If you are interested in having chickens as pets and are not sure of the care and maintenance involved, look no further! Caring for your feathered friends can be a great learning experience and a great way to get the kids involved.
How much space is needed to keep chickens?
Before buying your chickens it is very important to check with your local council regulations in regards to keeping poultry on your property. After checking with the council the next step is to figure out how much space you have to dedicate to your featured friends. As a general rule, allowing 1 metre square of floor space per chicken is recommended. You can choose to let your chickens live free range where they can roam around your garden and then return to their pen at night. Or you can let them live in a designated area that is fenced. If chickens are living in designated area make sure there is plenty of room for them to roam and live happily, whilst allowing enough room for their facilities.
What materials are best for making a chicken house?
– All Metal ~ The benefits of having a chook house made entirely from metal is that they are generally lower maintenance, longer lasting and keep rodents out. The negatives, during summer they can become very hot and can increase the changes of heat stress on your chickens. It would be recommended that a fan or a misting system is installed during the peak of summer.
– Wood ~ is an extremely popular choice when constructing a chicken house. The benefits, you can create better air flow throughout the coop by having chicken wire installed in sections of the walls. Painting the wood is recommended to ensure that it will hold up against different weather conditions. Negatives, wooden houses require a good clean out every 6 months. It is recommended that the walls, ceiling and floors (flooring if concrete/pavers) is washed down with water during summer. If creating a smaller pen avoid using a lot of wood in the design as this can encourage mites to nest in the wood. By having more wire sections can help reduce this.
What flooring should I use?
– Concrete ~ Benefits, offers the best security from predators such as snakes, foxes, wild dogs and rodents. Tip: Rodents can still set a nest up under the concrete which can be difficult to control. Concrete is also much easier to maintain, it can be hosed down during summer for an annual clean or swept. Negatives, there are very few negatives with concrete flooring. But the only one to mention is during summer it can hold a lot of heat. By layering litter e.g. straw, down will help to reduce the heat that will radiate from the flooring.
– Pavers ~ Are a great alternative to concrete. Make sure they are placed to have a close fitting. Paving has similar benefits to concrete flooring. Negatives, rodents can create nests under pavers if they are not installed correctly.
– Earth/dirt ~ Benefits, earth flooring is great for the chickens during summer as they can dig into the earth and create dust baths. Tip: Dust baths can be vital to a chickens health during summer as the soil temperature helps to keep the chickens cool. Negatives, winter months if housing is subject to water the flooring can flood and get muddy. Muddy conditions can encourage mites and other parasites. Earth flooring requires regular cleaning to keep rodents and mites under control.
Nesting Boxes – should be cleaned weekly otherwise fortnightly. Dirty nesting boxes can subject eggs to absorbing moisture and odours. Replacing the litter used in laying areas is recommended and using either bleach or hot soapy water to wash the box.
Water Containers – Usually daily emptying and refilling is require during the warmer months. During cooler periods every 2 – 4 days (depending on dispenser) is recommended.
Perches – brush/rub down once or twice a year with hot soapy water or bleach.
Other – De-cobweb walls, ceiling and boxes monthly. Hose down ceiling, walls and flooring once to twice a year, during warmer months only.
Do I need a perch?
Perches are important for chickens to roost on during all weather conditions. Having the perches during the summer months can help keep chickens cool during the hotter months. During colder conditions they are also popular for the chickens to huddle together on and keep each other warm. They provide great exercise by encouraging the chickens to jump/fly up and down. They can also provide a safe haven for birds that are being bullied until the pecking order has been established.
Making the perch mobile is handy for when it need to be cleaned as it will be easy to remove and re-install. It allows you to adjust the height to take advantage of air flow in different weather conditions. (Hot air rises during summer so lowering the perch to the ground will keep chickens cooler. In winter cool air is lower so having the perch situated higher will be warmer).
Tip: All your hens must be able to fit onto the perch, allowing 10 – 15cm per bird is usually enough. So if you have 4 birds a perch that is 60cm, 1 metre, long is enough.
How many nesting boxes are required? How big should they be?
One nesting box is suitable up to 5 hens. More often than not, chickens like to lay their eggs in the same nesting box. Tip: Having your nesting boxes in dark areas are best suited. Chickens prefer laying in dark areas as it provides them a sense of security.
The size of a nesting box can be 25-30cm wide, 30cm long and 25-30cm high. Of course they can be made a bit bigger is desired.
How to get chickens to use the nesting box?
If your hens are being stubborn and not laying where you want them to you can train them to lay in the boxes. Using a gold ball, as a dummy egg, place it in the nesting box everyday until hens start using the boxes.
Otherwise using a egg from the local grocery store and placing it in the nesting box can also trick your hens into laying in the nesting area.
What litter should you use in the nesting box?
– Straw ~ needs to be topped up or cleaned and replaced weekly.
– Dried grass cuttings ~ fortnightly change
– Shredded paper ~ fortnightly change
– Pine needles ~ Ever two too three week clean out.
What proofing do I need to install?
Fences – keeps larger predators away such as foxes and wild dogs. Make sure fences are high enough to stop foxes from jumping over and to keep your chickens inside. Chickens can escape over fences that are only 1 metre tall so make them a little taller.
Wire – Chicken wire can keep other birds and rodents out of the main enclosure. Birds and rodents can spoil feed and introduce mites and other diseases. Having self-feeders or covering food containers can help reduce infestation.
Manage long grass and keep it cut regularly to reduce the occurrence of snakes.
If you have your chickens roaming the garden or running around in a fenced area make sure you are present or keeping watch every now and then due to foxes. Foxes will dig under fences and will come and hunt for your poultry at any hour of the day.
Lock them up! Lock your hens up at night and make sure their housing is secure. Foxes and wild dogs hunt at night!
Where do I buy my chickens from?
When looking for chickens do your research before hand. Look online at the suppliers that are local to your area and what they have on offer. Ask if they vaccinate the hens against mites and if they have pure breeds. Pure breeds are better layers and tend to live longer.
So if you are looking at getting chickens I hope that this has been helpful and that you are one step closer to getting you chickens!
Until next time happy gardening!
By Bonnie-Marie Hibbs