Answering your Backyard Chicken Questions | Living the Country Life

Answering your Backyard Chicken Questions

Do you have questions about your backyard flock? From breeds to cleaning to preparing and eating; we've got answers for you.

Q: I am excited to start raising chickens, but I can’t decide on a breed. What do you recommend?

Explore a hatchery website or scroll through a chicken-centric Instagram account and you’ll run up a long list of must-have breeds. We reached out to friends at Murray McMurray Hatchery in Webster City, Iowa, to learn about the breeds they recommend. In business for more than 100 years, the hatchery and its staff have a wealth of experience with chickens and new poultry keepers.

“This is often the first question people ask when they are seriously thinking about getting chickens,” says Tom Watkins, vice president of Murray McMurray Hatchery. “I suggest people start with heritage breeds, which are friendly and lay brown eggs. Heritage breeds are easier to care for than many white-egg layers in areas with hot summers and cold winters.”

Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks or Plymouth Rocks, Buff Orpingtons, and any color of Wyandotte are Watkins’ favorites for those who are just getting into poultry. These large birds are reliable layers and have calm demeanors. “Not only will a few of these birds make a beautiful addition of living art to the backyard, but they also will ease you into the addicting hobby that is backyard chickens,” Watkins says.

Would you like to try different breeds? Go for it. When chicks of the same age are raised together, they get along just fine, despite breed differences.

Q: I’ve heard about salmonella outbreaks linked to backyard poultry. How can I keep my flock and family safe?

Good news: Basic hygiene and thoroughly cooking foods containing eggs go a long way toward preventing a salmonella outbreak. “Most cases of people getting sick from eggs is related to undercooking,” says Dr. Craig Coufal, associate professor and extension specialist in the Department of Poultry Science at Texas A&M University. Eggs and any foods containing eggs must be heated to an internal temperature of 160°F to kill bacteria.

Salmonella is a natural part of the microflora in the gastrointestinal tracts of birds, Coufal says. In most cases, salmonella does not impact chickens and you can’t tell if a bird is carrying it simply by looking at it. Coufal says there are more than 2,000 types of salmonella but no way to treat or vaccinate against all types. The best chicken coop management practices for salmonella are to maintain a clean coop—remove soiled bedding as needed—and keep chickens away from other animals, such as wild birds, that might transmit the bacteria.

Salmonella is often present on chickens and throughout the coop, so Coufal recommends washing your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after working in a coop or handling chickens and eggs. Don’t forget to also wash the eggs. Eggs can have salmonella on their surfaces; washing eggs with soap and warm water eliminates the bacteria.

Q: I need to give my coop a good cleaning. What is the best way to do that?

Cleaning the poultry house often is not among our favorite chores, but it is crucial for preventing disease and especially important if you are introducing new birds into your flock. While commercial poultry farmers undergo an intense annual decontamination regime, backyard hobbyists don’t need to sanitize their coops unless disease has taken hold within the flock.

Coops containing healthy flocks should be cleaned every few months. Begin by removing the chickens and all elements that can be washed elsewhere, such as feeders, waterers, and nest boxes. Wash these items with hot, soapy water. Remove all debris from the coop and sweep down the walls, ceiling, and floor. If the floor is moist from soiled bedding, allow it to dry thoroughly before placing new bedding material in the coop. Finish by replacing the feeders, waterers, and nest boxes.

If there is disease in your flock, use a multistep disinfectant process that begins with dry cleaning (dusting items in the coop and sweeping the floor) followed by wet cleaning, which includes soaking, washing, and rinsing. To finish the process, apply a disinfectant spray or fumigate with a prescribed disinfectant, says Dr. Michael Darre, an extension poultry specialist at the University of Connecticut. Darre emphasizes it is critical to complete every step in the decontamination process to prevent a reoccurrence of disease.

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