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An Overview Of Chickens and Lead Poisoning

By Tom Seest

Can Backyard Chickens Get Lead Poisoning?

Backyard chickens are great biomonitors for environmental lead contamination. However, their presence may cause problems if children are nearby because they spend much of their time outside and playing in the soil. It is important to keep your backyard chickens away from children and to keep them out of the soil. So, what can you do to keep your backyard chickens safe from lead?

This photo was taken by TIVASEE and is available on Pexels at https://www.pexels.com/photo/red-rooster-inside-a-wooden-cage-10867295/.
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How to Detect Lead In Backyard Chickens?

Backyard chickens can have high levels of lead in their blood, but most chicken owners are not aware that their flocks can be contaminated with toxic metal. Lead exposure can be a risk to humans and can even be fatal. Fortunately, there are methods for determining the amount of lead in your flock’s blood.
A study published in the New Zealand Veterinary Journal found that the amount of lead in chickens was so high that it was contaminating eggs and posing a public health risk. Experts are urging backyard chicken owners to test their flocks for lead and to monitor the levels in their eggs. This way, they can protect the health of their families and themselves.
According to California’s Department of Animal Health and Food Safety, a single backyard chicken has an average of 4.5 micrograms of lead. These numbers are not surprising, considering that lead is found in many different types of food and water. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that chickens may not display any symptoms if their eggs are contaminated with lead. In addition to this, consuming lead in excess of the recommended level may cause growth retardation and muscle weakness.
Children with elevated levels of lead in their blood may experience attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders or even brain shrinkage. This risk is even greater if the lead is consumed repeatedly. In addition to affecting children, backyard chickens can also expose children to lead in soils and paint chips.
To determine whether backyard chickens are exposed to lead, researchers collected samples from the coops and yards of chicken owners. In addition, they took samples of the chickens’ feces, feed, and drinking water. The researchers also encouraged the owners to send samples of the chickens’ blood and eggs for analysis. They also recommended preventing the chickens from accessing painted surfaces.
The findings of the study showed that lead exposure is prevalent among backyard chickens in Auckland. A majority of hens were subclinically affected. A number of associations were also found between lead exposure and home conditions, particularly weatherboard buildings. Lead concentrations in over half of egg yolks are sufficient cause for concern, and it’s important to evaluate the lead level in backyard chickens to prevent human exposure to this dangerous metal.

This photo was taken by Ravi Rajapaksha and is available on Pexels at https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-photo-of-rooster-11359897/.
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What Are Symptoms Of Lead Poisoning In Chickens?

Lead poisoning in chickens is a serious problem that may result in the death of chickens. Symptoms of lead poisoning in chickens are non-specific, and only very few chickens will exhibit neurological or gastrointestinal signs. However, any chicken that was raised in an urban area prior to 1940 is likely to have some level of lead poisoning. Veterinary professionals usually diagnose the presence of lead toxicity in chickens by testing blood samples and looking for tremors. They will also examine the chicken’s gastrointestinal function and complete blood count.
Lead poisoning in chickens may present in acute or chronic forms. The acute form causes sudden weakness and a loss of appetite, with the bird losing weight. The bird may also exhibit ataxia, a dramatic decrease in egg production, and severe anemia. Chronic lead poisoning in chickens may cause decreased gastrointestinal motility, and chickens may also exhibit delayed crop emptying and greenish diarrhea.
While it may be difficult to detect lead poisoning in chickens, symptoms may include inappetence, quiet behavior, loose stools, and wobbly walking. Some chickens may even exhibit seizures. The good news is that lead poisoning in chickens doesn’t have to be fatal. Veterinary professionals can help diagnose lead poisoning in chickens so that the chickens can return to a productive life as laying hens.
Although chickens are not known to be capable of producing lead eggs, they can still be a potential source of lead exposure for children. Many people have backyard chickens and are unaware of the risks. Fortunately, a recent study has shown that lead levels in chicken eggs may be higher than they were previously thought.
The cause of lead poisoning in chickens is not yet fully understood. Historically, it was thought that lead intoxication in cattle was caused by the cattle turning out to pasture. During that time, livestock was exposed to lead through various sources, including eating crankcase oil, licking grease from machinery, and chewing on plumbing or batteries. While the majority of livestock cases have only recently been diagnosed, the exposures may be widespread and have no clinical symptoms. As a result, it is important to educate the public and implement preventive measures.
If you suspect that your chickens may be affected by lead poisoning, you should bring them to a veterinarian immediately. The veterinarian will perform a blood test to determine the level of lead in the bird’s blood.

This photo was taken by Ninety Seven Years and is available on Pexels at https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-rooster-near-a-tree-trunk-11661220/.
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What Are Sources Of Lead Contamination for Chickens?

Backyard chickens can be a potential source of lead contamination for humans. As a result, it is important to understand where this dangerous metal may be coming from. The following are some ways that lead can be present in backyard flocks. While a few sources are well-known, others are not as well-known.
Lead contamination is a growing concern for the public, and it is possible that a backyard flock may have higher lead levels than commercial products. While there are no international standards for safe levels of lead in eggs, researchers have noted that backyard hen eggs contain up to 40 times more lead than commercial eggs. In addition, more than half of the eggs had higher levels of lead than what is safe for human consumption.
The best way to avoid exposing your backyard chickens to lead is to keep them away from areas with high lead levels. For example, keep your hens at least two meters away from any buildings. You can also get a free lead paint test from Resene. If you live near a busy road, try not to keep your chickens closer than eight meters away.
Public health agencies have long warned about the dangers of lead-based paint. Thankfully, lead was banned in new construction in 1978. However, little has been done to educate the public about the potential dangers of lead in backyard chickens. Now, researchers at Cummings School and Boston University are working to educate people about this risk. They conducted surveys of backyard chicken owners in Greater Boston.
The sources of lead contamination in backyard chickens can be various, including paint chips and soil. The lead concentration in chicken eggs is usually about 40 times higher than the safe threshold for human consumption. This level of lead can result in behavioral disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders, decreased brain volume, and IQ deficits in children.
Backyard chickens are a real public health risk for pregnant women and children. While this risk is still largely under-diagnosed, it is imperative for public health officials to take precautionary measures and learn about the sources of lead contamination. To assess the risk, it is essential to analyze the samples from backyard chickens and test the tissue samples for lead concentration.

This photo was taken by Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz and is available on Pexels at https://www.pexels.com/photo/group-of-young-men-looking-on-a-rooster-standing-street-sidewalk-11683974/.
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What Are Treatment Options for Lead Poisoning In Chickens?

Aside from regular lead testing, homeowners may want to consider keeping chickens at least two meters away from houses to prevent them from coming into contact with lead. Lead is commonly found in the soil in urban areas and is usually sourced from house paint that was applied before 1978. Chickens are likely to ingest this metal during dust-bathing, pecking, and scratching. Other possible sources include discarded batteries, putty, asphalt, and lead shot.
Treatment options for backyard chickens and lead include removing lead-based materials from the chicken coop and elevating the chicken coop. Besides the chickens themselves, owners should avoid composting chicken eggshells because they can re-contaminate other food sources and chickens. There is no definitive answer as to how long lead can remain in chicken eggs, but it is recommended to conduct periodic tests, particularly if the flock contains young children or pregnant women.
A recent study by Dr. Cowie examined the lead levels of backyard laying hens in central Auckland, where there are many weatherboard houses that were painted with lead. The researchers found that all of the laying hens had detectable lead in their yolks, and 12 of them had levels high enough to pose a health risk. Although only one chicken displayed signs of lead poisoning, there were higher levels in chickens living outside of weatherboard houses and older homes.
Lead poisoning in chickens is acute and chronic, with symptoms such as lack of appetite, rapid weight loss, ataxia, and decreased egg production. In severe cases, a chicken may even develop severe anemia. In addition to these signs, chickens may also exhibit gastrointestinal motility impairment. These symptoms are often accompanied by diarrhea that appears green or sour.
Treatment options for backyard chickens and lead vary depending on the severity of lead poisoning. In severe cases, fluid therapy, parenteral multivitamins, and tube feeding may be recommended. In addition, chelation therapy using edetate calcium disodium (CaEDTA) may be necessary. These medications help remove lead from the blood and bone.

This photo was taken by Gkm Jerry and is available on Pexels at https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-chicken-with-brown-and-black-feathers-11706653/.
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