By Shereen Siewert

WAUSAU — As city leaders are preparing to vote on a proposal to legalize backyard chicken farming, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is raising questions about human Salmonella infections linked to live poultry.

The proposal, approved May 14 by the Public Health & Safety Committee, would allow up to four hens in homes zoned as single family residences or two-family residence districts. The $35 permits would be granted only to homeowners and would be valid for one year. City leaders were expected to vote on the measure in June, but tabled the discussion for a month to allow for additional input from residents.

The council will vote on the issue Tuesday, July 18 at a 7 p.m. meeting.

An outbreak advisory on July 13 issued by the CDC warns that the agency, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS), is investigating 10 separate multi-state outbreaks of Salmonella infections in people who had contact with live poultry in backyard flocks. Wisconsin is among the states affected.

The outbreak has infected 790 people in 48 states since January, the report states. Wisconsin has reported 18 infections, 11 of which have been reported since May 25.

The proposal has sparked fierce debate between advocates who want the freedom to raise chickens and opponents who say such practices should be forbidden within city limits.

District 1 Alderman Pat Peckham said that despite receiving more calls against chickens than for them, he is “quite comfortable supporting the proposal.”

“I think it’s the usual situation where those opposed are more motivated to speak up,” Peckham wrote, in a June 13 email to Wausau Pilot & Review.

CDC officials are warning that contact with live poultry or their environment can make people sick with Salmonella infections.

“Live poultry can be carrying Salmonella bacteria but appear healthy and clean, with no sign of illness,” according to the advisory.

Jeff Hinueber, a retired veterinarian who lives in Wausau, recommends that the ordinance, if approved, be accompanied by a solid public information campaign to educate potential poultry owners on precautions that can greatly reduce the chance of infection.

“I am pro chicken, but I am also pro public health,” said Hinueber, who will be at Tuesday’s meeting to answer questions about the care and handling of live poultry.

Salmonella is spread hand to mouth, Hinueber said, which means the risk of infection is to the owner, not neighbors. Hand washing is the number one way to prevent the spread of disease, according to the CDC.

If the proposal passes, chicken coops would be required to be placed in the back yard area of a home at least 10 feet from the property line and at least 25 feet from the home itself. Between sunrise and sunset, chickens would be allowed to roam in a run that would provide at least three feet of space per chicken up to a maximum of 24 feet.

Sales of eggs would be prohibited, and owners would not be permitted to slaughter chickens on the premises. The plan also calls for the city’s humane officer to inspect homes before permits are issued.

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A CDC advisory issued July 13, 2017 warned of a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella cases linked to live poultry. Wisconsin has a reported 18 cases. (Graphic: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

3 replies on “Decision on urban chicken looms amid new CDC report on Salmonella”

  1. A certified germaphobe, I successfully tended a flock of 4 birds in Oregon with absolutely no ill effects, either physical or mental. ; ) We found backyard chickens to be both entertaining and productive. Common sense guidelines (wash those hands!) and regulations will keep everyone perfectly safe. And I agree with Pat Peckham, I think there is a vocal group who oppose this, while most folks don’t really care. I don’t plan on having any birds at this point if the ordinance passes, but I sure hope one of my neighbors decides to! Plus, they eat ticks — that is enough argument for me!

  2. Ingrid, you should move out in the county to raise your chickens. There is plenty of space and plenty of ticks.

    1. Oh, I am not arguing so I can have them; I think I made myself clear on that. I am arguing that folks that live in city limits should be able to make that decision for themselves — like they do in many communities where they trust residents to act responsibly and neighborly.

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