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The Risks and Benefits of Backyard Chickens

The Risks and Benefits of Backyard Chickens

This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, ‘Doc, my brother’s crazy, he thinks he’s a chicken.’ And the doctor says, ‘Well why don’t you turn him in?’ and the guy says, ‘I would, but I need the eggs.’
From the film Annie Hall (1977)

If one were to pinpoint a general culinary trend over the last decade, it would have to be the do-it-yourself, or DIY, movement. Ten years ago virtually no one under 50 was making their own jam or canning anything. Now it is not at all uncommon to walk into a diminutive urban kitchen and see someone making their own vinegar or fermenting cabbage. Sure, there is still a huge percentage of the population still consuming their weight in ready-made fast food, but there exists a growing subset that does everything from baking their own bread to raising their own chickens.

Besides the bread bakers and the home brewers, backyard chicken enthusiasts have built a small, but vibrant, network for themselves. There exists countless online forums, tons of books and gear, and so many breed options, that even those who hate poultry can get a little excited looking at the poultry prospects. I personally know a handful of people with backyard coops that provide a steady flow of amazing eggs. But it is not all pastoral fun and games with a side of eggs. Raising chickens is sometimes tough and dirty work, and hens tend to be highly vulnerable to attack from everything, including dogs, hawks, and raccoons. But now there are new concerns about Salmonella and raising chickens.

In 2012 there was a salmonella outbreak among 195 people in 27 states, which was linked to an Ohio mail-order hatchery for backyard flocks. “This outbreak investigation identified the largest number of human illnesses ever linked to contact with live poultry during a single outbreak,” NPR recently reported, “and it underscores the ongoing risk for human salmonellosis linked to backyard flocks.” Humans can get salmonella from chickens by touching them or their manure, and chickens can spread the bacteria even when they look healthy. A lot can be done to limit exposure to such bacteria by frequently washing your hands when handling chickens, either directly or indirectly (entering the coop, etc). But as any dedicated cultivator of food and animals knows, there are sometimes significant risks that go hand in hand with DIY culinary endeavors – and the fact is, we all kind of need the eggs.

Are the risks involved in raising chickens enough to turn you away? Do you raise chickens? If so, what do you do to keep yourself safe?

Read more: Blogs, Diet & Nutrition, Following Food, Food, Green, Health, Less Common Pets, Nature & Wildlife, News & Issues, , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

198 comments

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9:10AM PDT on Jun 27, 2013

THANK YOU FOR SHARING 27/6

3:14AM PDT on Jun 1, 2013

thanks for sharing :)

3:09AM PDT on Apr 29, 2013

Susan, thank you for the correction. I just got my own chicks for the first time two months ago, so was in a "learning mode" myself at the time. As for the 2nd part of your comment to me, "Diane, I was countering your claim that chickens can't possibly live without human care. You were quite dismissive at the very idea of feral chickens. They do exist.".........I'm sure they do ...........somewhere. The point is that the chickens that we're discussing more than likely would not survive long without human intervention of some kind. They would end up food for predators very quickly. I know there are many cultures where chickens just "hang out" and live off whatever they find, are not provided with food or shelter, but they also live AMONGST humans, not out in the woods somewhere, like wild turkeys.

11:57AM PDT on Apr 24, 2013

be kind to the animals, dont harm them

10:51PM PDT on Apr 22, 2013

Always good to have your very own chickens, you keep them clean and know whats going on! You know when they are healthy! Can't beat getting your own eggs gathered! Real Fresh eggs!!

1:35PM PDT on Apr 18, 2013

thanks

5:12AM PDT on Apr 15, 2013

Hatch my own healthy chicks either by the settin hen or in an incubator.

9:27AM PDT on Apr 10, 2013

i feel sorry for the chickens

7:47PM PDT on Apr 9, 2013

Also, I have to agree that this thread doesn't need anymore pro-vegan comments. There have been plenty at this point (says someone who already had her say!). :)

7:42PM PDT on Apr 9, 2013

I'm back to correct a mistake I made: pullets are indeed females. I must have been thinking of poults, which are turkey chicks.

Diane, I was countering your claim that chickens can't possibly live without human care. You were quite dismissive at the very idea of feral chickens. They do exist.

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