My daughter recently sent me a link to a National Public Radio (NPR) article entitled “Seattle’s First Urban Food Forest Will Be Open To Foragers”1. The article highlighted a city green space that will be planted with food producing plants and open for public harvest1. The article underscored a trend that I see with many city dwelling Americans endeavoring to reconnect with their rural roots and to create more sustainable environments.
If you look back far enough in our family histories we will find that our ancestors produced much of the food they consumed themselves. What wasn’t produced on the farm or home garden was predominantly purchased from producers in their community. It is only recently that most people find themselves relying heavily on the grocery store for their food.
Many people see home gardening and livestock production as a form of insurance against uncertain times, they may wish to have more control over the food they eat and they feel that home produced food is more nutritious. More and more families are raising livestock and raising gardens in what space they have, even in large cities.
From New York City to Seattle chickens are an increasingly popular part of this home farming trend2. Chickens can reasonably be kept in back yards and gardens, even in large cities. “Many owners keep chickens primarily for their eggs3” but they can also be processed for meat.
While I am fully supportive of this movement and applaud efforts to produce as much food as possible in your own yard, I do believe that many home farmers are not well informed on possible health risks associated with home production. A number of infectious diseases can be spread from chickens to humans.
Chickens can harbor Salmonella bacteria in their intestinal tract and as such can serve as a source of infection for humans. Salmonellosis is “one of the leading causes of acute bacterial gastroenteritis in the United States, responsible for an estimated 1.4 million cases of illness annually…4”. “Poultry, meat products, and eggs are most commonly identified as food sources responsible for outbreaks of salmonellosis;…4.”. Chickens shed the bacteria in their feces, and even chickens that appear completely healthy can be infected.
One of the most effective ways to decrease the incidence of human infection is to use good sanitation and husbandry. Providing adequate food and shelter to birds will help them to be healthier and more resistant to infection. Cleaning up manure is the most important method to preventing spread of salmonella, keep coops and yards as clean as possible. Manure that is used for fertilizer for gardens should by completely composted to kill pathogenic bacteria. All eggs should be washed and thoroughly cooked before eaten.
Following these simple suggestions can help you to create a productive and healthy environment for your back yard farm. Make sure that you consult your veterinarian if you have any questions regarding your backyard livestock. Even if living in a city, you should be able find a clinician that has an interest in food producing animals.
1. March 9, 2012 NPR
2. NGM Blog Central Urban Chickens Posted Mar 18, 2009
3. Urban Chickens Jose Linares, DVM, DACPV and J. Bruce Nixon, DVM AVMA Welfare Focus April 2011
4. Animal sources of salmonellosis in humans; Susan Sanchez, PhD; Charles L. Hofacre, DVM, PhD; Margie D. Lee, DVM, PhD; John J. Maurer, PhD; Michael P. Doyle, PhD JAVMA, Vol 221, No. 4, August 15, 2002