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Posted on 09-27-2017

It may surprise you to hear “cluck-clucks” coming from your neighbor’s backyard but more and more people have backyard chicken flocks. With the rise in awareness of where our food comes from and eating local grown food, it has become popular to keep chickens in order to have fresh eggs. Backyard flocks can vary in numbers but could range anywhere from 1 chicken to 50 + (depending on local laws).

Top 5 Concerns for Backyard Poultry

Housing

Proper housing for your chickens is important for their health and laying status. Chicken coops should provide shelter from predators (dogs, cats, raccoons, hawks, etc). Coops should have good quality litter that is changed regularly. Wood shavings make for excellent litter. Chickens like to lay eggs in clean enclosed areas so providing nest boxes that are low to the ground and in a dark area of the coop is recommended. Chickens coops should also have perches so that they can perch off the ground. Just like our dog and cat companions, chickens are susceptible to heat stress during the summer. Make sure that your chickens have access to shade. Placing a mister in the chicken coop can also help cool your chickens on the hottest days.


Food and Water

As with any animal, chickens need fresh food and water. Fresh water should be given to your chickens every day.  Chickens should be fed a well balanced diet that has been formulated by a poultry nutritionist. As chickens grow from chicks into hens they need different types of nutrients. It is important to feed a laying hen a maintenance diet in order to make sure that your hens have the correct calcium ratio to produce good quality eggs.


Air

Like humans, chickens need fresh air. It is important to have plenty of air circulating throughout the chicken coop/housing in order to keep your chickens healthy. Decreased air can cause ammonia levels to build up in the coops, which causes birds to have difficulty breathing. It can also cause the humidity to rise in the coops, which may allow mold to grow.


Biosecurity

Biosecurity is one of the most important ways to keep your flock healthy and free of disease. There are three categories we need to remember when thinking about biosecurity:

1. People: We can unknowingly transmit diseases between poultry. Having shoes that are only worn when working with your chickens can help to decrease the risk of bringing in and transmitting diseases. Visitors that may interact with your chickens should spray their entire shoes with water followed by bleach to completely disinfect their shoes. Alternatively, you and your visitors could wear disposable plastic boots that can be slipped over your shoes and thrown away after working with your birds.

2. Poultry: When introducing new birds into your flock, it is important to quarantine the new birds for at least 30 days. Quarantine means that the new birds have absolutely no contact with your flock. You should work with your already established flock before working with the new birds.

3. Wildlife: Wildlife can transmit diseases to your chickens and can also be predators so it is important to protect your flock from them. Migratory waterfowl (ex. Canada Geese), have been reported to carry avian influenza. If you see any feces from geese/ducks in your yard, throw it in the trash so as to prevent disease transmission to your chickens.


Disease

  • Zoonotic diseases are diseases that can be transferred from one species of animal (ex. chickens) to humans. Chickens can transmit two very common diseases that we usually associate with food poisoning: Salmonella and Campylobacter. It is important to always wash your hands carefully after handling your chickens, eggs, or manure.

  • There are many infectious (including viruses, bacteria, and fungal) diseases that birds can transmit to each other. Make sure to look at your chickens daily in order to find birds that may be sick. Signs that your chicken may be sick include not wanting to eat or drink, sleeping more often, fluffed out feathers, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, or a decrease in egg production. If you see any of these signs, it is important to have your chicken be seen by a veterinarian in order to help the sick chicken and prevent the rest of your flock from becoming sick.

  • Chickens can get external and internal parasites. The most common external parasites are ticks, mites, and lice. The most common internal parasite is coccidian (although there are others they can get). Chickens should be dewormed about twice a year to prevent infestations of intestinal parasites.

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