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Backyard Chicken Ownership

Updated: Sep 1, 2023


Diet

A good diet is crucial to having a happy, healthy flock.

A good quality pellet should make up the base of a chickens diet. The type of pellet will depend on a chickens life stage and requirements. The brands we usually will recommend are Barastoc or Laucke Mills, however there are several suitable brands. Common pellets available include:

  • Chick (up to 8 weeks): Chick starter

  • Pullet (8 weeks until point of lay): Pullet grower

  • Adult laying hens: Laying pellets such as Barastoc Golden Yolk or Laucke Red Hen Layer

  • Non-laying hens or roosters: Pellets lower in calcium and protein such as Laucke Mills brand Game bird maintenance pellets


Good quality pellets have added calcium, vitamins and minerals that are essential for chickens.

Adult birds can also be offered grain, but they will often eat this before the pellets and pick out their favourites. You don’t want to give so much grain that they aren’t hungry enough to eat the pellets as this can lead to have nutritional deficiencies. Pellets are better than grain feeds as the birds cannot just pick out what they would like to eat.


A large variety of Veggies should also be offered. They love dark leafy greens and these are really nutritious for them (Kale, Silverbeet, Spinach etc). leftover veggies from your dinner can also be offered (anything EXCEPT for avocado, rhubarb or onion as these are toxic).


If you aren’t sure of the ideal diet for your flock, our team is happy to help.


Enrichment

Chickens are very intelligent and busy birds.

There are plenty of things you can do to provide mental and physical stimulation for your chickens:

  • Making sure they have plenty of ‘out of coop’ time in a safe, contained outdoor area. Chickens love to free range! They will happily peck around for yummy insects, wild seeds and grass to eat throughout the day.

  • Having a friend: Chickens are very social animals and they love to have other chickens around to socialise with

  • Encouraging foraging behaviours: Hanging veggies up for them to peck at, use of a treat ball or other food puzzle toys usually sold for dogs and cats to feed their treats, frozen veggie ice blocks in summer and even just scattering food for them to look for can all help make meal time more exciting.

  • Have a fun environment for your chicken: They love to explore. Make sure to have plenty of places to perch as well as ladders, ramps, swings and even bells and toys that make sound. Changing the environment around routinely can also help keep it interesting for them.

  • Having a spot for them to dust bath: This is an important natural behaviour that chickens do to keep their skin and feathers nice and clean and healthy. They will need an area of dirt, or even a shell pool filled with dirt if there is no other space available.

  • Training: We train dogs, cats and parrots, why not train chickens? They are very receptive to training if you have tasty enough rewards for them. Why not start with target training and recall, and then you can move on to fun stuff like jumping (through a hula hoop or over a short hurdle) or to play a musical instrument like a xylophone or drum. This will also help strengthen the bond you have with your chicken.


Parasite Control Chickens can get a range of internal and external parasites.

Parasites include intestinal worms, coccidia, mites and lice. Generally, we only give a treatment for these if the bird has them, so we recommend bringing in a fresh pooled faecal sample of your flock every 3 months which we can look at under the microscope and provide treatment as needed. If you are unable to do this, you can provide parasite control every 3-6 months to be safe. Our staff can help you figure out a parasite treatment regime that will work for you.


Medical management

Chickens are very good at hiding signs of illness.

We recommend yearly check-ups to make sure that they remain healthy, and to get onto any health problems early so that they can be treated. Some common health problems to look out for are:

  • Reproductive Issues: Chickens have been bred to lay lots of eggs which takes a toll on their bodies. These are the most common health problems we see with chickens. Common symptoms include: lethargy, swollen abdomen, unusual or soft-shelled eggs (or lack of eggs altogether), a change in the comb or even just generally looking unwell or not themselves.

  • Heavy Metal Toxicity: Because chickens love to forage through soil, they are at risk of consuming lead, zinc or copper that is toxic to them. This can come from eating screws or hardware, having toys made from one of these metals, or from trace metals in the soil (found often in older houses and properties). This can be treated if found early enough and we are able to test birds to see if they have had access to these. If a chicken does test positive for any metal, it is also possible to have your soil tested to see where it has come from. Some symptoms of heavy metal toxicity include lethargy, neurological signs, black droppings, and vomiting, but they often show no obvious symptoms for quite some time.

  • Respiratory Disease: There are many types of respiratory diseases chickens can carry. They are often contagious to other chickens and should be treated straight away. Symptoms include sneezing, coughing, discharge coming from the nose or eyes and open mouth breathing.

  • Mareks: This is a high contagious virus that affects the nervous system and can cause tumours, most chickens should be vaccinated at 2 days old, but even they can become sick with Mareks. Symptoms: can include weight loss, leg paralysis, wry neck, blindness, diarrhea, pale combs (anaemia), dehydration, and depression. Some birds may not show symptoms until they are very unwell.

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