Dangers to backyard chickens?
I am thinking about raising 3-4 backyard chickens for the fresh yummy eggs!
I also have two very small children and plan on trying for another one later this year. Are there any dangers to children by having a backyard coop and chickens? Any kinds of bacteria I need to be wary of?
I once heard a horror story of a mother giving her 3 year old a pet lizard and the child got deathly ill and is now severely retarded from a bacteria the lizard had... call me a paranoid mom!
When I was a young boy, it was my job to clean the chicken coop. I would keep the very small children away from the chickens until they are a little older (the birds can like to peck) but certainly let them experience it. If you are keeping your birds healthy (as you should) any risks should be minimized.
The biggest danger could be that raccoons and other animals might want to raid the coop. Happened all the time when I was a kid. A well designed coop will be helpful, but if a raccoon or fox gets in one night, you'll know it.
General hygiene will be important - washing hands and so on. It is salmonella that tends to stick in people's minds, but probably E. coli that came from the lizard...either can basically cause "food poisoning" illnesses.
Healthy birds shouldn't pass anything on.
Keep things clean and food sealed away - you may risk attracting vermin to spoiling food, which obviously bring their own bacteria etc.
Other than that - common sense prevails. Go for it!
Roosters can be very mean. We have had several roosters; one was mellow and one was a psychopath, and the others were somewhere in between. I heard of a rooster that took a child's eye out with one of his spurs. Larger breeds which lay brown eggs tend to be more docile, and the fancier chickens and the white egg layers are more high-strung. Of course, you don't need a rooster at all, although they can be nice to have around.
Assuming you only want hens, keeping the young children actively involved from the time you first get the chicks will not only help the children be gentle toward the chicks, it will definitely imprint the children on the chicks. As the chicks grow into hens, make sure to keep the children involved, on a daily basis if possible. If the children gently hold the chicks, lightly stroking them and speaking to them, the chickens will be fully accustomed to the children from the very beginning. You'll seldom have problems with the chickens being aggressive to the children if you follow that plan.
There are really very few ways the chickens can harm the children. Actually, the chickens have more to fear from the children. Some other things to consider:
1) As the hens begin laying, instruct your children not to bother them while they're actively laying. The most docile hen will peck if you disturb her at that time.
2) If your kids are very young, watch them closely with the chicks as it's easy to hurt chicks without meaning to.
3) For very young children, watch to make sure they don't drink the chicken water, eat the chicken food, or taste the poop. I've seen it happen!
4) If your kids gather the eggs, give them a sturdy container to carry the eggs in, preferably padded, and follow up to make sure the eggs actually make it into your kitchen.
5) Don't allow the children to chase the chickens or you'll end up with what I call "tomorrow" eggs -- eggs that are in the hen's oviduct but not fully formed, intended for tomorrow's laying, but the scared hens release them in fear, somewhere out in the yard.
About the "toxic lizard" ---There's a special variety of newt in the Willamette Valley (the "rough-skinned newt") which is one of the most toxic animals on earth. It seems that garter snakes gradually developed tolerance for their toxin, so they were selected to make more and more of it. The net result is that a garter snake can still eat this newt, but will slow down for a long time afterwards. But if any humans even touch the skin, they are in trouble.
Once three campers were found sitting dead around their campfire. A newt was in their coffeepot.
I grew up in the Willamette Valley, Newts were awesome! With there deadly orange bellies, we used to go catch them but we were very careful to wash our hands super good if we touched one. I had forgotten about those bad boys. Never heard the camping story though!
I've got 4 hens and an almost 14 month old daughter who absolutely loves them. The only thing I'm really wary of is that I wash my hands straight away after being anywhere near the birds.
@Sharonll: Point 5 about "tomorrow eggs" is interesting as I've found a couple like that lately and put it down to them having just reached point of lay a couple of weeks ago.
While you're pregnant I would recommend you get your husband to do all the cleaning out just in case.
At age 18, I got salmonella from an iguana. I became so ill, with such a high fever and severe dehydration that I had to be hospitalized. Anything that lays eggs could *potentially* be a carrier for salmonella. Me personally, I would not handle a bird or reptile, nor clean it's feces or want to be anywhere around them when pregnant (nor would I let my small children).