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Backyard Chickens

Are you one of the growing numbers of households in Dane County that has backyard chickens, or are you considering getting them? If so, it is important to take measures to:

  • Reduce the risk of illness from salmonella infection
  • Reduce the risk of lead contaminated eggs, and
  • Prevent rat infestations.

Reducing the risk of Salmonella infection

The number of salmonella infections in the U.S. is increasing as more people are keeping backyard chickens. Salmonella bacteria are very common in chickens, and many have the bacteria in their droppings or even on their bodies.

Salmonella can cause:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps

The elderly, infants, and those with weakened immune systems are most likely to get severe illness that may lead to hospitalization.

How do people get Salmonella from chickens?

People get Salmonella when things that have been in contact with chickens, like their hands, are put near or in their mouth.

How do I reduce the risk of Salmonella from chickens

  • Supervise children under the age of 5 with chickens, and help them wash hands with soap and water after touching them.
  • Anyone who handles chickens, their droppings, or has touched anything in the area where they live also should wash hands thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Chickens should not be brought into homes, snuggled, or kissed.

Reduce the risk of lead contaminated chicken eggs

It is possible for lead to contaminate eggs, leading to lead poisoning in those who eat the eggs. The highest levels of lead usually are found in the yolk and shell. Eating soil contaminated with lead is the most common way chickens are exposed to lead. Items that can contaminate the soil include:

  • Lead-based paint chips
  • Fishing sinkers
  • Shotgun pellets
  • Manufacturing residue
  • Exhaust fumes from leaded automotive fuels

How do I reduce the risk of lead contaminated eggs?

  • Make sure that your chicken coop is not near a dwelling or area with peeling or chipping paint, or that it is built with old wood that has peeling or chipping paint.
  • Have the soil in and around your chicken coop tested for lead.
  • If your soil has high lead levels, raise the coop off the ground.
  • If you find out your eggs contain lead, do not feed the egg shells back to the chickens.
  • If you find out your eggs contain lead, do not add them to a compost pile.

How do I get my eggs or soil tested for lead?

  • State Lab of Hygiene can test egg yolks for lead and test soil. Call (800) 442-4618 or (608) 224-6202.

Prevent rat infestations

Rats are attracted to chicken coops as a source of food. If they have access to your coop, infestations can occur.

How to rat-proof your chicken coop

Eliminate their food source:

  • Collect eggs frequently
  • Store chicken feed in a metal bin with a tight fitting lid
  • Don't leave chicken feed and water out at night.

Take away their home:

  • If building a new coop, build it at least one foot off the ground, or make the floor out of cement.
  • If you have an existing coop with a dirt floor, cover it with hardware cloth that you staple a few inches up the wall.

Backyard Chicken Project: How to Get Rid of Rats in the Chicken Coop: The Definitive Guide

Key Contacts
  • Animal Services Office:
    (608) 267-1989
  • Animal Services Officer Dispatch:
    (608) 255-2345
  • Dane County Humane Society:
    (608) 838-0413
  • Dane County Humane Society's Wildlife Center:
    (608) 838-0413 (ext 151)