Being associated with the farm, where beings and equipment interact with the soil everyday, it’s easy to think of chickens as a dirty animal. And while it’s true that you will probably never see a chicken being bathed and clipped in preparation for a blue ribbon show, that doesn’t mean chickens are inherently dirty.
Any living creature that eats, drinks and poo’s has the potential of being a dirty animal. However, with even the slightest of care, your flock’s plumage will be clean in appearance. Chickens will spend a certain amount of each day, preening and caring for their feathers. And as a result, are almost always spot free, despite the fact that they spend so much time on the ground.
So what are the right conditions for a chicken?
- Space per bird – Crowded conditions can really contribute to the appearance of chickens – or any farm animal for that matter. Chickens are not ‘littered trained’ and as a result, their waste goes everywhere. If there is not enough space for your flock, then they will quickly cover the area that they live in with filth. This is unhealthy for every party involved; the chickens, you, surrounding wildlife, everyone!
The current narrative for a chicken run (that’s the living area and not the sleeping area) is a minimum 10 square feet per chicken. I have always disagreed with this! Your standard 5 ft by 10 ft shed is 50 square feet. Can you imagine 5 chickens living their entire lives in an area the size of a small garden shed?!
My personal belief is the bigger the play area, the happier the flock! Not only is there loads of stuff for stimulating your birds, but their waste is spread over a larger area, much like it would be for the wild birds that live in your neighborhood.
- A dry area – Chickens don’t have hands and consequently are unable to wipe off any mud that gets on their feet. And with mud being so easily spread, you can understand how this wet dirt could quickly blemish a chicken’s feathers.
And dry feet aren’t just good for staying clean. It’s healthier for your flock as well.
Even with chickens being an outdoor animal, it is a very good practice to provide your flock with an area that they can dry off in. Generous amounts of straw or wood shavings will also help separate their feet from the ground, where soil can quickly turn to mud after a rain.
Is Chicken The Dirtiest Animal?
As chickens will walk through their own waste, seemingly unaware of what their feet have come in contact with, it would be easy to assume that chickens are just naturally dirty animals. But the reality is, almost all outdoor wildlife is capable of this behavior – not just chickens.
So who does hold the title of dirtiest animal?
The title of dirtiest animal does not belong to any specific species, but rather to animals that are not properly cared for.
For example, if you were to assign different levels of ‘dirtiness’ to chickens, then generally speaking, industrial chickens will score dirtier than free-range chickens. This is directly related to the amount of chickens per square foot and their habit of defecating without regard.
But this doesn’t just apply to chickens. A free range pig, though it loves to wallow in mud, could in fact be cleaner than dog or cat that is abandoned and without adequate care. Remember, dirty isn’t just defined by appearance, but by overall health. An animal covered in it’s own filth will be more prone to sickness… no matter what the species.
Can I Get Sick From My Chickens?
Now that we’ve established that chickens aren’t inherently filthy, the question comes, ‘can they make me sick?’
Though not common, it is completely possible for you to get sick from your chicken. Salmonella is a perfect example of this.
Salmonella is a bacteria that can find its way into the chicken’s poo. And as a chicken will use the same ‘plumbing’ (the cloaca) for both passing waste and eggs, then there is a risk of this bacteria residing on every egg shell.
It’s very easy to visualize a situation where you grabbed an unwashed egg for breakfast, cooked it, ate it and then chased it down with a piece of toast or some fruit. In this situation, if you did not immediately washed your hands after handling the egg, then you have provided a path for Salmonella into your body.
This can be quite frightening when you think of it. However, let me add a little perspective.
Dogs are susceptible to a parasite called the roundworm. If your dog has roundworms, licks their butt and then licks you, then you are at risk from the same parasite.
It is more than wise to take precautions when dealing with a flock of chickens. However, one should be proactive and not held hostage by fear when addressing health concerns. If you provide your flock a clean space to live in and wash your hands regularly, you have greatly reduced any health risk.
Is It Safe To Keep Chickens In Your House?
More and more people are getting into chickens these days. And in truth, they are a very interesting/entertaining animal to observe. Our flock makes me laugh almost daily. But it’s worth noting that chickens are not dogs or cats – they are very different.
It is my firm belief that chickens should never be kept in your house. As mentioned before, they are not litter trained. And while there are chickens diapers available, I do not feel that this is a healthy environment for you and your family.
Also, chickens flap their wings quite a bit. This means that any dust on their body is easily spread through the house. And you do not want to be constantly exposed to concentrated amounts of whatever is on a chicken’s body (including fecal dust or mites – the latter too small to be seen by human eye).
I can appreciate people wanting to be close to their animals. However, please don’t try and force a ‘square peg into a round hole’. Chickens belong outdoors, where they can spend their days scratching and pecking happily at the dirt.
What Diseases Can You Get From Chickens?
The Center for Disease Control has some really great information regarding the potential health risks. I strongly recommend you read their article titled, ‘Backyard Poultry’. It’s a very thorough piece of work that lists 5 different diseases you can contract from poultry – of which chickens are a part of.
While I will not go into an in-depth narrative of what the CDC has shared, I would like to point out one observation.
Three of the five diseases you can get from poultry, these being Campylobacter, E. Coli and Salmonella, involve being exposed to animal feces. This is why it is so important to provide your flock with a clean environment.
Though being an outdoor animal, chickens are not inherently dirty. If you have taken proper steps, then the odds of you or your family getting sick from your flock are pretty low.
Remember, you can get sick from any animal… including an affectionate lick from your dog. So please don’t subscribe to the whole ‘disease ridden chicken’ concept. Because for the backyard flock, this does not really apply. With adequate space and care, a flock of chickens can provide you with eggs, meat and entertainment.
Chickens really are a remarkable animal.