Chickens are funny, inquisitive, life loving birds who are a joy to care for!
Keeping your chickens happy and healthy is fun and rewarding. Taking the time to know your chickens is the key to them having a happy life (and the key to you enjoying caring for chickens!).
Chickens love food. If they had instagram feeds, their photos would all be of food-that is how much they love it! Some chickens will eat absolutely anything you give them, but others will be fussier. They each like unique and certain special things just like people.
Chickens always need the following foods available to them:
- Layer pellets or crumble should always be available for chickens. Making it in to a warm mash with water and oats goes down a treat in the mornings.
- A good grain mix should always also be available for your chickens. Mix it in with your pellet mix if you like.
- Always make sure shell grit is available for your chickens. It’s important for their digestive health and calcium intake.
- Things like vegetable scraps, rolled oats, corn, watermelon, cooked rice are also wonderful things to treat your chickens with everyday and helps ensure they have a healthy and varied diet.
- Chickens always need access to dirt and grass.
Never feed your chickens avocado or onions. Also ensure you don’t leave any shiny screws, plastics or glass lying around because some chickens will pick them up and eat them! It’s true!
Before you get your chickens, you need to have their home all ready for them.
Chickens need a dry, ventilated chicken coop with perches and private nesting boxes available. Nesting boxes should be filled with straw for the chickens that prefer not to perch but snuggle down in straw for the night.
All chicken coops must be predator proof. Foxes are incredibly clever and can out think the best of us humans. Make sure a fox cannot dig under in to your coop anywhere.
Make sure your coop cannot be accessed from above. If you decided on having a chicken run added to the coop (a great idea for the safety of your chickens and for you piece of mind when you are out), make sure that run is also fox proof. If you’re chickens are going to free range during the day keep in mind that foxes will attack at anytime, so it’s best to never leave them unsupervised whilst they are at the peril of predators.
There must be multiple food and water feeders in your coop so that the lower flock members have somewhere to eat without being bullied. Make sure their bedding is always dry and clean. Additionally, ensure that their water supply is fresh and clean.
How to tell if your chicken is sick
Healthy chickens are bright, active and want to eat…all day long. The first sign of your chicken being unwell is a loss of appetite.
Other signs are:
- Pale, discolored or shrunken comb
- Looking fluffed up
- Not moving much
- Enlarged crop (either impacted or sour crop)
Sick chickens need a vet. Before getting chickens, look in to where your closest bird/chicken vet is.
Keeping your chickens healthy
Chickens must be wormed every three months and checked for lice regularly.
Every six weeks your chickens should be thoroughly checked over for lice and sprayed for lice control. My favourite product to use is Vetafarm’s Avian Insect Liquidator Spray.
If you have chickens who aren’t so easy to catch or really get stressed at being picked up, wait until nightfall and spray them whilst they are roosting. It is preferable that you are able to pick up your chickens and catch them to give them health checks when they need them though.
Checking for wounds, for scabs on the feet (an infection called bumblefoot can be very nasty and feet should be checked for scabs to prevent this infection going further), feeling the chickens crop to check that no impacted crop or sour crop is present.
Chickens (especially ex commercial chickens) benefit from vitamin supplements added to their water and/or food to keep them in tip top shape.
Most people tend to have a very generalized view that chickens aren’t intelligent, but I can tell you they are very, very clever birds. They will learn their names and you can teach them commands if you have the patience and put in the time and effort.
Chickens are animals of routine. They need to be feed, let out and put back in at the same time each day. Chickens need a flock; keeping one chicken on their own does not make a happy chicken. Chickens live in a hierarchal society within their flocks, and what you may think looks aggressive is just chickens letting each other know where they stand.
Chickens will let you know when there is trouble, if you don’t have a rooster one hen will take it upon herself to watch out for predators and alert everyone (including you) that danger is about.
Hens love privacy to lay their eggs. It’s a very important ritual for them. They love to lay their eggs in private in a straw nest. Try and provide them with that.
Evert single chicken in the world has a different personality. Some are shy, some are loud, some are funny and some are clumsy. The best way to know and look after your chickens properly is to learn who they are and watch for any changes in personality, as that is when you’ll know that they are not well.
Are Ex-Battery Hens More Work?
In a nutshell, yes, but I find them so rewarding and it’s so lovely giving these beautiful birds the freedom to be who they are.
Ex commercial egg layers are almost always depleted in vitamins and minerals. They usually have calcium deficiencies because they have been bred to lay one egg a day, which takes so much from their bodies.
Ex commercial hens require someone who can really make sure they are healthy and in no pain. They usually only live a few years after rescue, but it’s such a wonderful few years for them, they love life and their freedom so very much.
About the Author:
Tamara is a chicken lover and animal photographer from Melbourne, Australia. She is passionate about raising the community's awareness of the conditions and treatment of farm animals supplying the meat and egg industry.
She is also the driving force behind small refuge called “Lefty’s Place”.
For more information about Tamara's work please visit: www.facebook.com/tamarakenneallyphotography/