Backyard flocks can teach children about responsibility and where food comes from, but children must understand that there is a potential health risk associated with handling chickens.
Many farm animals, especially poultry, potentially carry bacteria like Salmonella, which is shed in their droppings. Because the chickens' daily routine includes moving around the coop and preening, these germs can spread from their droppings to their feathers. In addition, shipment and adapting to new locations causes stress on birds and makes them more likely to shed bacteria in their droppings, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Baby chicks might have been shipped several times before they arrived at your home and therefore will have a higher likelihood of bacteria in their droppings.
If you are having your chicks shipped, you may not want to share details with your children about when the chicks are arriving or how many you've ordered. Losses during shipment are not common, but they do occasionally occur. Depending on your children's ages, you may decide to avoid explanation or let them see what has happened and use it as a teaching moment.
Anyone can get sick from bacteria, but children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible. Since bacteria can't be seen with the naked eye, children should always assume bacteria are present and wash thoroughly after handling chickens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that households with children younger than five years old not keep chickens.
If you have children of any age in your household and decide to raise chickens, here are some tips to help limit the potential for infection.
Even though children must understand the potential to get sick from chickens, don't let children forget to have fun with the experience of caring for chickens. Hobbyfarms.com has several ideas to help you incorporate chicken topics into book reports, science projects, history lessons and art projects.