Search

Urban Food Garden

MANAGING CHICKENS

Chickens require careful management if they are to be kept healthy and happy. These are my suggestions on how to manage chickens properly.

the chicken run
provide enough space

There are minimum recommended space requirements for chickens,  your chicken run should meet those requirements at the very least.  For more information see the CHICKEN STOCKING DENSITIES section.

Offer cover for younger chickens to escape to

The chicken pecking order can be brutal, so it is important that younger chickens have cover that they can escape to if older dominant chickens are harassing them.  This is particularly important if you have a large older rooster and younger roosters.  This cover also offers chickens protection from hawks.

Provide adequate shade

Make sure there is plenty of shade for your chickens to escape to on hot summer days.

Ensure That The Ground Is Well-Drained

Muddy ground is unpleasant for your chickens and has the potential to spread disease.  While mud in a chicken run in winter is hard to avoid if your run has poor drainage it would be a good idea to put in some agricultural drainage pipes.

provide an area for dust baths

Chickens use dust baths to get rid of mites and lice, they also enjoy having them.  To create a dust bath area all you need is to make sure there is a well-drained section of bare ground for the chickens to create a dust bath.  If you are in a high rainfall area you might want to place a waterproof cover over it.

Give Your Chickens Opportunities To Scratch For Food

Chickens like to scratch for their food.  Two ways that chickens can be given opportunities to scratch for food are:-

LEFT: COMPOST BINS IN THE CHICKEN RUN
By placing compost bins inside the chicken run you will give your chickens a focal point for consuming food scraps and green waste.  What they have not eaten will begin to break down into compost.  During this process the chickens will turn it over repeatedly in their search for worms and insects.

RIGHT: DEEP LITTER PEN
This is a pen that is covered with straw, pea straw and other mulching materials that in time will begin to break down.  As it does the chickens will turn it over in their search for seeds, insects and worms.  In doing so they will accelerate the process of breaking down the mulching material as well as fertilize it with their faeces.  After a few weeks you will end up with a finally broken down fertilised mulch that is ideal for spreading on your garden.

the chicken coup
Protect your chickens from foxes

Even in urban settings foxes are an ever present threat, so it is important to build and maintain a fox proof barrier between you and your chickens.  While a two metre fence will keep a dog in it will not keep a fox out as they are good climbers.  To be completely fox proof a mesh roof is recommended. 

FOX PROTECTION FOR MY CHICKENS
My deep litter pen attached to the chicken coup is covered with a heavy duty mesh.  The lower section is covered with second hand Colorbond sheeting as an added protection.  I installed this sheeting as in the past foxes broke in by chewing through the aging chicken wire at ground level.

Foxes are also good at digging.  To prevent them from digging under the fence it is recommended that wire mesh be laid out horizontally from the fence to about a metre and then lightly covered with soil.  When a fox digs at the base of the fence it will be stopped by the layer of mesh below the soil.

LEFT: Excavated section along the fence showing the horizontal layer of mesh.

RIGHT: CLOSEUP OF THE HORIZONTAL MESH
Heavy duty chicken wire will do the job but I put down weld mesh as I thought it would take longer to rust out.

Ensure that the coop is both well ventilated and draft proof

Chickens do not like roosting in a drafty place, but at the same time the coup needs to be well ventilated.  A poorly ventilated coup can become very dusty, which can cause respiratory ailments. 

REAR: CHICKEN COUP
 It has a roof and walls on three sides, with the fourth side being open for good ventilation.

FRONT: DEEP LITTER PEN
Attached to the chicken coup is a fully enclosed fox proof deep litter pen, which is why there is no chicken wire on the open side of the chicken coup.

Regularly clean the chicken coup

Regularly cleaning your coup is important as it reduces the risk of disease and parasites.  

LEFT: TRAYS UNDER WHERE THE CHICKENS ROOST
Having trays under the roost allows me to easily collect the chickens’ faeces.  

RIGHT: TOOLS USED TO CLEAN THE PERCHES
I have a scoop, wire brush and scraper on hand in the coup to easily remove faeces on the perches.

As well as physically cleaning the coup I regularly wash down the perches with a disinfectant, either vinegar or Coup Clean.  This is done by spraying the disinfectant on the perches and allowing it to sit there for a few minutes before washing it off with a high pressure cleaner.

provide adequate nest boxes

Provide dry nest boxes with clean bedding that are dry and away from drafts.   There should be at least one nest box per four hens. 

While there are many types of nest boxes available I prefer to use small rubbish bins as they are portable and easy to clean.  Traditional wooden nest boxes have cracks that can harbor red chicken mites.   Whereas plastic bins have no cracks and can be lifted for cleaning underneath.

Being both made of plastic and portable rubbish bin nest boxes can be easily removed for a thorough cleaning with a pressure hose.

Feeding, watering and health
Use rodent and bird proof feeders

Rats, mice and birds such as sparrows will consume large amounts of chicken food if they can gain access to it.  They also bring with them parasites and diseases that may infect your chickens.  These are two rodent and bird proof feeders that I have used.

LEFT: NOSLOC FEEDER
There is a hole in the bottom of the bucket with a large spring below it.  Chicken feed falls into the cavity inside the spring from the bucket.  Upon seeing the feed chickens will peck at the spring, which causes the spring to vibrate and drop some of the pellets to the ground below for the chickens to eat.

RIGHT: TREADLE FEEDER
As a chicken steps on the plate it lifts a thin cover at the base of the hopper, exposing the chicken feed for the chicken to eat.  When the chicken steps off the plate the cover closes so rodents and smaller birds such as sparrows cannot get at it.

Make Sure They Have Enough Protein

Protein is an essential part of a chicken’s diet.  In the wild they obtain it from worms and insects, but urban back yards do not have enough space to provide sufficient worms and insects for them to get enough protein.  Layers pellets provide enough protein for hens to produce a regular supply of eggs, but if you are feeding them lots of greens the level of protein your chickens are getting may be too low.  This is especially so for crossbreed hens such as ISA Brown and Hy-Line which need a higher protein diet than most purebred varieties.  So it is important to offer your hens a regular protein boost.  This can be done in a number of ways, but this is the way I do it.

MY PROTEIN SUPPLEMENT MIX
I boil 250 gms of macaroni and add some dried cat food after the water has been drained off.  Once cooled I then divide the mixture in half and sprinkle some meat meal on top before mixing it thoroughly.  I then feed it to the chickens.  The other half of the mixture is fed to the chickens the next day.  I usually cook up this mixture about once a week.

You can also use dried dog food in place of cat food and soybean meal (which is also high in protein) in place of meat meal.

Provide a ready supply of clean water

Supplying uncontaminated water that does not contain bird faeces or other such harmful bacteria is vital for maintaining the health of our chickens.

Give them shell grit

Hens need shell grit to make hard eggshells.  They eat shell grit, which ends up in the gizzard providing a bank of calcium which is slowly digested as stomach acids, enzymes and the grinding action of the gizzard dissolve the shells, providing them with a ready supply of calcium to make their eggshells.

LEFT: CLOSEUP OF MEDIUM SHELL GRIT
This is readily available at most pet and rural supplies shops.

RIGHT: MY SHELL GRIT FEEDER
This allows my hens easy access to as much shell grit that they need.

Monitor your chickens for diseases and parasites

It is important that you monitor your chickens for parasites and diseases and treat as required.  Note that this section does not have detailed information about the treatment of chicken pests and diseases, it is simply a reminder to be vigilant about them.   The photo shows three medicines that I use to treat various chicken ailments.

LEFT: PIPERAZENE
Used to treat Roundworm.

CENTRE: AMPROLIUM 200
Used to treat Coccidiosis, a protozoal disease causing diarrhea.

RIGHT: PESTENE
Used to treat lice and red chicken mites.

further comments

This chicken management section does not cover all aspects of managing chickens.  What it does do is summarize my chicken management practices based on over thirty years of keeping chickens.  Hopefully it will give the reader ideas on how they can improve their own chicken management practices.  However, further reading from alternative sources on managing chickens is recommended.

Give Your Chickens Opportunities To Scratch For Food

Chickens like to scratch for their food.  Two ways that chickens can be given opportunities to scratch for food are:-

LEFT: COMPOST BINS IN THE CHICKEN RUN
By placing compost bins inside the chicken run you will give your chickens a focal point for consuming food scraps and green waste.  What they have not eaten will begin to break down into compost.  During this process the chickens will turn it over repeatedly in their search for worms and insects.

RIGHT: DEEP LITTER PEN
This is a pen that is covered with straw, pea straw and other mulching materials that in time will begin to break down.  As it does the chickens will turn it over in their search for seeds, insects and worms.  In doing so they will accelerate the process of breaking down the mulching material as well as fertilize it with their faeces.  After a few weeks you will end up with a finally broken down fertilised mulch that is ideal for spreading on your garden.

RELATED POSTS