Ask the Expert

What are ways to keep backyard chickens safe from lead?

Cummings School’s Marieke Rosenbaum, V14, MG14, VG14, explains how to prevent exposure
a hen and a pair of hands holding three eggs
If you are concerned about possible exposure, have your veterinarian routinely screen your chickens for lead, which may be accumulating to above-normal levels even if they show no signs of illness. Photo: Shutterstock
May 29, 2019

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Test the soil on your property for lead in all areas the chickens can access, including their coop and any places they may range free. UMass Amherst provides soil tests for a fee (find more information at umass.edu/soiltest).

If you find lead, restrict birds’ access to safe areas or bring in at least two feet of new clean soil to cover areas where lead was detected. Retest the soil annually, because rainfall and other factors can cause soil shifting and mixing.

Inspect your house, garage—even concrete-block structures can have lead paint on wooden windows—and other structures on your property for chipping paint, and keep your chickens and coop away from any such places. If you built your own coop, make sure any recycled wood and other materials are lead-free.

Test the hose or spigot you use to provide the water for your chickens to rule out contamination from aging lead pipes or infrastructure.

Provide chickens’ feed and any supplements in feeders instead of scattering it on the ground.

Have all family members, especially children, wash their hands after contact with soil and chickens—and consider wearing gloves. Change your shoes before going indoors.

If you are concerned about possible exposure, have your veterinarian routinely screen your chickens for lead, which may be accumulating to above-normal levels even if they show no signs of illness.

If your flock has had access to soil with elevated lead concentrations, or your veterinarian reports elevated levels, ask your veterinarian about testing your eggs for lead to ensure they’re safe for consumption. Wash any dust and soil off eggshells before preparing eggs.

Lead is excreted in feces and deposited in shells. If you have a flock that has historically been exposed to lead, refrain from feeding the shells to the birds and from using chicken feces and shells in compost meant for vegetable gardens.

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