Keeping backyard chickens is becoming increasingly popular in Australia. Chickens are social and inquisitive animals and it’s important to know when making the decision to keep chickens that they require a great deal of care to ensure they stay happy and healthy.
Read on for some tips about the essentials of caring for your backyard chickens, from housing, feeding and enrichment.
When it comes to housing, it’s crucial to provide them with a comfortable, clean, and secure house that protects them from weather and predators. Chicken houses (or coops) bought from stores are usually wooden or metal enclosures, but you could choose to build your own. Regardless of your choice, ensure the house is spacious enough to give your chickens plenty of room, both indoors and outdoors. The indoor area should provide shelter, space to sleep, roost on perches, and nests for chickens to lay their eggs.
Outdoors, chickens require plenty of shade and space to scratch, forage, and dustbathe.
Regular cleaning is essential, so when selecting a house, ensure it can be easily cleaned to maintain a hygienic environment for your chickens.
An essential part of keeping your backyard chickens healthy is feeding them a complete and well-balanced diet. Chickens are omnivores so they can enjoy a varied diet of seeds, grains, leaves, fruit, vegetables and insects.
A good quality commercial poultry feed should make up the main part of their diet. In addition, your chickens can be given a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, however treats like this should only make up around 10% of your chickens' daily diet.
Remember, depending on your chickens’ age, breed and size, the feed type and amount they require will differ. To make sure you are feeding your chickens correctly or have any concerns you can always check with a veterinarian that has experience with poultry.
Enrichment and companionship
Layer chickens are very social animals that enjoy the company of other chickens so it’s best to always have more than one chicken. Contrary to common belief, chickens don't need a rooster for egg production unless you plan on breeding them.
Did you know that enrichment plays a vital role in your chickens mental stimulation and overall well being? Providing opportunities and objects that encourage natural behaviors is crucial to preventing chickens developing behavioural problems like feather pecking or bullying. Simple activities like cleaning their house, offering food treats, handling them, or letting them roam in the garden can serve as enrichment. Other options you could try include hanging up fruit and vegetables, interactive treat dispensers, dust bathing areas, perches, swings, or pet bird toys. To keep their environment interesting, change enrichment objects regularly to prevent boredom.
Regular handling of your chickens is not only a great way for you to interact with your chickens but also a good way to check their health. Chickens should be checked daily for any changes in their health or signs of wounds, feather loss, scaly legs or parasites (such as mites or lice). Common signs that your chicken may be sick include dropping wings and tail, discharge from the nostrils and eyes, lameness (unable or abnormal walk), being lethargic or not eating. Chickens are also at risk of viral or bacterial diseases (such as Avian Influenza, or Salmonella and E. coli infections).
Some diseases that chickens get can infect humans so it’s important to practice good hygiene practices such as always washing your hands after cleaning or handling your chickens, not eating food where your chickens live and regularly cleaning their house and feed/water.
Remember to check with your veterinarian about any preventative health treatment you should consider for your chickens, such as worming treatments. Also, in the unfortunate event that one of your chickens gets sick or injured, it is essential that you have a local veterinarian available.
For more information, visit the RSPCA Knowledgebase
This piece was originally published in Australian Community Media newspapers