Whether you have just a few chickens or a large, widely varied flock, a happy, healthy flock will be better socialized and will be more productive layers. Fortunately, happy and healthy go together and it is easy to keep chickens in superb condition with just a few easy steps.
- Provide Appropriate Space
Chickens need adequate space both in the coop and in an outdoor run to be happy and healthy. The space should include plenty of roosting perches as well as shelter from winter winds and shade from summer sun as needed. An overcrowded space will be messier and can lead to aggressive birds and cross-contamination of diseases and parasites.
- Be Entertaining
A bored chicken may become aggressive or could develop personality problems that lead to feather plucking, excessive preening and other undesirable behavior. Keep your flock entertained with occasional treats to peck, areas of scratch feeding, a dust bath, and occasionally introducing new features to their run, such as a hay bale or new perch to explore.
- Keep It Clean
Chicken feces have a high liquid content, and when feces accumulates the birds are more susceptible to respiratory diseases. Excessive feces can also coat feathers and cause skin problems. To keep the coop and run clean, install dropping boards indoors and use a deep layer of bedding that can be easily cleaned. Rake the run periodically to remove outdoor feces.
- Offer a Nutritious Diet
A good diet can do wonders for keeping your flock healthy. Use feed with balanced nutrition for the needs of your chickens based on their age, size and species, and offer a range of extra foods such as vegetables, leafy greens and the occasional fruit for chickens to peck. Adjust food seasonally as needed, and always offer plenty of fresh, clean water.
- Light It Up
A dark coop can be unhealthy for your chickens, and installing some windows will keep them more active and on a better laying schedule, particularly in winter. If the windows can be slightly opened, they will also help keep fresh air circulating through the coop to minimize respiratory problems. On very cold nights, however, the windows should be closed to conserve warmth.
- Socialize Regularly
Chickens are more intelligent than many people realize, and your birds will recognize you and get to know your voice and behavior. Spend time with your flock, talking or singing to them and playing games with the birds. This will get them accustomed to your presence and will also provide entertainment and stimulation for the birds.
- Know the Vet
While chickens are generally healthy, it is important to be familiar with a poultry veterinarian and get regular checkups for your flock. Watch for signs of illness or injuries, and have any problems attended to right away so they do not escalate into more serious conditions.
Chickens can be a productive and enjoyable addition to any urban or suburban farming as well as more traditional agricultural setups, and if your flock is happy and healthy, both you and the birds will enjoy are more productive and rewarding relationship.