Baby chicks are cute, possibly even irresistible. You just want to pick them up and hold them close. If you, as an adult, are drawn to the fuzzy little cheepers, imagine how children feel. Put a kid near a pen filled with baby chickens and it is instantly open season for petting and touching. In fact, a local feed store near me does this every year, and every year they nearly have to pluck curious kids out of the holding pens for chicks, ducklings, and goslings.
Cute though chicks are, and temperamental though children who are told 'no' can be, the answer to handling baby poultry should be just that: no. The immune systems of children are simply not up to a battle with Salmonella. Regardless of tears and pouting that may come as a result, you are truly doing your children a tremendous service by not allowing them to handle baby birds. No amount of petting is worth getting Salmonella. Take it from me, as I petted a Pelican once and barely lived to tell the harrowing tale.
Salmonella is a very persistent problem. Chickens carry it on practically every part of their body from feet to beak. It is also in their feces and thus easily tracked around in coops and even the ground on which chickens free range. If salmonella can get on/into those areas, you better believe it can get on human skin and into clothing as well. It is because of this that refraining from touching babies is best. All it takes is one infected human hand coming into contact with one human mouth to rain all over your parade.
The CDC offers some advice on Salmonella avoidance:
Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching live baby poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available.
Adults should supervise hand washing for young children.
Clean any equipment or materials associated with raising or caring for live poultry outside the house, such as cages or feed or water containers.
Don't let children younger than 5 years of age, older adults, or people with weak immune systems handle or touch chicks, ducklings, or other live poultry.
Don't snuggle or kiss the birds, touch your mouth, or eat or drink around live baby poultry.
Don't let live baby poultry inside the house, in bathrooms, or especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored, such as kitchens or outdoor patios.
Don't eat or drink in the area where the birds live or roam.
Don't give live baby poultry as gifts to young children.
What are the signs, symptoms, and types of treatment available for Salmonella infections?
Sometimes, people can become so sick from a Salmonella infection that they have to go to the hospital. Infants, elderly persons, and those with weakened immune systems are more likely than others to develop severe illness. When severe infection occurs, Salmonella may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics."
Salmonella is a part of life, but it does not have to ruin your life if you are diligent in your efforts to avoid contracting and/or spreading it. Maintain high standards of cleanliness in both your coop and home and you should be just fine. Always remember: a bird in the hand is not worth time in the bathroom.