How to care for chickens
Caring for chickens is a rewarding experience for all ages. While commonly associated with farms and barnyards, chickens are rising in popularity as backyard pets. And why not? Birds of various species are kept as beloved pets, and chickens are part of the avian family. With Omlet’s help, you can learn how to care for your chickens in the best way possible, from which housing will keep them safe, to the best feed.
Why you should keep chickens
Chickens make for unique and relatively low-maintenance pets. With the right care, hens can provide a family with fresh eggs all year round. Quality hen housing, food, fresh water, and simple cleaning routines are essential to helping your chickens thrive. But we’re just scratching the surface here – let’s dig into caring for chickens with tools to ensure success for your flock-raising journey.
Are chickens easy to take care of?
As long as your flock’s requirements are met, the rest of their routine is entirely up to you! The basic needs of chickens are:
- A safe, well-insulated chicken coop
- An attached chicken run or chicken fencing to surround the coop
- Fresh water
- Quality chicken feed (pellets or crumbles)
- Bedding in their nesting boxes to encourage laying
Do chickens require specific veterinary care?
Chickens don’t require annual vaccinations like other household pets. Deworming can be done on a routine basis, but can usually be accomplished through feeding herbs and other natural anti-parasitic measures. Feed stores also carry deworming agents that can be added to your flock’s feed or water, but be sure to ask your veterinarian before choosing a dewormer.
It’s always a good idea to have a veterinarian that is familiar with chickens lined up before bringing your chickens home. A veterinarian can also be a great resource when deciding on what breeds to get and finding the right breeder.
Are chickens social animals?
Hens are social animals with each other, but don’t require daily interaction with humans to thrive. While they’ll certainly enjoy the snacks and treats you bring them, they don’t crave human interaction. But as most chicken keepers will agree, spending time with your hens is a relaxing and enjoyable experience. Having chickens in your backyard is similar to tending a garden – you can customize their space, choose the color or types of hens you keep, and reap benefits in the form of fresh eggs.
Caring for chickens: the essentials
Though they’re hardy and adaptable, chickens still need a helping hand from their keepers to stay safe and comfortable. Chicken essentials should be selected with care, as they are not all created equal in terms of safety, benefits for the keeper, and functionality.
Coops and runs
A coop is an absolute essential when keeping chickens. Chickens naturally seek a place to roost at night, a safe nesting area, and shelter from the elements. A good chicken coop will fulfill all of those needs, but an excellent chicken coop will have added benefits for you as well. Some additional features that will make chicken keeping more enjoyable for you inlclude:
- An easy to clean chicken tractor
- A mobile chicken coop for flexibility
- Increased coop insulation and ventilation to bolster hens’ health
- Limited maintenance
- Waterproof and free from drafts
- Dedicated nesting area for collecting eggs
Choosing your chicken coop comes down to personal preference, but be sure to consider all of the benefits before making your final selection. Also, take into account what size chicken coop you’ll need. Some breeds of hens get larger than others, so you’ll need to select a large chicken coop that will accommodate your flock comfortably.
Another important component of keeping chickens is a chicken run. Most hen keepers prefer a walk in chicken run so that they can easily spend time with their flock and see to their needs. Omlet’s walk in chicken runs are heavy duty, with roof panels and anti-dig skirting for top-to-bottom security. It can also be added onto to accommodate growing flocks.
Caring for free-range chickens
Alternatively, you may want to let your chickens free-range. However, this term can be a bit misleading. Traditionally, “free range” implies that chickens are not limited by any fences and are allowed to roam as they please. There are a few concerns with this method of keeping chickens, namely the danger it poses to flocks. Chicken predators are abundant, and without means to deter them, your flock is left vulnerable.
Chickens can still be considered free ranging if they have access to grass, insects, and vegetation. The definition of “free range” in the US are flocks that have outdoor access. This can be accomplished with a walk in run, or with chicken fencing. While chicken fencing isn’t as predator-resistant as a run, it still keeps your hens from wandering too far from safety.
Food and water
There are many different types of chicken feed and methods from which you can choose from to supply nutrition to your flock. Do you want to feed your hens organic feed? Non-GMO feed? A free-range diet?
If you plan to sell your hens’ eggs as organic or non-GMO, be sure to check with your state’s guidelines to ensure you have the proper feed and/or licensing. Most states require additional certification or specific types of feed to be fed to flocks in order for them to be marketed as organic or non-GMO. Free-range hens should also be offered supplemental feed to aid in egg production.
Your laying hens’ feed should consist of a minimum of 16% protein. Chicks should be fed with feed consisting of 18-20% protein until they reach laying age. Additional protein can be offered in cooler months, or during molting cycles.
The most common forms of feed are:
- Pellets or mini pellets
- Whole grain
The best ways to give feed to your chickens
As chickens tend to pick through their food, offering their feed in covered chicken feeders will help reduce waste. Chickens can have their pellets left out free-choice, and are not in danger of overeating. Be sure to check their feed levels regularly and top off as needed.
Scratch grains or fresh chicken-safe produce can be fed in chicken treat dispensers to add nutritious variety to your flock’s diet. These treats should be offered as a supplement to laying feed, and are helpful when bonding or working with your hens. Some chickens are very food-motivated!
Fresh, clean water should always be available to your flock. Skim any debris from your chickens’ water if needed, and replace their water every 2 or 3 days to maintain freshness. In the warmer months, chicken-specific electrolytes can be added to keep your hens hydrated.
Entertaining the flock
Chickens are curious by nature, and love to explore, which makes them very enjoyable to observe. Being the inquisitive characters they are, they will seek out entertainment opportunities, and can quickly become bored without enough engagement from their surroundings. Bored chickens can turn to undesirable behaviors such as pecking (themselves or each other), aggression, and can even become listless or lethargic. In short: a bored hen is not a happy (or healthy) hen!
There are several features that can be added to your flock’s run to encourage their natural tendencies and exercise both their minds and bodies. Some accessories that will enrich your run include:
By creating an environment that fosters your flock’s natural behaviors, you can keep them safe and happy inside their run full-time. Plus, there’s nothing quite like watching your hens relax on their swing or explore the height of their run on their perches.
Protection against predators
Even if you live in an urban setting, chicken predators can be abundant. When visualizing animals that would prey on chickens, it’s easy to see bobcats, bears, foxes and coyotes as potential threats to your hens. But racoons, hawks, snakes, and even neighborhood cats will take advantage of an unsuspecting flock in your own backyard.
It’s important to have a predator-resistant chicken coop and run, complete with anti-dig skirting to help keep predators at bay. As an added layer of protection, an automatic chicken coop door can be added to your hens’ house to ensure they’re enclosed every evening – even when you aren’t home. Omlet’s Autodoor offers additional protection in the form of a horizontal closing mechanism, making prying the door open nearly impossible for predators.
Keeping hens healthy
Daily check-ins with your flock are essential for staying on top of their health. A healthy chicken is bright, alert, and responsive, with no visible or audible issues. Quickly checking in with your hens will usually be enough to notice if something is amiss with them. Many illnesses that occur in backyard flocks can be treated, so it’s important to quickly relay concerning symptoms to your veterinarian.
Avian flu is on the minds of lots of chicken keepers, but can largely be prevented with a few modifications to your chicken run. Covering your flock’s outdoor space with a waterproof tarp is one of the best preventative measures to take against avian flu. Ask anyone who has their own birds at home (of any species) not to go in with your chickens. This is helpful in preventing not only avian flu, but other bird-borne illnesses as well.
What to know when keeping baby chicks
Chicks require special considerations apart from adult hens. They need a heat source in the form of a heat lamp or brooder plate to simulate the warmth they would receive from their mothers after hatching. They also need to be kept in a special enclosure, usually referred to as a brooder, for several weeks with their heat source before being introduced to a coop and run.
Things to consider when raising chicks:
- They’ll need to stay in a brooder enclosure with a heat source for 6-12 weeks
- Feeding is required daily, as growing chicks eat much more often than adult hens
- Shallow waterers, changed daily (chicks are messy!)
- Daily monitoring and adjustment of heat source to ensure proper growth and development
- Slow introduction over time to their outdoor environment
Raising chicks is a big commitment, but can be very rewarding. Chicks that are handled daily by their owners tend to be tamer once they’re placed in their permanent homes.
Caring for your chickens through the seasons
You’ll need to provide supplemental care for your flock during certain seasons. This is largely dependent on where you live, but winter and summer considerations are universal for most chicken keepers. Line out chicken keeping challenges throughout the year and create a plan according to your climate to successfully help your hens through each season.
Winter can be an enjoyable time for your chickens, so long as you help them prepare and weather the cold. Hens usually do better in colder temperatures than in intense heat, but some parts of the country experience frigid temperatures that require extra care from their humans. You’ll want to make sure that your chickens’ coop is well insulated, and potentially add winter weather coop protection if needed. Waterproof chicken run covers help keep snow and ice out of the run, and chicken perches give frosty feet a respite from the cold ground. Offer supplemental chicken treats and feed to help increase their metabolism, and place chicken toys around the run to keep your hens healthy and active during the cooler months.
Spring is a favorite season for both flocks and their keepers. The temperature is moderate, and there’s more sunlight for your hens to bask in. Insects and vegetation are abundant, and your chickens will be eager to seize the warmer, longer days. Hens lay more eggs in the spring than any other season, and may also attempt to go “broody” (sit on a clutch of eggs) this time of year. Collect eggs daily to discourage broody hens from sitting and to help maintain egg production.
Depending on your location, summer may be the most difficult season for your flock. It’s vital to help keep your chickens cool in the summer, as hens can overheat quickly. Be sure to care for your chickens by keeping fresh, cool water available at all times, adding chicken-specific electrolytes if needed. Offer frozen treats to your flock, or make your own summer chicken treats to help your hens stay cool. Shade will also be a hen’s best friend in the summer – chicken run covers can help shield them from harmful UV rays and alleviate some stress from the heat. Monitor your flock for any signs of heatstroke, and bring overheated chickens inside promptly.
Fall is another favorite season for flocks. Fallen leaves make excellent scratching grounds, and the cooler weather offers respite from the summer heat. Chicken keepers prepare for fall in a variety of ways, depending on their location, but caring for your hens through a molt is common when the days grow shorter. There’s also an increased risk of avian flu during the fall, as migratory birds begin their journey across the country. Special treat opportunities are also abundant in fall, as chickens love pumpkins and squash, and will appreciate ashes from your bonfire or fireplace added to their dust-bathing area.
What to avoid when caring for chickens
There are a few things you will want to avoid when caring for chickens. Thankfully, this list is relatively short, as chickens are generally low-maintenance and resilient pets.
- Research chicken breeds before deciding on which type of hens you want to keep. Make sure you’re familiar with temperaments, egg production, and the lifespan of the breeds you’ve settled on.
- Get the biggest coop and run setup that your budget allows for from the beginning. A flock can never have too much space, but they will certainly find themselves unhappy in too little space.
- Be sure to have a support system when getting chickens for the first time. A veterinarian, flock-keeping friends, and expert advice goes a long way in encouraging you throughout your journey with chickens.
Omlet’s here to help
Keeping chickens should be as enjoyable as keeping any other pet. We love that chickens are making the transition from barnyards to backyards, and our products are designed to help keep hens healthy and happy in any setting. From hen houses and chicken pens, to chicken fencing, we’ve got everything you need to make your chicken-keeping journey a success.
This entry was posted in Chickens