PEOPLE are still going clucky for backyard chickens across the Central Highlands as lockdown restrictions continue to draw on.
Trawalla-based chicken farmer Kelvin Woods urges people to put effort into preparation for hen houses and spend a good week training them if they want the best for and from their chooks.
Victoria's chief health officer Brett Sutton issued a health warning late last week for a gastroenteritis outbreak across the state linked back to care and management of backyard chickens and their eggs.
A surge in people buying backyard chickens was an early iso-trend, along with growing vegetables, in a shift to become more self-sufficient.
Mr Woods said there were big waiting lists for up to 300 chickens in some parts of the region. He was sold out to at least the end of July with runs as far as Bacchus Marsh and the outskirts of Geelong for interested backyard keepers.
About one-third of people seeking his chickens, he estimated, were new bird owners. The rest were predominantly people who had chickens in the past and had been updating their pens or who had trouble sourcing quality chickens during isolation.
While hand hygiene may have become a key focus amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Victorian health department makes clear to wash hands thoroughly after any contact with chickens, their nesting boxes, manure or collecting eggs to prevent Salmonella Enteritidis poisoning.
No matter how cute they might seem, the health department also warns against kissing or hugging pet chickens.
This is not just an issue in Australia. American media service CNN last week reported twice as many people had fallen foul with poultry-related salmonella in the United States this year than last, predominantly due to a rise in people housing backyard chickens in pandemic lockdowns.
Mr Woods did his best to sell his chickens to good homes were buyers had put in the work to ensure chooks would be well cared for and well fed.
His top tips to care for backyard chickens include: ensuring there is always cool, clean water available; avoiding timber frames and hen houses to prevent fleas and mites (which can also affect egg quality); and perches set higher than nesting boxes. The latter is because hens will find the highest point on which to sleep and if this is a nesting box you risk hens toileting and laying in the same space.
I find, if you look after them then they look after you.Kelvin Woods
"Do all that first. I find, if you look after them then they look after you," Mr Woods said. "Always wash and clean your nesting box to ensure it is spotless to help keep eggs clean."
Washing eggs under water is strongly discouraged as eggs are porous and this can allow bacteria on the surface to contaminate the egg, according to Better Health Channel. Lightly soiled eggs can be wiped with a damp cloth or tissue.
Any really dirty eggs or those cracked or damaged should be discarded.
The health department also advises people ensure any egg product is cooked thoroughly before eating.
Mr Woods said the growing number of chicken coops at primary schools and kindergartens offered children great education in sourcing food and looking after animals.
Meanwhile, the health department is investigating nine cases of Salmonella Enteritidis and has found in the majority of cases people have come into contact with, or consumed eggs, from backyard chickens.
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