Top 10 Tips for Keeping Backyard Chickens
The benefits for keeping backyard chickens are endless. If you have children, they are a great way of spending outdoor time away from iPads and iPhones. Spending time with poultry allows parents and children to come together and create valuable memories. Apart from collecting backyard eggs, it also teaches children the merits of caring for animals. But before you race off and don the straw hat to become a backyard chicken farmer, there are things which need some thought and planning. Here are our Top 10 Tips for Keeping Backyard Chickens.
1. Are you allowed to keep backyard chickens?
While keeping roosters in residential areas is generally not permitted by most councils Australia wide, chickens are a little different. Many local councils permit up to 4 or 5 hens as long as it does not interfere with the neighbours right to peace. So to ensure you do not violate any council laws you should make a call first to check. Rural areas are a lot less prohibitive, but there may be limits on the size of the flock, so do your homework first.
2. Determine the size and type of coop.
So you have checked with the council and you are allowed a certain number of chickens in your backyard. Great news. Getting the size of the coop right is essential. Consider whether you shall be building a chicken coop inside a protective pen, also known as a chicken run. Even though you may think residential areas are safe for chickens, there are still plenty of predators who would like chicken for dinner. Dogs, foxes, eagles and other birds of prey to name a few. If you are not going to build an enclosed pen, then your coop should offer security at night preventing predators getting in. Plan the coop design so you can still easily clean the coop, change the nesting straw, collect the eggs and clean out dropping trays. If you have a large solid fence which is high enough to keep predators such as dogs and foxes out, it may be safe enough to let your chicken's free range in the back yard. But if you do have wild bird problems, bird netting or a pen cage will be a must.
There are many coops available at large pet stores as well as online. But the best looking ones do not necessarily mean they are the most practical so do your homework.
The size of the coop should allow one nesting box for four or five chickens. Overcrowding in a chicken coop leads to fighting and also egg breakage. Egg breakage encourages chickens to eat the eggs which a cycle hard to break. So start off smart and offer the right amount of nesting boxes.
3. Maximise egg laying
Once chickens are old enough, around six months, they naturally begin to lay eggs. (For more information read our article about At what age do chickens start laying eggs). To maximise egg production, we recommend using a Quality pellet feed mix which has essential vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and most importantly protein. Laucke Mills Showbird Breeder MP is one of the best on the market for all laying hens. Help prevent and deter rodents from entering the pen by using a Dine A Chook Chicken Feeder. Our revolutionary design stops feed ending up on the ground which saves you money as well as deters rodents such as rats and mice.
Another boost you can give your chickens for protein uptake is Dine A Chook Dried Mealworms. Back to the kids, Dried mealworms are a great way of getting chickens to feed straight from the hand which kids of all ages love.
Also, it is essential chickens get exposure to daylight. So try to have an area where they can get shade if they want but also ensure they have plenty of room to run around in the sun throughout most of the day. The sunlight triggers important hormones which stimulate egg production. In short, less sun, fewer eggs.
4. Adult hens are better for beginners
Baby chicks also known as pullets require particular feed, lots of attention and care. Chickens which are six months older will be able to be integrated quickly with less maintenance. It shall also allow you to begin collecting eggs almost immediately. There are some important things to keep in mind for the health of your initial flock. If you are buying the birds from different locations ensure they are all vaccinated against Coccidiosis. Coccidia parasites are found in the digestive tract of all chickens. However, one strain found in one hen may be lethal to another hen. Therefore, either purchase all your chickens at the same time from a poultry dealer who offers guarantees vaccinated chickens. Alternatively, if you are buying one or a couple at a time, before introducing a new bird(s) to the flock, isolate and treat the bird(s) before introduction it with Amprolium 200 Coccidiostat 100gm TOLL.
Important to remember, do not consume eggs from birds being treated with Anticoccidial medication.
5. Choose the right type of hen.
Some chickens are bred for meat eating, some are ideal for laying eggs, and some simply do not lay eggs. Do your research first and know what breed of chicken will offer you the best potential for laying eggs.
6. Educate your chickens to use the nesting boxes
Chickens often need to know where to lay eggs. If you have too many nesting boxes, then chickens will use the nesting box to sleep instead of lay. Too few and they shall end up fighting. So one box for every four or five chickens is ideal. Teaching a chicken to use a nesting box is quite easy. Follow these simple steps:
- If you see a chicken laying outside the nesting box, pick it up and move it to a nesting box.
- If you spot a chicken sleeping in a nesting box move it to a roost.
- Regularly replace nesting material, so it is clean and sanitary. Chickens do not like laying in their poop. Also, the eggs shall be cleaner.
Once they get the hang of it, nesting shall become second nature.
7. Watch for sick chickens and isolate
You should always be vigilant for signs of a hen which is sick. If you notice a hen which is weak, sluggish, suffering from feather loss, has its combs or wattles changing colour to purple or is suffering from diarrhea you should isolate the bird immediately from the flock and get veterinary advice. The biggest threats to chicken flocks are mites, coccidiosis and also Salmonella, which is unlikely in a healthy flock. Botulism is also another thing which can be fatal in chickens but it is one which relatively avoidable in most cases.
8. Keep your chickens comfortable in extreme weather.
Extreme weather events are becoming more common in Australia. Similar to humans, chickens stress easily in severe hot or cold weather. If you live in a cold climate help keep your chickens warm at night by a well-insulated coop which is raised off the ground. If you live in a below zero climates in winter always ensure a running water supply which shall help prevent their water source from freezing. In hot climates or heatwaves, ensure the birds have plenty of shade. Locate the water drinker in several areas of the run, and also a position in the shade, so the water is cool and refreshing. In hotter locations, the coop should be both insulated as well as breezy with sidewall vents and even a small whirlybird or ceiling vent which allows heat out but prevents rain from coming in.
9. What to use as a chicken pen if you have no fence
The critical thing to remember is your hens need to be safe from predators. The easiest way to instal a pen as a beginner is to buy a wire dog pen. Just make sure that it is high enough for dogs to keep out and also prevent the chickens from jumping over. You can also install some posts and use Heavy Duty Bird Netting.
10. Buy a Quality Chicken Feeder and Drinker
So to be clear, Chicken feeders and drinkers all do the same thing. The allow chickens to access their feed and drinker. But that's where the similarity ends. While some offer so much and fail to deliver, Dine A Chook has been purposefully made to be the best. Our Dine a Chook Chicken feeders are waste reducing and have been engineered to eliminate feed ending up on the ground. Such engineering helps deter rats and mice from the pen. Also, our feeders have a patent pending hood and gutter system which keeps feed dry even in torrential rain. The Dine a Chook Chicken drinker systems have several designs which including ones with lubing cups as well as ones with drinker nipples. Both offer clean, fresh water to keep your chickens hydrated at all times. We also have Do it Yourself systems so you can tailor a mains water system for your poultry.