When you are considering buying your children a pet, chickens may not be the first choice on your mind. However, they can be an excellent addition to your home, well more specifically, an addition to your backyard. Chickens can teach your child a lot about life and are far less demanding than many other pet options that are out there today.
One thing you may be concerned about when adding chickens to your family is the safety concerns that come along with the birds. Chickens are relatively safe to be raised around children, as long as, you take the proper precautions when handling them. Following basic hygiene rules and keeping an eye on your kids can guarantee that your children stay completely safe while raising chickens.
Keeping a small flock of chickens in the backyard has gone beyond a fad and is beginning to become a way of life for many families. Whether you live deep in the country or have a suburban home, having a coop in your yard is an excellent option. If you have ever considered purchasing and raising chickens while raising your children, I am here to help you do so in the safest way possible.
Risks of owning a chicken
When you think of chickens, you probably do not see them as a huge safety risk to your children. After all, a young chick is extremely safe compared to a rambunctious puppy or a quick to scratch kitten. The key safety precaution that you must take when dealing with any poultry is the risk of salmonella and your child contracting the illness.
You have probably heard of salmonella and may associate it with raw, uncooked chicken or eggs. However, the birds themselves are known to carry the disease and can pass them to owners who do not take the necessary precautions. While salmonella can clearly be an issue when it comes to your backyard eggs, it can also be contracted through the birds’ fecal matter when it gets on owners’ hands.
It is important to remember that germs spread, and this illness can be on feathers, equipment, cages, coops, food dishes, etc. associated with your chickens. Anytime that you handle your chicks or chickens, you need to be taking proper hygiene precautions.
Who is more susceptible to contracting salmonella?
Salmonella itself is a fairly treatable illness but clearly something you do not want your child to contract. In fact, some children who have contracted the illness have had to be hospitalized and there is a low risk of death from the disease. Those who are more likely to contract salmonella are:
- Children under five years old
- Adults older than 65 years old
- Individuals who have weakened immune systems due to a medical condition like diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, cancer, etc.
How do children contract salmonella?
Let’s face it, kids are not the cleanest and chickens tend to care less about where they leave their fecal matter. This combination is bound to lead to disaster if not handled properly. Children who do not take the proper hygiene precautions when dealing with their pet chickens are more likely to get sick from the birds.
It is important to remember that germs can get on your child’s hands, shoes, and clothing when with the birds. Even if they never touch a chicken but touch food bowls, water bowls, cage doors, etc. they are at risk of picking up the germs. This is something you need to fully discuss with your children and educate them on the risks.
Children younger than five are more likely to get sick because their immune systems are still developing and may not fight off the salmonella illness as affectively. Also, they are more likely to put their germ covered hands into their mouths, allowing the illness to enter their body. This is the one thing you need to worry about when it comes to your child and your chickens.
How to keep your children safe
Teaching your child how to handle the birds properly and the basic hygiene needed when dealing with the birds is critical. There are many steps you can take to lower the chances of your child contracting salmonella, which are:
#1 – Clean hands are the best defense
Proper handwashing is a lesson you should teach your child from a very young age! It is important that they always wash their hands well with soap and warm water after handling their chickens. Until proper handwashing is possible, you need to stress the importance of keeping their hands away from their face.
Though sanitizer is not the best option and hand washing is always critical. It may be beneficial to keep hand sanitizer readily available for younger children when dealing with chicks or chickens. You can help lower the risk of germs being digested until you can go into your home and properly wash up.
WHO’s six-step method to hand washing is the best way to reduce germs and has been proven to be more protective. This is a great way to teach your child and guarantee that they are reaching every single part of their hands. Until you know they can properly wash, you should always supervise and educate them.
To see an example of the WHO method and learn more about its benefits, click here.
#2 – Never bring poultry inside of the home
This may seem like common sense, but it is an important lesson to teach your child or children. The best way to avoid contracting salmonella and to keep your family safe is to separate the area where chickens are kept and your home.
Poultry should never be allowed inside of the home, especially to roam freely or where fecal matter can be spread. Also, never allow your chickens in areas where food is prepared or served.
#3 – Monitor young children when with chickens
It is always important to monitor your children when dealing with animals or pets. Even older children should be monitored when dealing with young chicks or when you first bring chickens into your backyard.
Young children should always be monitored when dealing with poultry. No child under five should handle chickens without constant adult supervision.
#4 – Set aside a pair of shoes to wear while taking care of poultry
As mentioned, fecal matter and germs can spread around the coop area, even jumping onto your clothing. Many families set aside a certain pair of shoes that they wear when dealing with their chickens. This is a great way to guarantee that your child does not spread these germs inside of your home.
You can store your special shoes outside of the home and ensure that they are never brought inside. This is a great way to lower the risk of salmonella.
#5 – Don’t eat or drink where poultry live
It is important that your child never takes a juice cup, snack, candy, etc. in the area with your chickens. A lot of kids like to carry a snack with them but eating or drinking in the chicken area poses a huge risk. This should be one of the first rules given when bringing home your new pet.
#6 – Don’t kiss the chickens, snuggle them, or touch them to your face/mouth
Once again, this seems like common sense to most adults but may not be as known to your children. When a child sees a cute baby animal, they want to snuggle and kiss it. However, chicks pose a risk of transferring salmonella to your child through this snuggling.
As always, you should work to teach your child about holding your chicks or chickens safely and gently, in a safe way for everyone involved.
#7 – Stay outdoors when cleaning any equipment or materials used to raise or care for poultry
Putting your child in charge of refilling water dishes and feeding your chickens is a great way to teach responsibility but comes with some risks as well. It is important that you teach your child to do this work outside and not to bring these items into the home. Storing chicken food effectively outdoors and using outside water sources can help reduce the risk of bringing germs into the home.
Safe handling of eggs from your backyard poultry
A big reason that many families are adding chickens to their backyard is for the fresh, natural eggs. However, like all eggs, there are some risks that come with these that you should know about. Eggshells can become contaminated with salmonella and you should follow proper steps when collecting, handling, and cooking your fresh eggs to keep your entire family safe.
- Always follow the proper handwashing steps listed above when handling your chickens’ eggs
- Keeping your chicken coop as clean as possible is a great way to reduce the risks of salmonella and that eggs will not be laid in fecal matter. Cleaning coop floors, nests, perches, etc. regularly can help keep eggs clean.
- Once your chickens begin laying eggs, you should collect them often. Daily trips to the coop are a must if you want to avoid eggs being broken and getting dirty.
- You should clean each egg with a small brush or cloth. Avoid washing eggs in cold water as it can cause the salmonella to enter the egg.
- Throw out any eggs that may be cracked as it can allow germs to enter the egg.
- Refrigerate the eggs you gather after collecting them.
- Cook each egg you gather thoroughly so that the yolks are not overly runny, and the whites are firm. Undercooked eggs can contain salmonella bacteria.
Know the signs of salmonella
Once you add chickens to your backyard, it is important to know the signs of salmonella and when your child may have it. Of course, adults can contract the illness as well and getting medical help quickly can be very beneficial. There are several side effects that come with the disease and most individuals with salmonella suffer from diarrhea, vomiting, fevers, and abdominal cramps.
When to call your child’s doctor
It is important that you do not let salmonella go for days without proper treatment as it can lead to dehydration. If your child is showing any of the symptoms listed above, you should monitor them closely. However, if your child possesses any of the following, it is time to call the doctor:
- Diarrhea that does not improve after a day
- Vomiting lasting longer than 12 hours in infants, one day for children younger than two, or two days for any children
- Common signs of dehydration (dry mouth, dry tongue, crying without tears, lessened or no urinating)
- A fever higher than 102˚F
- Bloody stools
The CDC is a great source for learning more about the risks of owning backyard poultry and how to safely keep chickens when you have children. To learn more, click here!
What your chickens can teach your children
At this point, you may be questioning why you would ever want to bring chickens home, to begin with!?! However, it is important to remember that each pet poses some risks and comparatively, chickens are extremely safe. In fact, the benefits of owning chickens far outweigh the risks of contracting salmonella. There are endless things that your chickens can actually teach your kids.
Chickens teach your child where food comes from
Knowing where your family’s food is coming from is extremely important in today’s world. When you have chickens readily available in your backyard, it can serve as a great lesson for your children about where their food comes from. Even if you plan to strictly use your chickens for eggs and not meat, it can be a great lesson for your kids.
Your children will love going to the coop every day and collecting the eggs that their pets have left there for them. This is a great way to get them involved in the meal planning and cooking process. Also, eggs are nutritional, making them a great addition to your child’s diet.
Chickens teach your child to be gentle and respect animals
Whether you bring home baby chicks or opt to purchase full-grown chickens, it is critical that your child treats them with respect. Chickens have some defense mechanisms, but baby chicks are relatively harmless, which is why your child must be gentle when handling them. This is a great opportunity to teach your child about being gentle and handling pets with care.
This gentleness and respect for other living beings can be beneficial in all aspects of life. Your child will be prepared if you are to add another species of animal to your family later on down the line. This gentleness is also important when collecting eggs and showing your child how being rough can lead to cracked eggs is a great teaching point.
Pets teach children to be responsible
This is more focused on older children, but even young toddlers can take on some responsibilities when it comes to their backyard chickens. While allowing your child to take part in the caring for their chickens, they learn a sense of responsibility. Children at any age are able to help with feeding and watering their chickens.
As mentioned, allowing your child to collect eggs each day can give them a sense of pride and further enhance this responsibility. Once your children get older, they can take more responsibility when it comes to your chickens.
Chickens can teach bereavement
Let’s face it, chickens are not animals that tend to live forever, though they can have a decently long-life span with proper care. However, chickens are a great way to introduce the idea of the circle of life and dealing with death. When your chickens pass, it is a good time to discuss death and grieving with your pet.
Since you will probably purchase several chickens, your child will be upset but may not be completely heartbroken with this loss. This makes discussing these difficult topics simpler for you and your child. It is also a great time to discuss the food chain and how fragile life can be.
Chickens are just really entertaining
A big benefit of adding chickens to your family is that they are super entertaining and very low maintenance. You do not have to housebreak them, play with them often, or deal with their messes in your home like you do other pets. However, they can still be very entertaining and loving to your children.
If you purchase young chicks, they will grow up around your children and tend to not be afraid of them. With proper care, your chickens will even trust your kids and allow them to pick them up regularly or follow them around the yard. There is nothing cuter than your chickens running to your child when its feeding time or watching your kids giggle when their favorite bird is doing something entertaining.
How to get started with your chicken farm
At this point, you may be sold on the idea of owning your very own backyard chicken coop. You have seen the one big negative and read more about the many positives these pets can have when it comes to your children, but you still need to learn more before making your purchase. Doing further research on what you must do before bringing home your first chick is critical to quality results.
Know your zoning laws
Your specific zoning laws will differ depending on the area you live and where you plan to keep your chickens. Since chickens are not widely considered pets, they have many more laws than a traditional dog or cat. Most states see chickens as livestock, and you must follow certain livestock laws when adding them to your backyard.
Those living in the country often have less strict livestock laws and owning chickens will not be an issue. However, if you live within larger city limits, you may not be allowed to own chickens at all. While those living in more suburban areas may be able to own a certain number of backyard chickens, usually around six and many require there to be no roosters due to the noise levels.
Before diving too deep into the idea of owning chickens, finding out your exact zoning laws is critical. You do not want to begin purchasing birds or the items for them and then find out that you cannot own them at your current location. Usually, you can do a quick Google search to find out this information.
Where to purchase the safest chickens
Depending on your zoning laws, you may have further idea on how many chickens you are legally allowed to own. Whether you want to purchase several chickens for your family or think your children would do better with only a few, you want to guarantee that you purchase healthy chickens. Some places you can often find good chickens at are:
- Local hatcheries
- Local farm supply stores (chickens are usually only available during certain months)
- Adopt from another family or farm
- Local farmers who are selling
The best breeds for children
Chickens of all types tend to be safe for children, unlike other pets like snakes, dogs, cats, etc. where certain breeds are far more family-friendly. However, some chickens do tend to be calmer and have a more friendly demeanor. Also, chickens tend to be safer and more friendly around children than roosters, which is why many families do not add roosters to their coop.
Often, more docile breeds tend to be those that grow larger. Over time, farmers have grown larger breeds of chickens, making those that are larger more domesticated. However, with proper care and regular human contact, almost any chicken can be a good family pet.
Some commonly purchased chickens for backyard coops are:
- Silve Lace Wyandotte
- Easter Eggar
- Rhode Island Reds
- Plymouth Rock
Building or purchasing a chicken coop
Once you have decided on a certain chicken breed and found a local place to purchase these chickens, it is time to think about your coop. This is a critical part of raising chickens as it is where they will stay during their time with you. Also, it should keep your chickens safe from the weather and any animals that may harm them. There are two key ways to get the perfect coop, to build one and to purchase one.
- Building your own coop – if you tend to be skilled in woodworking, this is a great choice for your needs. Though it can be timelier, building your own coop can be a lot more cost-effective, especially if you already have some supplies available. Old sheds or buildings that may be in your back yard are a great starting point.
- Purchasing a chicken coop – if woodworking is not for you or you are wanting a quicker option, purchasing a prebuilt coop is a great choice. Most larger farm supply stores have these available for purchase. They are usually put together quickly and easily; some companies even allow you to pay extra for them to deliver and set up the coop.
Should you purchase chicks or adult chickens?
This may seem like a simple question, I mean of course you should purchase chicks, right? Actually, chicks come with a lot of extra work and supplies than full-grown chickens will need. Also, without proper education, chicks can be far more difficult to take care of and you risk losing a few along the way.
There are actually a few levels of adulthood that you can purchase your chickens at which can be more beneficial, especially when you are raising children and chickens.
- Hatching eggs – these are fertilized eggs that need to be incubated and should hatch. If you are highly educated in raising chickens, this is a great project to do with your children so that they can watch the eggs hatch into baby chicks. However, this is the most difficult way to add chickens to your home.
- Chicks – these are often a great choice for those with children who want to bring chickens to their backyard. They are usually inexpensive and only a few days old at purchase. This is a great way to ensure your chickens grow up around kids and that they bond.
- Pullets – this is a good choice if you want to avoid the extra work that comes with the chick stage but do not want full-grown chickens. Pullets refer to chickens between four and six months old that have been reared to adulthood. They are usually laying eggs or about to start laying eggs very soon.
- Adults – adult chickens are usually the most expensive to purchase and the most difficult to find. This is often not recommended if you are hoping to add birds to your coop that are child-friendly. When you purchase an adult, they may have never been around kids and may be very hesitant. However, these are often the easiest to care for.
The overall benefits of having your own backyard chickens
Now that you know more about the safety risks, benefits, and beginning steps to starting your own coop, you are ready to begin. By adding chickens to your backyard, you are going to create a positive learning experience for your children for years to come. Like most pets, there may be some early struggles but with proper care and safety precautions in place, the rewards far outweigh the negatives.