Over the last eighteen months or so, many more people have begun keeping backyard chickens, and most have greatly enjoyed the experience. In order to be a responsible chicken owner, however, it’s important that you know how to care for them. If you’re still new to keeping chickens, these 5 tips will help you keep your chickens in optimal health.
Check Out Your Yard
The first step to keeping your chickens healthy is making sure that they’re living in a safe environment. Take the time to evaluate your yard for hazards, which include mundane items like acorns and oak twigs, as well as holly. The tannins in acorns can be especially toxic to your chickens, while the saponine in the holly can make them sick, though it’s unlikely to be deadly.
Choose The Right Food
Another key part of taking care of chickens is choosing the right food. Typically, chickens forage for food, eating a mix of plants and bugs. However, if you’re keeping backyard chickens in a relatively small area, you’ll need to choose a balanced food blend that mimics your chickens’ natural diet and is appropriate for their age and size.
While certain kitchen scraps, like bits of greens and other vegetables, can make an okay treat, most are unadvisable for smaller birds. You also don’t want to overfeed your chickens.
Separate New Birds
Once you’ve begun establishing a flock, it’s important that you quarantine new birds for thirty days before introducing them to your existing community. This can seem like a hassle, but it’s an important step that prevents new birds from introducing diseases to your current flock.
You’ll also want to contact a local vet that treats farm animals or exotics to examine your new birds and test for any parasites. Most vets, especially in urban and suburban areas, only treat cats and dogs, so you may need to make a few phone calls to find one that will see your chickens.
Learn To Identify Signs Of Illness
While pet owners occasionally miss signs of major illness in their cats and dogs – after all, your pets can’t tell you when they don’t feel well – learning to identify illness in your backyard chickens can present yet another learning curve.
Watch your chickens for indicators of illness like going off alone, as chickens typically stay close together, losing a lot of feathers, matted or dirty shoulder feathers, or a swollen abdomen. Just like humans and other animals, chickens can develop many different ailments and prompt treatment is the best defense.
Protect Your Birds
Finally, when keeping backyard chickens, it’s important that you provide them with a secure space away from potential predators, including other pets. Even your pet dog can be a threat to your chickens, especially if your dog is an adult when you get your birds and isn’t trained to steer clear of them. Make sure your chicken coop has a lock that requires an opposable thumb to open, as racoons have been known to open other latches.
Keeping backyard chickens can be a real joy, as these birds not only provide wonderful fresh eggs, but are also very smart and can be taught to perform tricks, but it’s important that you’re prepared to care for them before you bring your first birds home.
Even then, you’re likely to face a learning curve, but there are plenty of professionals who are happy to help ensure you and your birds have everything they need.