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?