No matter what kind of pet you have, you want it to be healthy and happy. This extends to your backyard chickens – whether you perceive them as family members or not, it’s in your best interest to keep them feeling good. A healthy chicken is a happy chicken and vice versa.
Healthy, happy chickens will also live longer, be more pleasurable to watch and engage with, and perhaps most importantly, provide you with more nutritious eggs.
There are numerous ways to ensure your flock is healthy and happy. Here are our ten top tips to help your feathery girls thrive…
10 Tips for Keeping Healthy, Happy Chickens
1/ Choose the Right Chicken Breed –
This requires a little research and will be determined by factors including your local climate, the size of your yard, whether there is a suitable area for free-ranging, and what your priority is. Do you want lots of eggs to sell, or just enough for your own needs? Are you planning to hatch eggs? Do you want colorful eggs? Are you interested in showing your birds? Or do you want gentle, friendly family pets who will entertain you or snuggle on your lap?
2/ The Right Chicken Coop –
The right coop is essential for your chickens and you as well. You need to plan and build/install your housing before you bring your chickens home. Consider the size of your chosen hens, the number of hens you wish to keep, and the convenience of collecting eggs, feeding the hens, and cleaning the coop. How will the coop fit into your yard? What about the run? What about free-ranging areas? The coop needs to offer shelter and protection from sunlight, heat, cold, wind, rain, and predators. Every bird needs at least one square meter of indoor space and two square meters of outdoor space for her health and well being. The more space, the happier they will be.
3/ Buy the Right Feed for the age of your Chickens–
A well-balanced diet is essential. Pullets require quality commercial grower feed; hens from 16-18 weeks need quality commercial layer feed. The happiest, healthiest birds will also be able to forage and free-range, pecking for grubs and insects. They will benefit from supplements like oyster shell, extra protein during the molting season (e.g. cooked scrambled eggs), and limited healthy table scraps from your kitchen.
4/ Provide your Chickens with Fresh Water and Shade –
Your hens need plenty of shade to rest and access to fresh, clean, cool water at all times. Water should be replaced daily and must be available in the coop, in the run, and the yard. Make sure waterers are shallow and not too easy to get into and soil, and that chicks can’t drown in them.
5/ Protect your Hens from Predators –
Chickens are vulnerable to different predators, including foxes, feral cats, eagles, hawks, and even kookaburras if you have small chicks. Most domestic dogs and cats pose little risk to chickens, and many chickens will win a confrontation with these pets. Foxes are by far the biggest threat to chickens, even in suburbia. In rural areas, native Spotted Quolls are also a threat to poultry and are protected by law.
Chickens themselves are not really at risk from snakes, however, eggs are, and snakes and other reptiles will be attracted to your hen house to feed on eggs.
Use a roof and small-holed wire on outside runs. Keep chicken housing clear of overgrown areas and piles of brush or other debris. Lock coop doors to protect against any human predators (if this is an issue for you).
6/ Pest Control –
These include mice, rats, wild birds, flies, and mosquitoes. They can hang around your coop, eat your chickens’ feed, and carry diseases. Keep lids securely on feed containers and keep your coop and run clean.
7/ Parasite Control –
Chickens are vulnerable to parasites, which can be uncomfortable, carry disease, and impact their immunity. They may be external or internal, and they cause hens to eat more, grow slowly, produce fewer eggs, and they may get sick. Check and treat your hens regularly for worms, lice, mites, ticks, and manage these according to your avian vet’s recommendations.
8/ Provide Light –
Use a coop light at night, as this allows the hens to see and defend themselves better. They are more likely to remain calm and panic-free with a light. This is an important stress-buster and helps maintain health and well being. Extra lighting is valuable in winter too to hold off molting and encourage laying.
9/ Vaccinate your Hens!
Purchase chicks which have been vaccinated at one day old, or have them vaccinated promptly yourself. Thereafter, vaccinate as recommended at different life stages for different diseases. Vaccines may be administered by eye drops, orally, via injection, or even through the nose.
10/ Basic Hygiene –
Keep the coop clean. Wash your hands before and after handling chickens and their equipment. Minimize contact with other flocks. Disinfect all borrowed equipment, and keep specific shoes for use in the chicken coop/run. Quarantine any bird that seems unwell or is injured.
A stress-free environment is as important as the right shelter and food. With some ongoing attention to the care and well being of your flock, your chickens will thrive and give you many hours of pleasure. They can be great company, very entertaining, and so much more than just a reliable source of fresh eggs!