So you’ve finally taken the plunge; you went online, did your research, looked up the plans and then built or bought your own chicken coop. You’ve got it all planned out too; from the proper size to making sure that you got the proper ventilation, insulation, protection and all the other necessary stuff to make a successful chicken coop. You probably also bought the latest gadgets to make your life easier: hanging feeders, automatic water dispensers and the like. But while all that’s well and good, raising the chickens themselves is a whole different matter. In today’s article, we will be showing you all about raising your backyard chickens to ensure that you have a healthy and successful flock.
The most important thing after the initial set up of your flock and coop is maintenance. Let’s look at some of the most important tasks that you will need to do daily, monthly, and twice yearly to ensure your chickens remain healthy and disease-free throughout the year.
The single most important task that you must do daily is to make sure that your chickens have access to fresh water and feed. It is also important to ensure the water is clean as chickens can be surprisingly choosy about their water and will avoid dirty water. This is dangerous because chickens are easily dehydrated which can lead to sickness or even death.
Illness is also an issue so check your flock daily to see whether they are all active and healthy; if you noticed some lethargic or out of the ordinary behavior in any of your chickens it is best to consult your vet immediately.
Of course, you will also have to collect their eggs daily; this is to prevent the hens from sitting on them and to also remove a source of attractants for predators. On a side note, the first few eggs that are laid by young hens will likely be small with weak shells. Be aware that this is quite normal and should not be taken as a sign of illness; before long your hens should be laying normal eggs.
On a monthly basis, you should change the bedding in the nesting boxes as well as in the chicken coop. This is more important that you might think because if you don’t change the bedding on a frequent basis, it will cause a buildup of ammonia which can cause respiratory illness in your chickens and it will also just generally smell bad. If you find cleaning up your chickens’ droppings overly tedious, position some pans or trays under their roosting perches to make it more convenient for yourself.
Twice a year you will need to give your chicken coop a thorough cleaning. And when we say thorough, we do mean thorough; you will need to remove all the bedding, all the nesting materials, and all the containers used for their feed and water. In order to clean the coop, we recommend using a solution that is one part dish soap, one part bleach, and ten parts water.
While chickens can generally handle the cold fine, due to the natural insulation provided by their feathers and the fact that their metabolism is adaptable, there are still some important precautions that you should take when it gets really cold. While external heating is still unnecessary, you can rub a heavy moisturizer on the chickens’ wattles and combs to protect against frostbite. We recommend using petroleum jelly.
Also important and often overlooked is to make sure the chickens’ water supply does not freeze. We have heard of many cases of people losing their chickens to dehydration during the winter months as they forgot about this fact. To mitigate this, you can use a water heater (you will need to be able to provide electricity to your coop for this of course) or the manual way is to bring the chicken waterer indoors at night and then place it back in the morning. You will also have to check the water once or twice during the day to make sure it has not turned to ice.
And finally, while chickens can handle cold temperatures, cold drafts are a different story. In fact, drafts can quickly cause the death of even the toughest chickens which is why it is most important that your chicken coop design has adequate protection against such drafts.
While diligent maintenance is great and necessary, be aware that chickens are still conscious beings and if they are unhappy, their health and egg production will suffer regardless. Chickens have the innate desire to roam around, explore, and forage around their territory. This is why adequate roaming space is very important in chicken care; make sure to let your chickens out to roam daily.