Welfare advice from poultry vet Victoria Roberts
Q We have just invested in a small flock of young chickens, all about 18 weeks old, and we have two small children who obviously love them. Can you advise on whether there are any diseases that are easily spread from birds to humans with everyday contact and, if so, what are the best precautions to take to safeguard the children.
VICTORIA ROBERTS SAYS:
Congratulations on starting a wonderful hobby for all the family. I hope that you are using good quality feed and that the hens have already been vaccinated. Treats are tempting to use, but keep these to a minimum so that the hens get the nutrition they need from the pellets. Never use any treats or food scraps that have been in a domestic kitchen — this is the law to avoid disease transference to the hens (and thus in to the eggs) from pathogenic bacteria. If you grow vegetables, surplus ones can be fed directly to the hens, but not via the kitchen. Keep wild birds away from the chickens’ area and ideally keep the feed and water under cover so that wild birds are not attracted since they bring in many diseases.
Have a disinfectant foot dip (eg, Virkon) at the entrance to the hen run to minimise transference of poo to other areas. If the hens are free range, their poo will be absorbed in to the ground quickly on a daily basis. Keep a check on any external parasites either on the hens or in the housing since red mite (in the housing during daylight hours) can take a meal off a person. Make sure that hands are washed after touching the chicken litter or the chickens themselves, as salmonella and campylobacter can be transferred. The risk is low, however, if the hens have been vaccinated and commercially reared, but higher if they have been backyard reared. Bear in mind that we all need our peck of dirt to keep our immune systems functioning properly.
Make sure that hands are washed after touching chickens