans each year

1 in 6 Americans (48 million) get food poisoning each year

OK, so here is the sad truth....  Over 1 million Americans are sickened by Salmonella each year as a result of consuming improperly prepared food. Frequent sources of infection include oysters, ground beef, chicken, and vegetables. In most cases, the symptoms are upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea. In severe cases, it the illness can cause dehydration and death.

Even more common is food poisoning related to Norovirus. This is the type of virus that has effected many cruise trip travelers.  Norovirus sickens about 5 million people each year.  

And the CDC estimates that almost 49 million Americans will be sickened each year by one form or another of food borne pathogen. That's one in six people in the U.S.

Even good food can carry salmonella and other pathogens. Take care to wash and properly cook all food.

Conclusions From The Data

Backyard chicken owners are much more likely to pick up Salmonella and a host of other gastrointestinal diseases from consuming food from their refrigerator or from a restaurant than they are from their backyard flock. 

Chicken owners should follow the CDC's advice and wash their hands after touching birds. It is also good advice not to cuddle or kiss your chickens, but there's no reason to be particularly concerned about becoming sick from your backyard flock.

If you have neighbors that hear these media reports and become concerned, please pass along this information to them.

Top Feed Supplements For Chickens

To stay healthy and laying, chickens need a balanced diet that gives them the protein, carbohydrates and vitamins they need to sustain themselves. In a prior article on choosing a feed, we discussed chicken feed formulas and provided guidance on when to switch from one feed formula to another.  

In this posting, we focus on feed supplements. These are food items that complement or enhance your chickens basic diet. You'll find these below grouped by dry and liquid supplements.

Dry Supplements 

Scratch - scratch is a mixture of whole, rolled and cracked grains including corn, oats, and barley. Formulations vary from brand to brand and many feed stores make their own mixes. Scratch is candy for chickens and they love it. However, it tends to be high in carbohydrates and low in protein. Therefore, it should never account for more than 10% of your chicken's diet. You can give your chickens scratch year-round, but it is especially beneficial during the winter months when chickens need extra carbs to keep their bodies warm.

Grit - Grit is mixture of small stones, generally granite, that are given to chickens to help them digest their food. The food enters the gizzard (part of the chicken's digestive tract) and the gizzard then squeezes the food particles against each other and the grit to make the food particles smaller and easier to digest. The grit works in much the same way that a millstone grinds wheat into flour. If you feed your chickens only pelleted food, you really don't need to provide grit because the food is already finely ground. However, if you feed your chickens scratch, table scraps or mash you should provide scratch as well to help your chickens digest these larger food items. 

Oyster Shells - Chicken owners often get oyster shells and grit confused when providing supplements.  Oyster shells and grit function completely differently and should be given for different reasons. Whereas grit assists digestion, but has no nutritional value, oyster shells are a nutritional calcium supplement, but do not assist in digestion because they dissolve before they can act as a millstone. Oyster shells are given to laying hens to provide extra calcium needed to produce strong egg shells (egg shells are about 95% calcium carbonate by weight).

A Supplement Feeder

If you want to provide dry supplements to your chickens, check out the BriteTap Supplement/Chick feeder. It works as a feeder for baby chicks and a supplement feeder when your chicks grow up and leave the brooder. The shield on this unique feeder keeps rain and snow from entering the feed tray and spoiling any supplements you give your chickens. The feeder also keeps rats and other nasties from getting at your chickens feed. It's available for sale at our web site

Table Scraps -  As a general rule of thumb, it's fine to give your chickens "people" foods as long as they are not moldy. Don't feed your birds avocado shells, raw potato peels, banana peels, or any other items you wouldn't put in your own mouth.  Many chicken owners supplement their chickens normal diet with meat or fish table scraps when their chickens are molting and we encourage you to do the same. The extra protein helps chickens grow new feathers during the molt.  Table scraps combined with scratch should not account for more than 10% of your chicken's diet.

Liquid Supplements

Vitamins/Electrolytes - These supplements aid digestion and hydration in all animals including your chickens.  Vitamins and electrolyte supplements can easily be added to your chickens water and there's ample scientific evidence to support their efficacy.  Vitamins and electrolytes are particularly helpful during the summer months when extreme heat puts stress on your birds. Durvet sells a combined vitamin and electrolyte mix that can be purchased from good feed stores across the country.

Probiotics - Probiotics are a broad range of microorganisms that ensure the health of your chickens by populating their intestinal tract and literally blocking the growth of nasty bacteria by crowding them out. While we don't see probiotics as essential for adult chickens, we highly recommend using them for baby chicks whose gastrointestinal tract have not had time to build a population of good bacteria. 

Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) - Many backyard flock owners add ACV to their chickens water and swear by it. We are far less enthusiastic about ACV and view the claims made for ACV with a high degree of skepticism.  You won't hurt your chickens by adding small amounts of ACV to their water (1 teaspoon per gallon), but we just can't justify recommending it when there is so little evidence in favor of its use and so many other supplements where the evidence for their use is far more apparent. Check out our prior posting; Don't Use ACV

Friday, July 3, 2015

Chicken Waterer Hot Summer

Wow is it getting hot this time of year!  Check out the BriteTap chicken waterer. This waterer attaches to an Igloo or Rubbermaid beverage cooler that acts as the water supply. Keeps your chicken's water nice and cool so they stay happy, healthy, and laying plenty of delicious eggs.