Perhaps because they are now just a flock of two, Luna and, especially Pippa, have become quite affectionate with us. Luna has a special little cooing cluck she uses when she sees me coming. I like to think that she’s saying “Oh you are so beautiful and I love you so much” even though I’m pretty sure she is really saying “Here comes that crazy old chicken lady, I sure hope she’s carrying treats.” No matter. She’s happy to see me and I’ll settle for that.
Pippa has taken to visiting me while I clean their coop each morning. She climbs up the ladder to the counter where I work and presents herself to be picked up and carried around. Yes, treats are involved here, too, but I’ve noticed that she responds affectionately to my voice and my touch. When you live your life as potential prey to every hawk that flies overhead, it’s probably reassuring to get a cuddle now and then from someone who doesn’t plan to eat you.
So yes, I will admit it. I kiss my chickens. And that even sounds a little weird to me, so I can’t imagine how it might sound to you. Especially after last weekend’s news that sixty people in twenty-three states became ill with salmonella after contact with live baby poultry from Ohio’s Mt. Healthy Hatcheries.
Uh-oh. Not good.
I don’t think I’ve ever had salmonella, although most of us wouldn’t know if we had since, according to Mayo Clinic, “most healthy people recover from it within a few days without specific treatment.” The symptoms are consistent with what you might euphemistically call “stomach flu” and are almost always associated with a food-borne source. For the very young, very old, pregnant or immune-compromised, salmonella can be much more serious. You are probably far more likely to contract salmonella from a contaminated tomato than from a live chicken, but that wouldn’t make for a very exciting news headline.
The Mt. Healthy Hatcheries outbreak was most likely linked to baby chicks and ducklings that were sold for Easter promotions, a bad idea to begin with since they are often treated as disposable novelties. In these cases, salmonella would be acquired through direct contact with an infected animal. Pens of baby chicks or ducklings in a retail setting are a magnet for young children, who would not necessarily wash their hands following contact with the birds. That’s a recipe for salmonella poisoning.
But that’s not the real news story here. The shocker, for me, is the CDC’s statement about Mt. Healthy Hatcheries saying “This is the same mail-order hatchery that has been associated with multiple outbreaks of salmonella infections linked to live poultry in past years, including in 2012 and 2013.” Mt. Healthy knew it had a problem. The CDC knew Mt. Healthy had a problem. Why was it allowed to persist?
A 2012 article in Food Safety News reported that a multi-state outbreak of salmonella that year resulted in two deaths and at that time, the CDC was quoted as saying they had linked this outbreak to Mt. Healthy Hatcheries. Two people died and this hatchery is still selling salmonella-infected poultry two years later? Why? That’s the story I want to see reported.
As a flock keeper, my takeaway from the recent salmonella outbreak is to review my own biosecurity measures. I keep a clean coop. I wear gloves to clean the coop. I have a separate pair of shoes for working in the chicken yard. Most importantly, I wash my hands after handling my hens.
My one and most glaring failing: I kiss my chickens. Am I playing poultry roulette? Maybe, but I’m willing to take the chance. I wouldn’t go near a bird from Mt. Healthy Hatcheries but I will vouch for Luna and Pippa any day. In fact, I think I’ll go out and give them a big smooch right now. I promise to wash my face.