When it comes to the question of if it is safe to keep chickens during pregnancy the answer is, “Yes, but with extra safety precautions.” After all, for thousands of years humanity has kept chickens, including during pregnancy, but with modern advances in our understanding of germs and bacteria, we also know that while it may be safe to keep chickens while pregnant, it is wise to take extra steps to ensure that both mom and growing baby remain as safe as possible.
There are diseases that can be present in chickens that humans (especially pregnant women) can be susceptible to, but these are generally rare and risks can be minimized, or outright eliminated as long as common-sense and best practices are used.
Here I’ll discuss general precautions that should be taken as well as making note of those specific rare (but still important to be aware of) health concerns.
When keeping chickens while pregnant being aware of general precautions can dramatically help reduce the risk of illness. Simply taking the steps covered below gives one a major head start in regards to avoiding the possibility of getting ill if exposed to anything dangerous while pregnant.
Buy Chickens From Reputable Sources
There are general precautions for ANYONE to take when it comes to keeping chickens, which are arguably even more important if that someone is a pregnant woman.
Knowing the chickens that are purchased for a coop come from a reputable hatchery is a big first step to reducing the risk of having chickens that may be carriers of illnesses such as toxoplasmosis or salmonella.
By knowing that the chickens purchased are free of disease or illness, you’ve already eliminated much of the risk of chicken to human transmission of pathogens, or to other chickens in the flock for that matter.
Practice Common-Sense Safety and Hygiene
Making sure to wear boots, gloves, and clothing that covers your arms and legs helps to prevent possible exposure to health concerns that may be found in chicken droppings, or the yolk from broken or cracked eggs.
Also, ensuring your dirty boots and clothes are taken-off before entering your home is necessary so as to avoid bringing-in possible nasty bacteria and viruses that may thrive on surfaces in the home. Taking clothes and boots off in the backyard or garage and making sure they are properly cleaned will work wonders for reducing disease risk.
Putting your dirty clothes in a thick plastic bag before bringing them into the house to be laundered is a smart move, as again, simply carrying them around in the house can expose the home and person carrying the clothes to all the nasty elements that were kept away from your skin by the clothes, but that consequently now cover them.
Contact a Doctor if Illness Does Occur
Sometimes no matter how careful someone is they may find themselves sick as a result of contact with livestock. Should said sick person be a pregnant woman this is of course no time to think, “It’s just a little bug making me feel bad,” indeed, illness and pregnancy is never something to take lightly.
Should a pregnant woman who keeps chickens find herself sick beyond what is expected during pregnancy (e.g. excessive vomiting as opposed
to morning sickness, extreme fever, and so forth) a doctor needs to be contacted ASAP, or a visit to the emergency room may even be called for. Even if it turns out to be a relatively harmless problem unrelated your hens, to it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Health Concerns to Be Aware Of
When keeping chickens while pregnant there are certain health concerns it is wise to be aware of. They can be relatively rare in their occurrence, but as pregnant women and their growing babies are more susceptible to illness, it still is important to be aware of these potential risks and take appropriate steps to reduce the chance of them becoming a problem.
One concern that often comes-up in regards to pregnant women is toxoplasmosis. This is something often discussed in regards to domestic cats (pregnant women should NEVER handle cat feces). However, considering chicken coops can be full of excrement from chickens, this raises the question of whether toxoplasmosis is a risk for pregnant chicken keepers.
While strands of less-virulent toxoplasmosis can easily be found in chickens, the strain known to negatively impact humans has been found in many studies to be relatively rare. This of course does not mean someone can simply, ‘shrug-off,’ safety precautions when working with chickens, but at the same time it also means an accidental exposure to chicken excrement (e.g. some gets in under gloves) by no means calls for panic.
As long as the general precautions discussed above are practiced it goes a long way to reducing the risk of toxoplasmosis, on the off-chance it is present within a chicken in your flock.
When it comes to chicken keeping and respiratory diseases, one major factor that comes into play is appropriate housing. Extensive ventilation is extremely important, with too much humidity in a coop making it a prime place for bacteria and viruses to form, as a result of the wet and warm environment.
As discussed above, making sure birds do not already have an illness of their own by buying them from a reputable hatchery is key, and for a pregnant woman, the best way to prevent possible exposure to illness from airborne chicken dropping particles or mold, is to wear a face-mask (much like the kind used by those working with noxious chemicals.) Whilst not particularly flattering or comfortable, such a precaution is well worth it, as even the cleanest coop can never be described as 100% safe.
As just mentioned, even the cleanest chicken coop can have issues, but keeping your chicken coop as clean as possible with minimal excrement or broken eggs allowed to fester, plays a major role in keeping a chicken coop relatively safe for a pregnant woman.
Changing the food and particularly water on daily basis is essential, and the altogether nastier job of cleaning-up chicken droppings is a task best left to a non-pregnant person, as even if the general precautions discussed earlier are taken, getting, ‘Down and dirty,’ trying to clean excrement there is a chance of pathogens getting through protective gear, or kicking-up particles that could be inhaled if a protective mask is not worn correctly.
A Note About Salmonella
Salmonella is a common concern when working with chickens. The Salmonella virus can be found (if a chicken is infected) within droppings, eggs, and on the surface of anything an infected chicken has contacted with their mouth. Salmonella can make a generally-healthy person quite ill for an extended period of time, and therefore poses an extra-risk to pregnant women.
That said, simply practicing the above discussed steps of taking general precautions and keeping one’s hands clean dramatically reduces the risk of salmonella infection.
Also, it’s always wise to throw way cracked or otherwise damaged eggs, and to NEVER eat raw eggs. By engaging in such common-sense practices the risk of salmonella infection can be made negligible.
If someone who is pregnant wants to start (or continue) to keep chickens during pregnancy it is absolutely possible to do so. However, doing so can bring with it a higher level of risk than keeping chickens if a non-pregnant person, and it therefore it necessary to address these risks with an even greater degree of precaution than normal.
Ensuring any chickens purchased come from a reputable source, wearing protective clothing, and practicing common-sense hygiene all are important-as is reaching-out to a medical doctor should illness occur.
By being aware of possible health risks posed by keeping chickens a pregnant woman can make extra-sure to reduce the risk of these illnesses by (as stated) wearing the proper protective gear, exercising best practices, and at the times it is called for, letting someone else handle tasks that simply may be too risky for a pregnant woman to tackle (such as extensive cleaning of a coop that could involve exposure to droppings, cracked or broken eggs, and general, “Chicken dust,” found in a coop).
By being aware of what one should and should not do in regards to keeping chickens when pregnant a woman who is actively pregnant (or hopes to become pregnant soon) can ensure she continues to experience the joy of maintaining her livestock whilst also keeping the little life growing inside her as safe as possible as well! This way everyone wins–the mother, growing baby, and the chickens!