Caring for pet chickens is pretty easy! They have the same needs as most any other animal. Here are a few tips for everyday upkeep, as well as advise on winter care.
What to Do on a Daily Basis
•Keep feeders and waterers full.
•Make sure the waterer is clean. Chickens will be less inclined to drink dirty water, and a dehydrated bird can very quickly become ill or die.
•Check to make sure they all look active, bright and healthy. Make an appointment with your vet if they don’t.
•Collect and refrigerate eggs, pointy side down for maximum freshness.
•If you’ve opened the coop door to let your chickens out, always be sure to close and secure it at dusk (once they’ve all returned!) to make sure predators can’t get in. (Tip: if you have a cell phone that allows you to set a recurring alarm, try that as a reminder.)
Keep in mind that you CAN leave your chickens alone for a few days provided they have enough food, water and space for the duration of your trip. The eggs they’ll have laid in your absence should still be good to eat. Fresh eggs keep for several days without refrigeration. Surprised? Consider this: hens lay an average of 10-12 eggs per “clutch” (the group of eggs that a hen sits on to incubate). They lay one egg per day and at the end of a 10-12 day laying period they roll all the eggs together to incubate them. That means the egg laid on day 1 is still good enough on day 12 to become a living, breathing baby chick – so it should be good enough for you to eat too!
Your eggs may have some slight traces of dirt or chicken feces on them. Resist the urge to scrub them clean! Outside the egg is a delicate membrane called the “bloom” that wards off bacteria and other foreign matter. Scrubbing will damage this membrane. If you’re one of those Type A people that needs perfect-looking eggs, rub them with your fingers very gently under warm water. Then, wash your hands thoroughly.
What to Do on a Monthly Basis
•Change the bedding in the coop and the nest. This is necessary for sanitary purposes. Excessive ammonia buildup is dangerous to poultry and can cause respiratory illness.
•Remove the feces. We put ours in the compost bin or use it as fertilizer.
What to Do on a Bi-annual Basis
Twice a year you’ve got to really scrub your coop clean! Remove bedding, nest materials, feed and water containers. For a cleaner, we recommend a concoction of 1 part bleach, 1 part dish soap, 10 parts water. A strong citrus cleanser will also do the trick. After cleaning, rinse well and let dry before replacing with fresh bedding. Do the same with the feed and water containers: clean thoroughly and rinse well, and replace with a fresh supply. You should be able to do this all in a couple hours!
Foods Chickens Shouldn’t Eat
•Citrus fruits and peels (they can cause a drop in egg production)
•Any large serving of meat, or meat that has gone bad
•Garlic and onion (unless you want your eggs tasting like them)
•Avocado skins and pits
•Raw potato skins (I have never heard of this, we fed ours peelings when I was a kid, and they never had any problems)
•Long cut grass
•Chocolate (as if you’d give that up!)
Also, we hear from chicken pros that Morning Glories and Daffodils are poisonous to chickens, and even though chickens will generally know to avoid them, you might just want to keep an eye on them around these plants.
If you have cold winters, you shouldn’t run into any problems provided you choose the right breed. Our customers want to do the very best they can for their flock, and we often get asked whether they should heat their coop during winter. Our feeling is this isn’t a good idea. Chickens adapt to the cold weather over time. Their body metabolism actually changes along with the seasons. When you heat your coop, the birds will never get used to the colder outside temperature — so if the heat were to accidentally cut out causing a sudden change in temperature, you could literally lose your entire flock overnight. We’ve seen it happen.
That said, if you live in a really cold climate there are a few precautions you can take to make everyone’s lives easier (by which we mean you and your birds!):
•Protect combs and wattles from frostbite by rubbing on petroleum jelly or another heavy moisturizer every few days.
•Make sure the water supply does not freeze! This is very important. Chickens cannot live long without fresh water. If you don’t have electricity in your coop and therefore cannot provide a water heater, we recommend you bring the waterer into your house every night, and return it outside every morning. Check the water once or twice a day to make sure it’s not frozen.