There has been a growing trend over recent years with chickens becoming more common as pets in inner city homes, particularly as people realise the many benefits that owning chickens can provide.
The benefits of backyard chickens
Not only do chickens provide tasty, organic, fresh eggs, they also help lower food wastage by eating kitchen scraps and love to get into any damaged or overripe vegetables in your garden.
They will forage around with endless enthusiasm, uprooting the stems and stalks of weeds and help to keep your garden free of pests by eating snails, slugs and other insects they find as they peck around in the soil. Even their poop is great as a natural garden fertilizer.
Chickens make great pets too with their intelligence and quirky individual personalities. They can be affectionate and provide years of companionship, living an average age of 8-10 years and have a great memory for people and other animals.
Be prepared before bringing chickens home
Before rushing out to buy yourself some chickens, the first thing you need to do is check with your local council as to whether you are allowed to keep chickens in your yard, and any restrictions on numbers.
In the city a lot of councils won’t allow Roosters as not everyone is happy to have a very loud morning alarm clock go off across the neighbourhood at every sunrise.
Depending on what you are looking for in a chicken (ie: is it eggs only or is a pretty face important?) it is important to research and decide which breed is best for you first.
Chickens are very social creatures, so you definitely want to get a few of them and make sure they have plenty of space in both their chicken coop and yard to roam and get plenty of exercise during the day.
Chickens can get stressed, so it’s a good idea to get them settled in their new coop for 24 hours before letting them out to roam and keep an eye on them for any signs of stress.
The chicken coop and run
Keeping your chickens safe from predators like foxes, cats and dogs is extremely important. The coop needs secure fencing all the way around and dug deep down into the ground, plus a secure a roof, floor and door that potential crafty predators can’t dig under, sneak over or through.
The coop also needs to be the right size for the number of chickens you plan on having and designed well so that they can keep warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
The coop must be ventilated, but at the same time must also provide shelter from draughts and hot winds. Damp conditions promote the build up of internal parasites in a flock as well, so there is a lot to consider when building or buying your chicken coop.
In general it needs to be at least 3 square foot per chicken and be fitted with a roosting/perching area and nesting box (one box for every 3 hens), a feeder and water containers. You’ll need straw, hay or wood pellets on the floor
You will also need a much bigger run attached to your chicken coop, especially if you are unable to let your chickens out to roam freely every day and can’t be at home to keep an eye on them (predators come out in the day time too!).
The size of the run you will need to build depends on the size of your flock. The rule of thumb is to allow a minimum of ten square feet of outdoor pen space per chicken.
Definitely talk to one of PETstock’s bird experts at your local store about this before you buy or build your chicken coop and run.
Food & water for chickens
Laying hens are omnivores, which means they generally consume both meat and vegetable material in the wild such as insects, worms, carcasses, seeds and other plant material.
Chooks have different dietary requirements depending on their age and you should try to give your chickens a similar range of nutrients to what they would get in the wild.
Again, talk to your local PETstock store about this and their commercial food range options.
Chickens also require grit for calcium and to help breakdown certain foods, as they don’t have teeth, whilst treats like mealworms are high in protein and help with egg production so make a great choice.
Kitchen scraps should only be an occasional treat and make sure you check what they can and can’t eat. For example, avoid avocado, potatoes and mouldy foods, as these can be toxic to chickens).
Other health & safety tips for caring for chickens
Make sure you check the water, feeders and fencing in your chicken coop every day and collect eggs daily to avoid them going off.
You also need to protect them from worms and parasites with products such as Pestene (mite and lice), Kilverm (wormer), and may need to provide them with extra vitamins and minerals such as Avi (electrolytes) and Vital (vitamins and minerals.
To help ensure you know what signs or symptoms to look out for if your chicken is sick, or has developed behaviour issues due to something lacking in their care routine, it is worth checking out this article.
If you are looking for more general information to help you with your decision to introduce some backyard chickens into your home and other chicken care advice there are more articles on the PETstock website to help.