Friday, 26 February 2010
Basic Care of Your Backyard Chicken Flock
Chickens are self-sufficient pets. As long as they have fresh water every day and a dry, clean coop to sleep in, they should be happy living in your backyard. You want to keep a clean coop to stop parasites and rodents from being attracted to your coop. Your cleaning can vary from how many hens, size of coop, etc. I do a weekly maintenance inspection and change floor bedding and nesting boxes if needed. Twice a year I do a deep clean and disinfect the entire coop from top to bottom.
Floor: Care can vary for the type of coop that you have. We use a portable coop that my husband built but I still put a piece of plywood in the run area with pine shavings. With our coop it is easy to remove the plywood if I just want to let the hens scratch up bugs and worms. We found that without the wood shavings they can create quite a mess digging up the yard. The plywood just helps with the cleanup by having a flat surface.
Floor covering options: pine shavings or sand (very coarse).
Sprinkle lime on the floor to help neutralize odors even before the wood shavings. Here is a good article regarding the use of lime in a chicken house - Liming the Chickenhouse. Some individuals have mixed emotions on the use of lime.
For lice and mice control use diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth is a non-toxic, abrasive fine white powder made of the tiny fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of algae. If you ever take a microbiology class make sure you get to take a look at this algae under the microscope. They are absolutely beautiful! Diatomaceous earth is a 100% natural treatment for poultry ailments including mites, lice and intestinal worms. Sprinkle it in the nest box and run and coop bedding.
Nesting Boxes: Chickens like quiet, enclosed areas to lay their eggs. You can put straw or pine shavings in your nesting boxes and let them rearrange it to how they want it. I have heard that some people have problems with the hens laying their eggs in the corner on the floor but I have not encountered that problem yet. Our coop has two nesting boxes but for some reason the hens like to nest in the same box. Change the bedding when it looks like its getting dirty.
Roosts: Chickens like to "roost" on raised platforms. Its where they huddle together at night. Once it starts to get dark at our hen house don't even think about peeking in. We have one hen that will make crazy noises and even peck at you! Our roosting stick is removable so I will take it out at least once a month and give it a good scraping. Below the stick I used to lay hay down but found that cat litter works better. It is very easy to clean up. Learn as you go.....
Ventilation: It is very important to keep your coop clean and well ventilated. Ammonia fumes can build up and cause respiratory problems in your chickens. Ventilation also removes humidity and keeps the coop nice and cool in the summer and prevents frostbitten chickens in the winter.
Keeping of backyard hens is still controversial in cities. You don't want your neighbors complaining that it stinks! Keep your coop clean.
Food: The best food for egg laying chickens is an organic feed. You can buy pellet or mash. Feed should contain nutrients, omega 3 oils, carbohydrates, protein and vitamins and minerals that your chickens need. Chickens will eat about 4 ounces of pellets a day.
Grit (small rocks): Chickens hold grit in their gizzards. A gizzard is an organ that ginds up feed making it easier to digest. Use more grit in the winter when rocks are harder to find. If you find that shells are thin and soft add oyster shells for calcium.
Oyster Shells: Give oyster shells to egg laying hens. It gives them extra calcium to help produce strong egg shells.
Scraps: Think of this as "treats". Chickens have their own likes and dislikes so see what your ladies like. This can be anything from fruits, veggies and bread.
Free Range:This is my favorite part. Let your hens out and let them run around the yard and let them look for their own food. Mine head straight for my perennial garden. There are some good nightcrawlers and bugs in their.
Water: Provide fresh water everyday. I sanitize the water containers once a week. If you use bleach make sure you rinse well.
Food Storage: Store in vermin-proof containers.
Bugs: Keep an eye out for parasites, lice and fleas. You may need to give treatments if necessary.
* Provide a dust bath for your girls. This is where your chickens will roll, flap or run around in the dirt. It gets rid of bugs and lice naturally.
Stress: If your chickens are looking stressed find a cool dark place for them to go to and recover.
Miscellaneous Chicken Care
Handle: Don't chase your chickens or pick them up by the tail or wings. Get close to them by gaining their trust and confidence. Talk to them and give them treats. Gently pick them up and support under your arm. Patience!
Let Your Chickens Out: Let your chickens out of the coop to scratch and dust bath. I only let them out in the afternoons for a couple of hours under supervision. They destroyed my entire perennial garden one afternoon.
Watch for predators: Keep an eye out for neighborhood pest. This can be anything from cats, dogs, foxes, and racoons.
About the Author:
Tana Lyon can be found at http://www.backyardchickenfarmer.com and is always willing to answer any questions you may have regarding your chickens.
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