Chicken Care

General Care

Soft shelled eggs can be produced by pullets as the egg may have passed through the oviduct too quickly. A coople of weeks after the hen first starts to lay, the eggs should be normal. If you experience a regular occurrence of soft-shelled eggs, this often indicates that the hen is lacking calcium. There are products on the market which help boost the hens calcium levels but also vitamin D helps the absorption of the calcium. You can use a product called ‘Davinova C’ and it doesn’t take long for the quality of the shells to improve.

If it’s muddy around where the hens roam, the eggs tend to end up with mud on the shell. It’s important not to wash the eggs by running them under water. As eggshells are porous any bacteria that may be on the outside of the shell could seep through into the contents inside and could make you ill. If you do have a dirty egg wipe it clean with a dry/damp cloth.

Handling hens

It is beneficial to get your hens used to being handled. There are a few different techniques but if you go to stroke them, this often causes the hen to flatten to the ground which is a natural instinct as if in anticipation for a cockerel to come along and mate. At this point calmly close your hands over the birds body making sure you include the shoulder like part of the wing up by the neck to prevent them from flapping. It’s important to have a relatively firm hold of the hen so that she feels secure but not too tight that you restrict her breathing or risk causing injury. Once you have hold of them you can position the hen practically under your arm. To prevent them from squirming around, particularly when trying to administer treatment you can slide one hand underneath the hens body and clasp the legs with your fingers.

You should avoid chasing your hen and grabbing at them as this will cause distress and you may harm the bird if pulling at the feathers.

Hens seem to have an uncanny sense that you’re wanting to pick them up especially for treatment and the ones that usually like a cuddle will make it as difficult as possible to catch them!

Chicken coop / housing

Depending on what you’re housing your hens in you’ll need to carry out various tasks throughout the year. The frequency with regards to cleaning the coop out depends on the time of year and the number of hens you keep. During the winter months with the shorter periods of daylight, the hens will spend more time indoors and the amount of droppings in the coop will increase. Whereas in the summer months the hens will spend much more time outdoors and the coop will stay relatively clean.

Carry out a mega clean twice a year and disinfect the whole coop using a product called ‘Poultry Shield’, specifically designed to use in coops.

Clean coop, healthy hens!

Each morning after letting the girls out, grab a bucket and cat litter scoop and gather the droppings that have fallen in the night. By doing this it reduces the nasty odour in the coop, prevents the hens from treading in it and possibly carrying it up into the nest boxes but also, chicken poo makes great compost!

You need to check regularly that the coop is weather-proof and it’s good practice to re-apply a coat or 2 of water-proofing treatment if you have a timber coop once every 6-12 months. Check the roof to make sure there’s no damp or water seeping through. If the coop does become damp the hens respiratory system can be affected.

The chicken run

If you have your coop on wheels and a small run attached, it’s good practice to move the coop and its’ run every so often to allow your hens a nice patch of grass to scratch away at but also allows the previous patch to recover and re-grow.

In order to allow your hens access to a constant supply of luscious green grass, cordon off a section to allow parts of the pen to recover. You can even attempt to sow some purslane, dandelion and clover seed to add a bit of variety for your girls. With the introduction of purslane to a hens diet increases the amount of Omega 3 in their eggs.

Shade

You need to make sure that the hens have an area of shade in the summer so they have a place to retreat to should it get too hot. However everytime we’ve experienced a hot day the hens have been sprawled out sunbathing! They will often congregate and lie on their sides with their wings expanded and perhaps then decide to have a dustbath to cool themselves down.

Dust bathing

Hens tend to be clean birds and spend a lot of time preening themselves. They also indulge in a spot of dustbathing too and will often create their own bathing areas most likely in plant pots or in grassy areas. If they don’t have access to such spots it’s good practice to provide one which you may need to anyway in the winter when the ground is too muddy or too firm. Use a deep cat litter tray in such cases and fill it with some soil, and sand which is used for kiddies sand pits as it’s toxic free and completely safe. You can also use sawdust too. Dustbathing helps keep parasites at bay but if you do experience an outbreak of red mite, lice or fleas, you can administer treatment via the dustbath and the hens do the work for you! Dustbathing also keeps the hens cool in the warmer months.

Shelter

Even if it’s blowing a gale or the rains thrashing down some hens will still insist on venturing out of the coop. It’s good to have an area where they can run for shelter and small shrubs offer this protection. Be careful though that they’re not of the poisonous variety! Ground coverage is also good if they need to dash for cover if they spot a bird of prey.

Protection from predators

Chickens in penIf you have an enclosed pen in which the hens roam around in, it’s good practice to do a quick check around the perimeter to see if any predators have attempted to break through or burrow under. Even in town areas there are foxes, badgers, pine martens and birds of prey all of which are a threat to your hens. To reduce the risk of attack, install an electric fence and every now and then check its’ strength.

Spring tends to be the foxes most active time of year as they’re having to feed their young so it’s best to be extra aware during this period. Locking the hens away at night improves their chances against a fox attack. You must also ensure that your coop is strong and durable. Foxes can break into wooden coops although these must be the most determined of the lot!

Male urine is apparently a good deterrent as is human hair which can be stuffed into an old pair of tights and hung around the outside of coop or the pen perimeter. You should also ensure that your bins are secure and that there is no food to encourage fox activity.


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