Everything You Need To Know About Having Chickens
Keeping Chickens: 6 Things You Need To Know
With beautiful, big blocks and plenty of homes on acreages in the Southern Highlands, it’s no wonder we channel our inner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (the River Cottage dude for those playing at home) and see how self-sufficient we can be.
Picking rosemary from your herb garden, roasting vegetables harvested from your very own veggie patch and collecting eggs from the chicken coop in your garden….living the country dream, right?
Well sure, but it’s not all unicorns and rainbows. Especially keeping chickens. They are awesome, but they do need a bit of dedication and commitment.
We caught up with local vets, Charlie Carter and Chris Watson from Southern Highlands Veterinary Centre to get some facts on keeping chickens. I mean, we wouldn’t want you to fowl it up….!
Not all chickens are created equal
Some chickens are pretty – you know the feathery, floofy type! Some are good layers. And some have a face only a mother hen can love. Before you buy your chickens, think about what type you would like. Is it all about the eggs? Or about the looks? If it’s eggs and extra laying power you’re after, Australorps are the go-to chicken and thrive in spacious conditions. Rhode Island Reds are easygoing and good for newbies to the chicken keeping world. Isa Browns are also good with some starting to lay from only 16 weeks.
Now it can get a little wintery here in The Highlands so breeds like the Australorp and the Silkie with their extra plumage are good choices for this area. Silkie’s like sitting on your lap, so you can kill two birds with stone – in a manner of speaking – and use them to keep yourself warm too!
Chickens will only have three good productive years of laying
Chickens will live 8 – 10 years but will only have three, good years of laying. They’re a little like us humans and will only produce eggs (or children in our case!) for a limited period of time. Your hens won’t necessarily stop laying after three years but they will lay fewer as they get older. Daylight is an important contributor to egg production. Chickens need 14 hours of sunlight to lay an egg (isn’t that amazing?!) – so don’t be surprised if egg production drops off during winter.
Chickens love your table scraps
Chickens are great to have around as they can help minimise waste by taking care of your leftovers! But make sure their diet isn’t all table scraps. To maximise egg production, chickens need lots of protein to keep their egg supply up and a balanced diet made up of quality chicken feed – mash, pellets, crumble – and a variety of veggies and table scraps. Not sure which chicken feed is best? Check with your vet to see what balance will work well for your girls.
“Grit is also good so be sure to grind up any leftover egg shells or get some store-bought grit and feed it to the chicken,” says Chris.
“Grit helps the digestive system and gives the chickens a calcium boost which contributes to the strength of the eggshells they produce.”
Never feed chickens avocado, uncooked beans, potatoes, choccie (who has leftover chocolate, anyway???), onion, garlic and rhubarb. These are toxic and will make them super-sick.
Ducks + Chickens = No
Ever heard the saying Birds of a feather flock together? Well, that’s not necessarily the case if you’re keeping chickens and ducks. Chickens have strong guts and eat most foods without issue, but a duck’s digestive system is a little more fragile.
“I have seen a case where a duck developed botulism due to poor water quality and contaminated feed. This is invariably fatal, so I would advise keeping chickens separate from other water birds,” Charlie says.
Fox-proof your chicken coop
It’s no secret foxes are big fans of chicken and there are plenty of them in The Highlands. These sneaky little buggers will pretty much stop at nothing to get to the chickens if they’re hungry. So what can you do to keep your girls safe?
- Install a sensor light: foxes are nocturnal and not fond of bright, white light.
- Guard dog: Foxes are pretty territorial and tend to stay away from places with dogs. But it does depend how hungry they are. If your dog is outside and barks if he sees or hears a fox, that should be enough of a warning to keep the fox away.
- Install a permanent mesh flooring in the coop: foxes have no qualms about digging a little tunnel under the coop to get to the chickens!
“Foxes have also been known to open locks – basic ones, of course, but still! It’s important to install good locks and bolts on your chicken coop,” says Chris.
Chickens need regular medical maintenance too
Chickens are pretty self-sufficient and low maintenance farm animals, but they still need some love.
“We recommend worming your chickens 3 or 4 times a year as they can be prone to picking up internal parasites,” Charlie says. “We sell an in-water worming medication that is easy for owners to give to their chickens.”
With any medication, you need to check if the medication will end up in the eggs. This is called the withholding period which will be written on the medication. What does that mean for any eggs laid at home in that period? Well, if the withholding period is 14 days, for example, this means any eggs laid in that period need to be discarded and shouldn’t be eaten by humans.
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