It's chick season: State warns that incorrectly handling live poultry can cause serious illnesses

Spring is in the air and chicks are for sale at the Mill Hampstead and other area farm stores. The Maryland Department of Agriculture is warning Marylanders that incorrectly handling live poultry, including chicks and ducklings, can cause serious illnesses, and the department strongly discourages citizens from buying chicks as presents for children this spring.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture warns citizens that incorrectly handling live poultry, including chicks and ducklings, can cause serious illnesses, and the department strongly discourages citizens from buying chicks as presents for children this spring.

This warning comes after a recent outbreak of H7N1 low-pathogenic avian influenza was detected in a commercial poultry flock in Jasper County, Missouri.


“People are more worried about how to care for them, but they should be aware of the diseases chickens can carry,” said The Mill of Hampstead’s marketing assistant Renee Wilson. The Mill sells 15 breeds of chickens.

“The biggest thing is keeping people informed. They need to remember to wash their eggs, keep their chicken shoes separate from their regular shoes, make sure they wash their hands and change the bedding frequently.”

According to an MDA press release, Maryland is still on heightened alert for high-path avian influenza, better known as “bird flu.” If any poultry becomes sick, especially with upper respiratory signs (sneezing, watery eyes, trouble breathing, not eating or drinking), flock owners should call the Maryland Department of Agriculture Animal Health Program at 410-841-5810.

Contact with live poultry can be a source of human salmonella infections, which can cause a diarrheal illness in people that ranges from mild to life-threatening, according to the release.

“We ask people to think twice before bringing baby chicks and other live poultry into their homes. The risk of illness from improper handling is much higher this time of year, especially among people not used to handling live birds,” said Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder in a prepared statement.

“The recent outbreak in Missouri should serve as a reminder to everyone that avian influenza remains a very real threat across the United States. I encourage anyone handling live birds to practice heightened biosecurity to prevent diseases like bird flu from entering their flock.”

State veterinarian Dr. Michael Radebaugh encouraged flock owners to “use good common sense.”

Radebaugh said people should be aware that chicks and other live poultry can appear healthy and clean while carrying Salmonella germs.

“Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after touching live poultry,” he said. “Do not allow children younger than age 5, elderly persons or people with weak immune systems to handle or touch chicks, ducklings or other live poultry.”

University of Maryland Extension poultry specialist Jon Moyle recommended only purchasing chickens from hatcheries that are certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Poultry Improvement Plan. The NPIP hatcheries follow strict biosecurity practices, maintain detailed records of where their chicks come from, and have had their sites and chickens tested for particularly debilitating diseases, according to the release.

“If you’re going to get them, make sure they’re NPIP certified,” Moyle said. “If you going to do it, have a plan and do it right. They’re animals, not gifts, and people need to take care of their animals.”

Ashley Tawney, The Mill of Hampstead’s retail manager, said her family is raising 13 chickens in a variety of breeds.

“We wanted to have our own fresh eggs and my stepchildren were interested in having them as pets,” she said. “They’re fun to watch. They roam the yard and they’re great for bug control. I like the idea that you’re the one feeding them, you’re the one taking care of them and you know the eggs are fresh from the coop.”

Even if the chicks are handled properly, parents should give serious thought to what they will do with the chicks after the season and if they are prepared to raise a chicken, according to the release.


Any backyard flock owners with five or more birds must register their location with the department so the MDA can contact them immediately when a potential disease is identified. To register your flock, visit the MDA’s website at