Chickens are great animals to have as pets.
They have great personalities, can be very friendly and gentle and best of all they give you eggs that you can eat.
Like any pets chickens have a few basic requirements. Like any other animal they need food and water, a safe place to sleep and get shelter (a chicken coop) and proper care if the get ill. Also like any other animal chickens have some requirement particular to them.
From hatching until 8 weeks of age chickens should be fed chick starter.
From 8 weeks of age until about 18-20 weeks of age they should be fed pullet grower.
These foods are specifically formulated to provide chickens with the high nutrition demands of the rapid early growth that chickens have. Once you put your chickens onto pullet grower kitchen scraps can be added but only in small amounts until they get accustomed to them to avoid attracting pests and your young chickens eating rotten food.
Once chickens reach the point where they start laying eggs (usually about 18 – 20 weeks of age) you can start them on a layer food.
We feed our chickens layer pellets or crumble rather than a scratch mix as we find there is less waste with layer pellets. Chickens should always have access to layer pellets.
Kitchen scraps can also be fed to your chickens at this age. They will look forward to getting kitchen scraps and usually eat these pretty quickly.
Shell grit can also be a useful addition to your chicken feed to provide enough calcium for good shell development. Egg shells can also be added but crush them up if you are going to do this. Some people believe that feeding chickens egg shells will lead to them eating their own eggs. We have not had a problem with is and believe that crushing the shells could be a big reason for this.
Allowing you chickens to freerange around you yard is highly recommended. This prevents them getting bored and also allows them to scratch around for insects and grass and anything else they like to eat. When letting chickens freerange you will need to fence off any parts of your garden with delicate plants that you do not want them to eat as well as plants that may be poisonous.
There should also be a constant supply of fresh water available for them and water containers should be cleaned about once a week.
This video shows how to sprout grain as a great additional food source for your chickens.
Chickens will need somewhere safe for them to roost or sleep. This is usually what people will call a chicken coop. The coop should be big enough for the amount of chickens you have. The coop should allow about 0.5 square metres per chicken. The coop should be fairly free from drafts and protect the chickens from the weather. You should also be sure that there is good access for cleaning.
There should be roosts for them to sleep. Roosts are like perches in a bird cage where the chickens can perch while they sleep. The roosts should be about 1.2 metres off the ground and about 3 – 5 centimeters wide.
The chickens will also need somewhere comfortable to lay their eggs. These are called nesting boxes. They should be off the ground so that they do not get cold and give the chicken privacy so they feel it is a safe place to lay their eggs. Nesting boxes can be made from wood or you can use old lawn mower catchers or old 25 litre drums as long as these are clean. Place straw in the nesting boxes for the chickens to form into a nest.
Even if you intend to let your chickens freerange in your garden it is good to give them a fenced off yard for times when you don't want them in the yard so you can secure them but still give them room to scratch around.
Chickens need somewhere to have a dust bath. Dust baths are necessary for chickens to control lice and mites. A dust bath can consist of dry sawdust (be sure to use saw dust they will not poison the chickens) or dry sand.
If you have a problem with predators that may attack your chickens at night then you should lock your chickens in their coop at night. If day predators are also a problem then the chooks should be kept in a safe enclosure or be given plenty of close cover from flying predators like hawks.
Chickens should be regularly wormed regularly and there are many chemical and organic methods for doing this. Which ever method you choose be sure to follow the directions.
Chickens should be regularly checked for mites and lice. Check under wings and around the vent for mites and lice. If you find any then be sure sure treat your chickens for them. Like worms there are chemical and organic treatments for lice and mites. Be sure to follow the directions.
Chickens do suffer from a few diseases.
The two most common diseases which affect chickens are;
Coccidiosis: pale combs, loss of condition, blood in droppings, drooping wings. This can be treated with an appropriate coccidiostat medication.
Respiratory problems: typical symptoms such as a runny nose, coughing, watery eyes or swollen face. Antibiotics are available.
Seek veterinarian treatment if you think your chickens have any disease.
The coop should be cleared of chicken poo once a week. keeping the coop cleaning will reduce the likely hood of problems such as and disease outbreaks.
Caring for your chickens should keep them happy and healthy and keep them providing you with eggs for many years.