UGA professor co-authors new study on backyard chicken care

Homeowner Andy McKeegan's pets are his 20 chickens that hang out in the coop and chicken run in his Kirkwood backyard. "I eat their eggs, but I do not eat them," McKeegan said. "They're lots of fun."
Homeowner Andy McKeegan's pets are his 20 chickens that hang out in the coop and chicken run in his Kirkwood backyard. "I eat their eggs, but I do not eat them," McKeegan said. "They're lots of fun."

Credit: Text by Marena Galluccio/ Photos by Christopher Oquendo

Credit: Text by Marena Galluccio/ Photos by Christopher Oquendo

Homeowners shouldn’t wing it when it comes to the increasingly-popular practice of raising chickens in their backyards.

The health effects from improper care can be dangerous, according to research co-authored by a University of Georgia professor that is gaining attention.

The researchers’ recommendations include keeping backyard chicken feeders where only chickens can reach them, removing wild bird feeders and using mesh small enough to prevent wild birds from interacting with chickens. The findings were published late last year in Frontiers in Veterinary Science. UGA officials shared the report Tuesday.

The most well-known pathogen carried by chickens is salmonella. About 420 Americans die annually from salmonella infections, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention research.

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“As a researcher who studies pathogen movement along different groups, I see backyard chickens as a potential interface where pathogens can spill over into wild birds, or vice versa, and even into people,” said Sonia Hernandez, a UGA professor of wildlife disease, who co-authored the study. “Owners need to seek information and medical care for their animals to minimize those risks.”

Several metro Atlanta cities have passed regulations in recent years concerning backyard chickens. Alpharetta city councilmembers in June passed guidelines allowing as many as six chickens on a minimum one-acre lot on residential property.

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