More people around the country are choosing to keep chickens and ducks as part of a healthier, greener lifestyle. However, while it’s nice to enjoy the benefits that come with keeping poultry, it’s critical that you consider the risk of illnesses that can come from handling anything around the chicken’s yard or the chickens themselves.
While chickens can be Salmonella carriers, this bacteria does not naturally inhabit your chicken’s intestines. However, once infected, the bacteria survive in feces or droppings, making it relatively easy to transmit. While the poultry rarely gets seriously ill, people can. So, how do chickens get Salmonella, and how can you prevent transmission? Read on to find out.
How Does Salmonella Transmission in Chickens Happen?
There are three main ways these bacteria can transmit from chicken to chicken or from chicken to people. It includes but is not limited to:
With horizontal transmission, Salmonella passes from chicken to chicken in the same generation. Since chickens tend to crowd together, it’s very easy to pass the bacteria from chicken to chicken in a very fast manner.
Even though manufacturers take steps to safeguard their feed, contamination happens. It can also occur if an infected flock eats from the same dish as uninfected chickens. The uninfected chickens pick up the bacteria or viruses as they eat, and it stays in their system.
Contaminated Water Sources
Salmonella can survive up to five years in sterile, room-temperature water. However, when you have chicken waterers, the whole flock drinks from the same dish. This allows Salmonella to get into the water and survive through water changes to infect more of your flock.
Interaction with Infected Birds or Other Animals
Flocks are close, and they tend to be around one another for the majority of the day. As these birds stay in close quarters, infected ones can spread Salmonella to healthy ones. This could be through hierarchy scuffles, pecking at droppings, or sharing contaminated food and water dishes.
Contact with Contaminated Environments
An infected bird can shed Salmonella in their droppings for several days to weeks after the infection clears up. As your chickens defecate as they walk around the yard, other chickens may accidentally ingest it as they peck at the ground, searching for food. Once it gets into their system, it lives in their digestive tract.
Along with horizontal transmission, indirect transmission is a way that chickens spread and get infected with Salmonella. Two big ways this happens include:
Human Handling and Transmission
If you pick up your chicken and handle them and don’t wash your hands, you can accidentally get the bacteria into your system by touching your mouth or face. Chickens can transmit Salmonella to humans, and humans can get very sick if they don’t take steps to treat it.
Insects and Rodents as Carriers
Rodents and insects can also carry Salmonella and shed it in their droppings as they move around. Therefore, Salmonella can spread if you or your flock comes into contact with these infected droppings, insects, or rodents.
Finally, Salmonella spreads through vertical transmission, and this can be slightly harder to track. It’s more common in large commercial operations, but it can happen in smaller flocks too. Vertical transmission happens by:
From Infected Parent Birds to Offspring
If an infected bird lays eggs, incubates them, and they hatch, the chicks can end up infected with Salmonella. To make it worse, the infected hen can spread both bacterial and viral diseases to their chicks. This can result in sickly chicks that don’t do as well as their healthy counterparts.
Transmission Through Eggs
People can get Salmonella from touching infected eggs, not washing their hands, and touching around their mouths. The bird lays the eggs, the eggs come into contact with infected droppings, and people pick up the eggs. Commercial-grade eggs get sterilized, so it’s not as large of a risk as it is for someone who gets their eggs right from their chickens.
How Does Salmonella Affect Chickens?
Many chickens show no outward symptoms of a Salmonella infection, but it can quickly progress and even be fatal. We’ll touch on the biggest ways it affects them below.
Salmonella Infection Symptoms and Signs in Chickens
If you suspect a Salmonella infection, there are several things you can look for in your flock. A few of the biggest indications include:
Weight Loss And Reduced Growth Rate
Since Salmonella lives in your chicken’s digestive tract and causes diarrhea, weight loss, usually rapidly, is very common. This infection can also stunt your chicken’s growth because it causes malabsorption of anything they eat. So, they’re not getting the necessary nutrients from their food like they would if they were healthy.
Diarrhea And Changes In Fecal Consistency
Chicken feces tend to be slightly runny but harden relatively quickly after expelling it. A Salmonella infection can cause extremely watery diarrhea that happens far more frequently than in a healthy flock. You’ll notice an increase in fecal matter and changes in the consistency.
Increased Mortality Rates
Many chickens survive with Salmonella infections, but it also sharply increases the mortality rates, especially in chicks. This is because the infection will spread very quickly, including from the hen to the chicks, and cause issues when they’re too young to survive it.
What are Chronic Salmonella Carriers?
Salmonella can be an insidious infection because it can be hard to spot until you have a massive infection going on. This is partially due to the way the bacteria sheds, there are many chances for infection, and some birds may display no symptoms.
Chickens can carry Salmonella and present with no symptoms. This is one of the biggest reasons why it spreads so rapidly through flocks because the infected chickens aren’t acting sick. Instead, they’re shedding the virus in their droppings, and the other chickens get infected.
Long-Term Shedding of the Bacteria
It’s hard to treat a Salmonella outbreak because infected birds can shed the bacteria in their droppings for days or weeks, and this creates a cycle of infection.
In addition, it increases the risks of healthy birds coming into contact with the infected feces and contracting Salmonella themselves.
Risks Posed to Other Birds and Humans
Infected chickens can easily spread Salmonella to other birds and chicks through egg contact, but they can also spread it to humans. You can accidentally ingest the bacteria if you handle an infected bird and touch your face or mouth.
Prevention and Control of Salmonella in Chickens
Preventing and controlling any outbreaks are the best options when it comes to Salmonella. To do so, you can:
Take Biosecurity Measures
You would normally do biosecurity measures anyway, but you may have to increase how often you do so if you have a Salmonella outbreak.
Proper Sanitation And Hygiene Practices
Clean out your chicken coop once a week or once a month, depending on how many chickens you have. Give them fresh bedding once a week, new water once daily, and food whenever needed.
Regular Monitoring And Testing
Regularly monitor your chickens and perform tests for Salmonella every few months or if you notice something different with their droppings or habits. If you catch sick birds early, you can isolate them from the flock and treat them appropriately.
Quarantine And Culling Of Infected Birds
Remove infected birds immediately from the flock, and put them in a place where the other birds can’t reach them. The vet can prescribe antibacterial medications to treat the infection, but you may have to cull infected birds if it keeps spreading or the birds’ weight and health drastically decrease.
Vaccinate Your Flock to Prevent Salmonella Outbreaks
Vaccinating your flock is one way to reduce the chances of a Salmonella outbreak. However, it’s not 100% effective. Vaccines can help prevent the spread of the bacteria, but they don’t protect against each strain.
Preventative Feed and Water Management Steps
Finally, you can take steps surrounding your chicken’s water management and feed to reduce the chances of an outbreak. They include:
- Ensuring High-Quality Feed- Buy your feed from a reputable supplier, and don’t be afraid to spend a little more to ensure quality. This reduces the chance of the virus living in it.
- Regular Cleaning Of Water Sources – At least once a week, scrub your chicken’s water bowls, bins, and pans with hot water and soap to kill any lingering bacteria.
- Education And Awareness For Farmers, Workers, And Consumers- Stay up to date on the latest practices and education surrounding Salmonella. If your family helps or you employ people to work with the chickens, make sure you educate them on proper handling and cleaning techniques.
Salmonella can be a deadly disease for your flock if you don’t catch and treat it very quickly. We’ve highlighted how your chickens can get it, how it can affect them, and how to prevent and treat it. You can take this information and use it to keep your chickens happy and healthy.
Joseph Hudson has been raising chickens for over 15 years. In 2018, he completed the Agriculture & Natural Resources program at Mt. San Antonio College. He currently raises over 1400 chickens on his 7.5-hectare farm. He keeps sharing his experience on raising healthy and happy chickens on Chicken Scratch The Foundry.