Q: What can I do to reduce the risk of my birds getting sick with Salmonella or another illness?
A: The easiest thing to do is simply to provide your birds with safe, roomy, clean conditions.
Research has shown that a diet of whole grains and seeds is associated with decreased Salmonella colonies -- so start there! We offer these treats that fit the bill:
Farmer's Helper Optimal ForageCake Supplement
Organic Chicken Crack
Sounds easy. Too easy, right? Especially since, if you're even reading this, you're probably already a responsible chicken owner concerned with providing your flock the best care you can... so you've undoubtedly provided lots of space and clean conditions to begin with.
But consider this: illnesses in chickens, including Salmonella, are more likely to be passed around in overcrowded environments. At My Pet Chicken, we recommend at least 10 square feet per bird who are permanently confined (and believe us, more is always better). But caged birds in factory farms are only given about the same amount of space as a sheet of notebook paper, and often not enough head space even to stretch fully. It's hard to imagine not getting sick in those conditions.
Further, the study mentioned above showed that chickens bedded on litter (pine shavings, etc.), like you have in your coop at home--as opposed to wire floors like you would find at a factory farm--had decreased populations of salmonella bacteria.
Those sunflower seeds, wild bird food mixes and ForageCakes you like to share with your birds as treats? AWESOME. But even if you don't offer treats like that, birds who are allowed to forage and have access to range will find grass and weed seeds on their own. And keeping your birds out of cages? ALSO AWESOME. Not only do you get to enjoy their pretty plumage decorating your yard, but they're happier and healthier to boot.
Seriously, factory farms seem to collect all the possible conditions that contribute to ill birds in one place, and then plunk their birds down right in the middle of them. Keeping your own birds at home is the best way to monitor the conditions under which your food is produced, and to keep those conditions healthy and safe for your family. Bravo to you!
For more information, we have a great post on the topic of salmonella and backyard chickens on our blog.