Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

Nation’s Cities Debate Backyard Chickens

In cities and towns across America, there is one common topic being debated.

That subject is backyard chickens.

Oklahoma City is considering allowing people to raise chickens in residential areas, but it first wanted to know how its action might line up with its “peer cities.”  After all, Oklahoma City doesn’t want to be out there alone looking like a bunch of rednecks.

backyard-chickens.jpgWhen city staff came back with their report on Austin, El Paso, Fort Worth, Nashville, St. Louis, Kansas City, Wichita, and Tulsa, Oklahoma City elected officials learned that only Kansas City bans backyard chickens.

Just this month, cities from Holyoke, MA to Truckee, NV and many in between have been considering zoning code amendments to allow residences on lots as small as 5,000 square feet to raise a few chickens in their backyards.

The driving force behind the change takes many names.  Call it the self-sufficiency or sustainability movement.  Advocates show up at zoning hearings talking about their concern for healthy eggs.  They want to be sure they are eating “free range” and “organic”.

It is not at all unusual to have one city give backyard chickens the green light only to have another not far away continue to ban them.   Two Tennessee cities, Knoxville and Oak Ridge, are only the most recent examples.

And while most cities allow only a handful of backyard chickens, usually only hens, some are getting pretty liberal with their birds.  Ashville, MO for example allows up to 20 hens and rooster.

Opponents of backyard chickens tend to bring up concerns about odor, noise from the roosters, and the likelihood that poultry will attract coyotes and foxes to urban neighborhoods.

Some things are going largely unsaid in all these town hall debates over backyard birds.

Not since Hubert Hoover was president has the nation even thought about an era of prolonged high unemployment like this one.  Might backyard chickens be a coping mechanism?

Nor does food safety get brought up very often.  Small poultry farms know their chickens might have Salmonella or Campylobacter, and they know what to do about it.  Will uninformed city folk mean backyard chickens will spread disease?

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Altanta has also been tracking all these zoning changes to allow backyard chickens and CDC has some advice for all the newly liberated city folk.

“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 poultry and many other animals and is shed in their droppings or feces, ” CDC says.  “Even organically fed poultry can have Salmonella. While it usually doesn’t make the birds sick, Salmonella can cause serious illness when it is passed to people.”

Here’s what urban people can do to reduce their risks while raising backyard chickens, according to CDC:

-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 where they live and roam is contaminated.

-Clean equipment and materials associated with raising or caring for live poultry, such as cages or feed or water containers, outside the house, not inside.

Salmonella can make people sick with diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and/or 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.

When severe infection occurs, Salmonella may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.

© Food Safety News
  • Steve

    The same salmonella concerns are present in our commercial food supply as well. The CDC rules would be similar for preparing store-bought poultry, fish, handling dogs, cats, reptiles and even when preparing frozen foods (re:Marie Calendar’s recent recall).
    Wash your hands and cook your food. Pretty basic to me.

  • Susan Barefoot

    As a farm girl who became a food microbiologist, I appreciate the sentiments of those who want to get closer to agriculture but sincerely thank you for including the much overlooked public health and food safety considerations.

  • Errol Hess

    Why not a simple test for salmonella? Is salmonella not also common in supermarket poultry products?

  • Not all chickens have salmonella, etc. If the chickens are kept in a relatively clean environment they will not have or get it. I have nine chickens and none of them have it. Furthermore, to sell eggs one has to register with the state they are in and have the chickens tested.
    I would not recommend allowing roosters in a city environment. I feel guilty enough about mine and I’m in a rural location.

  • dangermaus

    Again the magic food safety fairies dust their knowledge upon us stupid, stupid people trying to circumvent the (fictional) laboratory-like conditions under which supermarket food is shepherded to us…
    The implication that people who raise chickens in their back yards do so without knowledge of the danger of Salmonella is completely ridiculous! Even assuming, for a moment, that Salmonella is not the first thing most functioning adults think of when dealing with chickens in the context of food (and it IS the first thing most of the people I speak with about this DO think of), do you really think it’s even possible to read enough about how to obtain, house and feed chickens without running across it? I would submit that it’s not.
    Good job FoodSafetyNews! Way to keep playing the only chord you know – introduce fear wherever possible, whenever you encounter something new! Maybe next you should support a regulation under the new FSMA that mandates that the above information be printed on laminated posters in a font no less than 5/8th inches in height, and hot-riveted to every chicken in the country.

  • dangermaus

    The implication that people who raise chickens in their back yards do so without knowledge of the danger of Salmonella is completely ridiculous! Even assuming, for a moment, that Salmonella is not the first thing most functioning adults think of when dealing with chickens in the context of food (and it IS the first thing most of the people I speak with about this DO think of), do you really think it’s even possible to read enough about how to obtain, house and feed chickens without running across it? I would submit that it’s not.
    This looks like an example of how people abuse the concept of “safety” to make themselves feel important. Scare some people about something (no matter how remote the fear), and inevitably, a certain percentage of those you’ve scared will have a reflex of feeling gratitude towards you. Maybe next they should support a regulation under the new FSMA that mandates that the above information be printed on laminated posters in a font no less than 5/8th inches in height, and hot-riveted to every chicken in the country.

  • Doc Mudd

    I don’t think the laminated posters will work, dangermaus – they are too likely to fall off and be lost or create unsightly litter. Better to tattoo the warning on each chicken’s arse. That’s not gonna prevent them spreading allergen dust, filth, bacteria and protozoa all over the place, though.
    We’ve only recently finally convinced people to keep their dogs under control and clean up after them. How long is it gonna take to train people to clean their chicken doo off my front porch railing and off the hood of my car? Backyard chickens; what neighbor needs this messy nuisance?? Please, spare me. As much as I like amateur target shooting at dawn and professionally barbecued chicken at dusk, it just isn’t gonna be worth the hassle.

  • dangermaus

    What bubble do you live in, by the way, where there is no allergen dust, filth, or pathogens around you? That explains a lot about your blind faith in regulation. “We’ve only recently finally convinced people to keep their dogs under control and clean up after them”, -in what way do you consider yourself part the magical force that has fixed the dog problem?
    Too bad you’re not actually a medical doctor… You might actually have learned some immunology and human ecology had you gone to college and medical school.

  • Doc Mudd

    From immunology, I don’t recall any cell-mediated immunity protective against self-absorbed neighbors with messy roaming pets. I vaguely recall an acute allergic reaction from chronic exposure to self-righteous amateur ecologists and self-taught environmental zealots; a diagnostic rule-out for common hemorrhoids, I believe.
    In Doc Mudd’s day, “human ecology” was code for ‘home economics’. And, yeah, I missed that series of lectures. But I do grill a mean beer-barbecued chicken, you know, the deal where you stand the spiced bird carcass up over an opened can of beer, etc., etc. Deeelish!!

  • dangermaus

    >sigh< I was wrong, Mudd. You’re just not worth talking to. Keep enjoying your bbq-chicken paid for by Medicare, paid for by my taxes.

  • Doc Mudd

    Sorry to disappoint, dangermaus. But don’t give up on me completely – there’s a whole lot of us common folk out here, and we’re really not all such bad sorts. Just fashion-challenged in the eyes of trendy activists, mostly.
    See you in the movies, eh?

  • Yucked by the Cluck

    I live on a 6000SF urban lot with neighbors raising 5 chickens in a haphazard slatted wall cage, some with their legs tied with rope. At night they are put under plastic storage bins with concrete block on top and put in a dog kennel. There is a toddler playing in the same area. We can smell the birds, hear them, and have an outdoor dining table near them. Some people have absolutely no idea how to raise anything and do not care to learn, Animal Control and Code Enforcement have made three trips out this week…and all our taxes are paying for this. Our city lacks any code on setbacks because no one has been this rude and stupid before.

  • dangermaus

    I suspect, Yucked, that no city ordinance would have much influence on the person you’re talking about. There are lots of people with inappropriate pets that they do not care for. The question is whether one should be allowed to legally keep them in a manner that is appropriate, and that does not infringe on other’s right to quiet enjoyment of their own property.
    Good that you called animal control, I’ve spoken to a neighbor of mine about his inappropriate pet (a rooster in the city) had he not gotten rid of it, I would have called the city, as well.

  • Good hygenic advice. I think it is applicable to everyone not just for chicken keepers.

  • PM

    If you are going to reference Kansas City in your article, it might be wise to clarify whether you mean Kansas City, Kansas or Kansas City, Missouri. Otherwise, you may mislead your readers.
    You can legally own chickens in Kansas City, MO, although the ordinance in regard to this is contradictory. In one place it states that you must have all housing, cages, or enclosures for “fowl” or small animals (including rabbits) at least 100 feet from any building used in any way by any humans other than the owners of the animals. In another place, however, it limits ownership of any such animals to 15 adults (or a larger numbers of juvenile) birds. There is also a set number given for rabbits, though I don’t recall it offhand.
    Note that this is for Kansas City, Missouri. I have no idea what the laws are on the Kansas side of the border.