Caring for Grown ChickensCaring for pet chickens is pretty easy! They have the same needs as most any other pet. In this section we'll fill you in on daily, monthly, semi-annual and annual chores, as well as other nuances of chicken husbandry.
What to Do on a Daily Basis
- Keep feeders and waterers full.
- Make sure the waterer is clean. Chickens will be less inclined to drink dirty water, and a dehydrated bird can very quickly become ill or die.
- Check to make sure they all look active, bright and healthy.
- Collect and refrigerate eggs, pointy side down for maximum freshness.
- If you've opened the coop door to let your chickens out, always be sure to close and secure it at dusk (once they've all returned!) to make sure predators can't get in
What to Do on a Monthly Basis
- Change the bedding in the coop and the nest. This is necessary for sanitary purposes. Excessive ammonia buildup is dangerous to poultry and can cause respiratory illness.
- Remove the faeces. We put ours in the compost bin or use it as fertilizer.
Foods Chickens Shouldn't Eat As mentioned in the first chapter, one of the great benefits of having chickens is they take care of your unwanted leftovers! There are a few foods they shouldn't eat, though (and thanks to our customers for helping us beef up this list over the years!):
- Citrus fruits and peels (they can cause a drop in egg production)
- Any large serving of meat, or meat that has gone bad
- Garlic and onion (unless you want your eggs tasting like them)
- Avocado skins and pits
- Raw potato skins
- Long cut grass
- Chocolate (as if you'd give that up!)
How to Handle Chickens Handing chickens is an art, and practice makes perfect! The key is finding the balance between being gentle and letting them know that no matter how much they wriggle or squirm, they're not getting away. First, put your dominant hand (the hand you write with) on the middle of their back. If you're new to chickens, it's helpful to secure their wings as much as possible with your thumb and forefinger. (Pros don't need to secure their wings at all!) Your other hand will need to take their legs out of the equation. Secure one leg between your thumb and forefinger, and the other between the forefinger and middle finger of the same hand. Then lift them, supporting the lower portion of their body with the heel of your hand and wrist. Your dominant hand should still be on their back. Once you've got them up, holding them close to your body will prevent further wriggling. And again, as you get better at this you won't need that hand on their backs!
Winter Precautions If you have cold winters, you shouldn't run into any problems provided you choose the right breed. Chickens adapt to the cold weather over time. Their body metabolism actually changes along with the seasons. That said, if you live in a really cold climate there are a few precautions you can take to make everyone's lives easier (by which we mean you and your birds!):
- Protect combs and wattles from frostbite by rubbing on petroleum jelly or another heavy moisturizer every few days.
- Make sure the water supply does not freeze! This is very important. Chickens cannot live long without fresh water. If you don't have electricity in your coop and therefore cannot provide a water heater, we recommend you bring the waterer into your house every night, and return it outside every morning. Check the water once or twice a day to make sure it's not frozen.
Fertilizers & "Turf Builders": Are They Safe? Heck no! If your birds are free-ranging on your lawn, abstain from applying fertilizers or "turf builders". These products very often contain pesticides, herbicides and other harsh, nasty chemicals. Not only can these cause illness in your birds, but you don't want to be eating eggs containing these materials. Part of the benefit of keeping chickens is the comfort of knowing that those fabulous, fresh, delicious eggs are safe for you and your family. Fertilizers and turf builders negate all that. That said, we understand the pressures of suburban life: if you can't be the only chump in the neighbourhood with dandelions and various other weeds, we recommend you use organic fertilizers in the front yard and limit your birds to the back.
What to Do if Your Chickens Get Sick Most chicken illnesses are curable if they're caught in time! If you suspect one of your chickens may be under the weather, take the precautionary measure of isolating it from the rest of the flock. This will help prevent illness from spreading. (And of course, make sure the isolated chicken has access to food and water!) Second, make an appointment with your veterinarian right away. You need to find one that specializes in Avian medicine or farm animals, and we recommend that you find the nearest one prior to getting chickens. The following symptoms indicate illness:
- Mangy appearance
- Visible mites
- Abnormal stool, including blood, visible worms, diarrhea, droppings that are all white. (Normal stool is brown with a white cap.)
- Loss of energy or depression
- Sudden, drastic reduction in position in pecking order
- Loss of appetite
- Stunted growth
- Your chickens' first eggs will be pretty pathetic! They'll be small, shells will be weak and some won't even have shells at all. Don't worry! This is not a sign of sickness.
- Your chickens will lose and re-grow their feathers once a year. This is called "molting" and is perfectly normal. They won't lay eggs during this time. (For more on this, see the next chapter.)
- A tiny speck of blood in an egg. This is normal. Don't worry about it. If it becomes frequent, or if there is a significant amount of blood, that's another story.
Dealing with Death Losing a pet is always terrible, and chickens are no exceptions. If you've lost your bird due to old age or a predator attack, bury it as you would any other pet: a full funeral, bagpipes, the works. Dig a hole several feet underground to prevent anything from getting at the corpse. If, on the other hand, your bird displayed signs of illness or died suddenly, for no apparent reason, you'll need to investigate. Contact your vet – we like Mark White in Seven Hills as he really knows his poultry.