Mt. “Healthy”

The CDC has issued a warning about a salmonella outbreak coming from Mt. Healthy Hatchery. This is the same hatchery that salmonella outbreaks were traced back to in 2012 and 2013. There are many strains of salmonella. The ones coming out of Mt. Healthy sicken humans. This time, no one died, although of the 126 reported cases, 35% ended up in the hospital. It’s serious. It’s also a problem that’s hard to fix at the source. Most of the huge mail-order hatcheries don’t actually raise all of the chicks that they sell. They are distributors for smaller producers. That’s how a company like My Pet Chicken can offer so many rare breeds. They either get in hatching eggs, or they get in the chicks and then ship them out again. With eggs and breeding stock being sourced from multiple farms, it’s just about impossible to eliminate all risk. Mt. Healthy seems to have more trouble than other suppliers at controlling salmonella. Given a choice, I’d use another hatchery when stocking my flock.

chicks in box

It’s essential to recognize that as fluffy and adorable as day-old chicks are, that they can carry bacteria. But, chicks aren’t lethal fuzzy balls. Salmonella is transmitted to humans via the chick’s manure. All you have to do to protect yourself is to:
1. Keep the brooder somewhere other than your house! Chicks kick up dust. You don’t want bacteria-laced film coating your kitchen surfaces.
2. Do NOT kiss your chicks.
3. After handling the chicks, wash your hands.
4. Dispose of manure properly. The germs die off in fresh air and sunshine. You can compost the waste in a far corner of your yard (in a container that your dogs won’t roll in!) You can bag it and throw it out.

I’ve been hearing from worried owners of chicks purchased from Mt. Healthy. (Mt. Healthy supplies many feed stores with chicks; you should always ask which hatchery the birds came from.) There’s been a lot of misinformation going around. People are being told that once infected, always infected. That you’ll never be able to integrate the Mt. Healthy chicks in with your flock. That the best thing to do is to either permanently quarantine the Mt. Healthy birds, or to cull (kill) them. Some people have been advised to cull their entire flock, since they were all exposed, and to start over! I wanted to know if there was any science behind this advice. I called the USDA. I called my state Department of Agriculture. I talked to the poultry expert, to the state epidemiologist and to the state employee who goes farm to farm, testing flocks for communicable diseases. I read the literature.


It really comes down to commonsense.

All animals carry bacteria, viruses and parasites. Good management keeps the load down so that there is minimal health risk to both the animals and their owners. Because industrial agriculture models don’t have good management – animals are crowded, stressed, and fed poorly – bacterial load can quickly escalate. One sick animal means that everyone becomes ill. These farmers use an “all in, all out” model, which is when all of the animals arrive together, are kept for a short time, and then harvested. The empty barns are disinfected, and a new flock moves in. Not only is this impossible to do in a backyard set-up, it’s unnecessary.

Most birds are carriers of one disease or another. They don’t show any symptoms, but they harbor pathogens. When stressed, they still don’t look sick, but they do shed germs. That’s why you can purchase what looks like the healthiest hen at a poultry show, bring her home, and within days, all of your other chickens become ill. If you quarantine the newcomer for about a week, hopefully she will settle in, stop shedding the germs, and she can be added safely to the flock. On the other side of things, your birds, over time, have been exposed to countless pathogens, and these germs lay in wait in the surroundings. Slowly acclimatizing new stock, including chicks, to their surroundings helps them to develop immunity.

The reason that our flocks remain healthy despite harboring all sorts of germs and creepy-crawlies is because, with good management, we can keep the load down. We do this by removing manure, sweeping away dust and cobwebs, and providing housing with ventilation Good food boosts immunity. Of utmost importance is fresh air and sunshine, which kills pathogens. Even if your chicks came with bacteria in their guts, their load will dissipate. It won’t cause a problem for them, for your older hens, or for you (although, always wash your hands after taking care of your flock!)

If I had purchased Mt. Healthy chicks, I would keep their brooder scrupulously clean. I’d wash my hands each time after handling them. As soon as possible, I would get them outside onto ground that the rest of my flock doesn’t free-range on. I’d let them grow to be big and healthy. And then I’d integrate them into my flock.

young speckled sussex


  1. Thank you Terry – complete intelligence and good sense. I really appreciate your intelligent analysis of normal things that usually cause mass panic over the internet.

    • Thank you. It took quite a bit of effort to wade through the panic and find solid information. Research is all done on commercial flocks. But, the experienced experts in the government that I talked to were all flabbergasted that culling for backyard flocks was being put out there as the answer. And these are people paid to watch out for public health.

  2. Good advice! Is that Etheldred in the last picture? Your Speckled Sussexes are beautiful.

    • It’s hard to remember if that was Etheldred or Agatha. Both changed their spots numerous times before maturing. It’s not Florence, because she’s the smallest.

  3. Good common sense for just about everything. Wash your hands! That middle picture is rediculously cute.

  4. Wouldn’t other hatcheries, get chicks and eggs from the same place as Mt. Healthy though? As far as My Pet Chicken I had the most horrid, terrible expierience with them. I WILL NEVER GO THROUGH THEM AGAIN…

    • My understanding is that the hatcheries cultivate deals with smaller breeders. The breeders aren’t large enough to supply more than one company, but I could be wrong. They, obviously, don’t like to talk about it.

  5. SALMONELLA! Interesting article in USA TODAY/Business Section page 1 $6.8 million dollar fine for selling tainted eggs and it goes on to talk about bribery, etc.

  6. I hit enter to soon. So people get so worried about neighbors and their backyard hens spreading this bacteria but look at this place!

  7. Thank you for being a voice of reason! Common sense is unfortunately becoming less and less common. Given all the good that animals do, I think being clean and careful with their care is definitely worth it!

  8. This is a little off topic, but I wanted to thank you, Terry, for all your advice on your website. I got my very first hens just 7 weeks ago so I am a novice at chicken keeping. Your website, including the delightful hen cam, have been very helpful in my efforts to have happy, healthy hens. Also, I made the natural coop disinfectant you discussed in your April 29th blog (it should be ready to use today), & I ordered The Farmstead Egg Guide & Cookbook yesterday. Again, thank you!

    • I appreciate such a nice “off-topic” post. Thanks for purchasing my book! Your support allows me to do what I do – I just got off the phone with an epidemiologist, and I’ve got a call into another expert. I’m looking for research on how chickens shed bacteria. If I can find it, I’ll let everyone know!

  9. Very informative. Thanks for all you research -much appreciated.