Humans around the globe have been raising chickens for thousands of years. It’s fairly simple to do with the right knowledge. Here are seven tips for raising healthy chickens.
Feeding Chickens a Healthy Diet
The first thing chicken-keepers should keep in mind is the diet of their birds. Chickens need different nutrients depending on their stage of life. Laying hens need a layer feed that is high in calcium and other nutrients.On the other hand, layer feed has too much calcium for roosters. Roosters do best with a maintenance pelleted feed or crumbles. A maintenance ration is also best for female birds that are not currently laying, such as pullets, older hens or young females who have ceased laying for the season. Chicks need a special, high-protein food as well.
Chickens also need access to grit (dirt or crushed stone) to help them digest their food. Oyster shell is an extra source of calcium that some chicken-owners like to keep for their hens. If oyster shell is provided, it must not be mixed in with the main feed but should be kept separate; otherwise, the birds may consume too much calcium which can cause joint problems and other health issues.
Keeping Chickens Safe from Predators
A second important factor in raising healthy chickens is predator-proofing. Many animals will eat chickens if they get the chance. Chicken-eating species include dogs, cats, raccoons, weasels, birds of prey, foxes and more. In order to prevent predator attacks, a secure coop and pen is necessary. Birds should be locked up safely at night and placed in a pen inaccessible to wild animals, feral cats and domestic dogs during the day.
It should be noted that chicken wire is not adequate keeping most predators out. It is designed to keep chickens in but will not stop skunks, opossums, minks or other determined predators. Ideally, the chicken pen should be covered with thin-slotted wire over the top. Wire should also be placed beneath the dirt of the pen if possible. This prevents animals from digging under the fence and coming up beneath the birds.
Diseases and Biosecurity
Disease is a third serious consideration. This is especially true concerning urban chickens. Urban chickens are at a greater risk of catching diseases, such as salmonellosis, and spreading them to other birds and to humans as well.
Biosecurity is the practice of preventing these diseases from spreading. Poultry-owners can practice biosecurity by avoiding visiting poultry auctions, poultry farms or other flocks of chickens. Another way to practice biosecurity is to only introduce new birds after a period of quarantine, during which time the new birds are kept far away from the existing flock.
Keeping the Pen Clean
A fourth thing to keep in mind is pollution. Chickens will peck at and swallow litter such as used cigarettes or old, rusty screws on the ground. This will kill them. Their pen must be kept clean and regularly inspected for dangerous pieces of trash. Other forms of pollution that must be avoided include chemicals such as rat poison, herbicides and insecticide. In addition, anything with lead in it must be kept away from chickens.
Other Hazardous Materials to Keep Away from Chickens:
- Deep bodies of water, including water buckets chickens may trip and fall head-first into
- Shoes and clothing that came into contact with the droppings, feathers or other body parts of poultry from a different flock
- Bits of broken glass
- Animal food designed for other species, such as goats, sheep or dogs
The Importance of Clean Water
Fresh water is a vital, fifth consideration. Chickens without cold water in the summer can quickly become dehydrated or over-heated and suffer a heat stroke. On the other hand, in areas with frigid winters, water should be heated so it does not turn into ice. Water should be changed twice daily, once in the morning and again in the evening. It should always be clean and free from droppings or other filth, which will cause disease and death. Stagnant water will also cause disease and death, even if it looks clear, due to the botulism-causing bacteria that breeds in still water.
Roosters and Hens
The sixth tip is the sex ratio. In a flock with too many males, the roosters will fight with each other, doing damage that may be fatal. The hens will also suffer from over-mating, and will lose feathers on the neck and back. Over-mated hens are more stressed and susceptible to injury or disease. A flock of eight or less hens should have just one rooster, if any. To avoid an unhealthy sex ratio, never buy straight-run chicks from a hatchery.
The seventh tip is to mentally stimulate the birds. Scientific studies show that chickens are as intelligent as a seven-year-old human being. They are emotional, thinking creatures more sentient than most people realize. They can suffer from boredom. Bored chickens may excessively peck at each other or pace constantly. Boredom can be alleviated by petting them, giving them safe treats such as fresh watermelon or summer squash or simply by spending time with them.