As an owner of chickens myself, I wanted to pass on some of the tips and knowledge I’ve acquired over the years both as a vet and a chicken owner.
I have 6 birds in total comprising of two strays, one ex-battery hen, a homebred hybrid, a Pekin and a home-hatched Silkie x Sussex cockerel.
Feeding and watering:
- Layers pellets. I put these in a “Grandpas Feeder” which the birds quickly learned to use. It’s weather proof and most importantly vermin proof; discouraging rats and mice which are common to find around the chicken coop. It has paid for itself already and will supply food for a few days for my 6 birds which saves me time.
- Mixed oyster shell/ grit, in its own bowl separate from feed and in a dry sheltered position will provide calcium for egg shell production. Some clean and washed pea sized gravel should also be provided spread about the run. The chickens can then use these to grind up their food in the muscular stomach called the gizzard.
- Raw green leafy vegetables are essential over the winter providing much needed vitamins and minerals. Cabbage leaves and kale are popular with my lock. I do not recommend feeding to much fruit as it will cause diarrhoea. Feeding chickens kitchen scraps is prohibited by DEFRA due to the risk of spreading disease and can cause diarrhoea in the birds.
- Scratch is a mixture of wheat and cracked corn which you can sprinkle as a treat for the birds to scratch and eat. It is quite fattening and heating so in the winter I recommend a handful for 6 birds. Too much scratch will make the birds too
fat and then they will stop laying eggs.
- Watering: Always provide plentiful fresh water. This year has been exceptionally mild so far but do remember to defrost water after a freeze. Chickens can be messy so nipple drinkers are the best type of watering system (I will write another post about how to do this at a later date), failing that hang drinkers so that they’re not on the floor as they will quickly get dirty. Clean any green slime that forms inside water containers as this will contain bacteria which
will make the birds unwell. Adding a tablespoon of apple cider to the drinking water can be beneficial to the bird’s digestion.
Chicken house and run:
Run and house need to be fox proof. Birds need to be let out at sunrise and locked in a sunset. There are now some automatic doors on the market; these may allow owners a lie in although I have no personal experience of these products. There are many designs for chicken houses. Whichever style you choose, whether shop bought or homemade, make sure it’s easy to clean, well ventilated and provides enough perching space for the number of birds you have. I use dust extracted wood shavings for bedding and recommend weekly cleaning of the coop though I find removing the worst of the dropping daily wearing rubber gloves keeps my house nicer for the birds and looking its best. If you find the run is getting muddy, I recommend small pea sized gravel as a base layer as it can be hosed down to keep it clean. I do not recommend bark as it can harbour a fungus called “Aspergillus” which can cause lung disease in the flock.
Preventative health care:
For small flocks vaccination is not usually needed unless you have a specific problem that needs addressing. Worms are very common in a free range flock. I recommend worming with Flubenvet every 3 months or faecal testing if you wish to worm less frequently. Please ask at the surgery for details. Red mites are often a cause of anaemia and egg drop. Regularly inspect under your birds feathers and wings and if you see any lice or mites do contact us for advice. The house and the birds will need treatment. Food grade diatomaceous earth can be mixed with water to make a paint for the inside of the house. Do this once a year/ if you discover a red mite problem after a deep clean of the house. Allow to dry thoroughly before allowing birds back in the house. Do be careful when using diatomaceous earth as its fine particles can be inhaled and a face mask and overalls should be used when using this product.
I will go into some of the above topics in more detail at a later date but please feel free to bring your chickens in to the surgery for wellness checks and I will be happy to discuss any husbandry or health concerns you have with regard to your birds.
Becky Lowten BVetMed MRCVS