There is no doubt that the trend of raising backyard chickens is on the rise throughout the U.S. Although statistics on the number of these fledgling hen handlers are sketchy, we know that more and more families are choosing to jump on the poultry cart and grow their own chickens for food and fun. The majority of these urban homesteaders are interested in the luxury of fresh, homegrown eggs, not a tasty compliment to dumplings. They are also finding that chickens make remarkably agreeable pets, and offer some substantial compost-making abilities to boot. What’s not to love?
Despite the obvious benefit of having fresh eggs straight from the nest, there is also a risk posed by raising chickens at home that is resulting in a trend of its own – the rise in the number of people infected with salmonella. (Salmonella is a group of bacteria that cause infection in the intestinal tract that can cause abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting.) In 2017, more than 900 people contracted the disease from backyard birds, the highest number to date according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What’s a backyard chicken lover to do?
The good news is, that the threat of salmonella doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get or keep backyard chickens, but it is important to take appropriate precautions to avoid the spread of the bacteria.
Eggshells may become contaminated with Salmonella through the laying process, once the eggs are laid, through poultry feed or in the nesting box. If you are a backyard chicken enthusiast, the CDC offers common-sense tips for collecting and handling homegrown eggs to keep your family safe from a bacterial illness caused by salmonella.
Tips for safe egg handling
Note: Washing a homegrown egg can remove the protective “bloom” that prevents bacteria from entering eggs. The bloom is the gelatinous outer layer that dries after a hen lays an egg, sealing pores on the shell to help block bacterial infection.
If you prefer to wash eggs, use water that is at least 90 degrees Fahrenheit, which will make the egg contents expand, pushing dirt away from the shell’s pores.
Raising chickens and having your own homegrown eggs can be a rewarding experience for the whole family and can provide a nourishing addition to your diet. But as with anything that is worthwhile, it requires some care and responsibility. By providing a safe healthy environment for your flock and taking the right precautions in the handling and storage of your eggs, you can safely enjoy fresh cage-free eggs straight from your own backyard.
Note: Rules about owning live poultry depend on where you live. Regulations vary by city, county, and state, so check with your local government to know the rules for where you live.
If you are interested in starting a backyard flock, Mississippi State University Extension Service has some great information. Visit http://extension.msstate.edu/news/feature-story/2017/extension-service-supports-backyard-chicken-decisions.
The real health benefits of backyard or farm-fresh eggs are their superior nutritional value. Here are just a few of the ways they eclipse their supermarket contemporaries:
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to our body’s day-to-day functions and help to prevent several chronic diseases. The nutrients to increase the amount of fatty acids in eggs come from chickens eating things like bugs, leafy greens, corn and flowers – ingredients completely vacant from a caged hen’s diet.
The vitamins in eggs are all extremely beneficial to your diet. Many people have a vitamin-D deficiency, though they may not know it, and can suffer the health issues associated with this deficiency. Farm (or backyard) raised eggs are widely regarded as one of the best food sources for vitamin D.
While both farm-fresh and store-bought eggs have cholesterol, backyard eggs contain lower amounts, and most of the cholesterol in eggs is considered “good.”