Are you thinking about adding a backyard flock to your home? Here are some things to consider about chicken care before you make the leap! You can also check out our YouTube videos on poultry care, and download this handy checklist.
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Water: Have clean, fresh water available at all times. An automatic poultry waterer placed at a height equal to your birds’ shoulder will help keep the water clean and free from debris. It will also keep the litter from getting wet, helping to prevent coccidiosis and buildup of ammonia.
Grain: A ‘complete’ feed is best. It has the proper amounts of essential vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates and fats. Hens laying eggs should be fed a Layer feed. This provides them with the proper amount of calcium they need for good eggshells. Some stores offer compete organic feed.
Scratch Feed: This is a mix of grains including corn, wheat, oats and rye. Typically it is thrown on the ground for your chickens to peck at. Poultry especially enjoy scratching the earth for their food. Use scratch feed as a supplement to your chicken’s diet.
Fruits and Veggies: Chickens love leafy greens and fruits. Be sure to give these in moderation. Rotting food will attract unwanted pests. Pick up what your chickens do not eat at the end of the day.
Grit: If allowed outside, chickens will eat small pebbles which enable them to digest their food. If your chickens spend more time inside, offer them grit.
Oyster Shells: Crushed oyster shells provide additional calcium. If eggshells are thin, offer your this to your hens.
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Enclosure: Your coop should offer protection from predators-protection from the sides, top and bottom. It should also provide shelter against bad weather. A good coop is draft free in colder months and offers good ventilation in the warmer months. A minimum space of 3 square feet per bird is recommended, although more space is better! Cleanliness is important: be sure your coop is cleaned regularly. A coop that allows you to stand up inside will make cleaning easier.
Bedding: Supple plenty of bedding and regularly check to make sure it’s clean and dry. Wood shavings make good bedding material.
Outside Run: Allow a minimum of 9 square feet per bird. Remember more space is better! Use wire mesh or hardware cloth for the sides of your run. Bury the wire 12”-18” in the ground to prevent predators from digging under the fence. You may decide to cover the top with aviary netting or wire mesh. Making your outside run tall enough for you to stand comfortably, will make it more convenient for you to work in and to clean.
Perches: Supply roosting poles for your chickens to perch on. A 2” diameter is recommended. Allow 10” per chicken for roosting space. Placing perches at various levels inside and outside your coop will vertically increase your chicken’s communal space.
Nest Boxes: Provide nest boxes for your hens to lay their eggs: one box for every 3 hens. They should be raised off the floor in a secluded area in the coop since hens need privacy when laying their eggs. Clean, dry, wood shavings or straw is commonly used to line the bottom of the nest boxes. A good nest box size is 12”x12”.
Feeders: Poultry feeders should be hung at the chickens’ shoulder height to prevent debris from contaminating the grain. A good rule to follow is to have enough feeder space to allow all your chickens to eat at the same time.
Waterers: Automatic poultry waterers are convenient. Provide clean, fresh water daily. These too should be kept at the bird’s shoulder height and not on the floor. Again, make sure the chickens have enough waterer space to allow them to all drink at the same time.
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Visit your chickens regularly – at least 10 minutes daily. When handling a chicken, place each hand over it’s wings-gently but firmly – making sure your chicken feels supported underneath. To catch chickens, herd them to a small enclosed space to limit running. Never leave small children unattended with any animal.
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De-worming: There are many natural and chemical wormers available. Some all-natural products help promote a healthy digestive system. Ask your local feed supply store or avian veterinarian for suggestions for a suitable de-wormer for your birds. When choosing a de-wormer, be sure it is recommended for chickens laying eggs for human consumption.
Vaccines: Most vaccinations are done when the birds are young chicks. Check with your local feed supply store or avian veterinarian to see what, if any, vaccines are recommended in your region.
State Regulations: Check with your state agricultural officials for poultry regulations. For regulations in Massachusetts, visit http://www.mass.gov/agr/animalhealth/poultry/index.htm. For health tips and biosecurity information in Massachusetts, visit http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/birdbiosecurity/.