Boulder County preschools and child care centers that keep chickens are protesting a new state rule that bans live chickens, ducks and other poultry.
“In preschool and kindergarten, they’re learning through experiences,” said Ruth Godberfforde, Shepherd Valley’s outreach and admissions director. “Taking care of chickens is a wonderful, purposeful activity. We want to keep that connection with nature and animals.”
An online petition to repeal the new rule has garnered more than 2,000 signatures. The campaign also is supported by Temple Grandin, a well known Colorado State University agriculture professor.
The state regulations, which went into effect Jan. 14, ban licensed child care centers from keeping live poultry on site or bringing them into classrooms. Live birds are still allowed in classrooms where children are older than 5.
The ban is designed to protect young children from salmonella, a bacteria that’s often carried by poultry and causes diarrhea, vomiting and fever, according to state health department officials.
Young children are considered especially at risk because their immune systems are still developing, making it more likely they’ll need to be hospitalized. Plus, young children often put their fingers and other objects in their mouths. increasing the likelihood that they’ll get sick.
Colorado routinely has one or more outbreaks each year of salmonella that are associated with live poultry, said Therese Pilonetti, unit manager for the state health department’s Division of Environmental Health and Sustainability.
In a typical outbreak associated with live poultry, young children make up half of all cases, she said.
Opponents to the ban say the state doesn’t have any evidence linking a salmonella outbreak in Colorado to chickens at a child care facility. Instead, they say, any risks are mitigated by good health practices like washing hands after being around the birds.
“We’ve had animals in different capacities over the last 20 years,” Shepherd Valley’s Godberfforde said. “We follow all the health and safety guidelines and have never had any issues.”