Could backyard chicken droppings stunt children’s growth?

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In a study recbackyard chicken zone - infant crawling with chickensently published (6 November 2015) in Maternal and Child Nutrition , Mduduzi Mbuya and Jean Humphrey of Johns Hopkins University identified a potential link between chicken droppings and the stunting of infant growth.

According to the study, in 2011, one in every four (26%) children under 5 years of age worldwide was stunted.  The researchers suspect that in places like Zimbabwe where chickens roam freely and the ground is therefore covered in droppings, that infants ingest unfriendly microbes (by eating dirt which we have all seen young children do) contained in the chicken droppings that lead to stunted growth.

The study refers to other research that “found that two pertinent things happen when unfriendly microbes of the sort found in chicken droppings get into the intestine. One is a loss of villi, the finger-like projections from the gut wall that absorb nutrients. The other is a loosening of the joints between the cells that line the gut. This creates holes through which microbes of all sorts can pass into the bloodstream, where they stimulate the immune system. That diverts nutrients needed elsewhere. It also causes the production of chemicals called cytokines which, among other things, switch off the production of growth hormone.”

To support the potential link between chicken droppings and stunted growth in children research from the International Food Policy Research Institute, in Washington, DC by Derek Headey and Kalle Hirvonen found that in Ethiopia that households which kept poultry indoors had a significantly higher rate of child stunting than those that kept the birds outside.

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Whilst the link between chicken droppings and stunted growth in children is yet to be proven the take away for backyard chicken and backyard poultry farmers is to keep on top of your flock hygiene including cleaning of the coops, chicken runs, and the household in general.  Try to keep shoes for the yard outside and supervise your children.

General flock hygiene should be part of your normal routine and if you keep your grounds and household clean then you probably don’t need to worry about the potential impacts of children ingesting chicken droppings.  Check out our chicken raising tips post on maintaining good hygiene around your flock.

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