News - 10 tips to keep chooks
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10 tips to keep chooks

There's nothing like having a couple of chicken pecking and scratching in the backyard. Not only do they supply you with free fresh eggs that you KNOW weren't produced in an overcrowded shed, they also create fertiliser for the garden, keep spiders under control, ensure you've got a lovely green lawn and make fabulous pets. However, getting started can be a little daunting if you've never had chooks before. Thankfully there's one especially fabulous website I've stumbled across - the appropriately named www.omlet.com.au. It's worth a read even if you don't have any interest in keeping poultry. Not only can you read about the history of this noble descendant of the dinosaurs, there are guides to breeds and care. Omlet even sells cages and accessories, up to and includes egg stands and ramps where you can store the bounty from your birds.   Here then are 10 top tips for keeping chickens:

1.   Read the rule book

Yes there are rules for keeping feathered friends. Check with your local council (there should be information on their website) as there will be restrictions about how many birds you can keep in a backyard. If you live in an estate the body corporate may also prohibit keeping chickens.

2.   Home sweet home

Before you race out and buy your chickens, make sure they have a safe place to live. You can buy chicken runs (Omlet has everything ranging from small portable cages to walk-in enclosures complete with a house) or make your own. Just make sure it has snake wire to keep them safe from predators, shelter from the elements, a place to roost, laying boxes and food and water dispensers.

The size of the enclosure will depend on how many birds you plan to keep. You should have no more than 30kg of birds per square metre in the hen house to ensure they’re not overcrowded. They need plenty of space to stretch and flap their wings, scratch, peck and walk around, so make sure there's lots of room in the run.

  omlet-stable-door-feeding-chickens  

3.   Two's company

Chickens are social creatures, so buy at least two birds. After that, the number of chickens you buy will depend on how many eggs you need for your household. The egg production of a chicken declines significantly as they age. Chickens will lay more than 250 eggs in their first year. This will drop to 200 eggs in the second year and further as they continue to age.

4.   True grit

Another important factor in your bird's diet is grit. Chickens hold a certain amount of grit in their gizzards, (an organ that grinds up any feed they've eaten making it easier for digestion.) According to Omlet, if you move your chook house regularly and let your chickens out fairly often they should find the grit they need from their surroundings. Pellets also contain some grit but if you find the shells are thin or soft, then you can buy grit from some pet shops.

5.   Run chicken run

You may need to pick up your chooks occasionally to check their health or even give them a wash. The best way is to quickly grab their feet from under them. Do NOT chase your chickens around grabbing at their tails or wings. This will only cause them panic, which could be bad for their health or at the very least, affect egg production.

Once you have your chicken by the legs, try to get it into a position that allows you to carry it while supporting its body. Use one hand to support it from underneath by putting your index finger between its legs and securing the legs with your thumb and forefinger.

  high-vis-jacket-pink-pepperpot-worn-chicken  

6.   Keep it clean

Make sure that the dropping tray does not overfill. The droppings can be put straight onto vegetables growing in the garden, but flowers will find it too strong. Add the droppings to your compost bin and it will speed up the process and produce an excellent compost.

Move the house to a new area of grass. This will prevent one area of your lawn being over-used and any disease from building up in the area.

Try to check that your birds are well every week or so by picking them up and checking for all the signs of a healthy chicken and make sure that the straw, hay or shavings in the nesting box are clean and fresh.

7.   Beautiful birds

Prepare a washing up bowl of nice warm, but not hot, water. Add some soap/washing-up liquid or shampoo. It is important to hold the bird firmly but safely to prevent any attempts at escape. The best method is to hold your chicken by the legs with your index finger between the legs and your thumb and forefinger gripping the legs.

Now that you have your chicken where you want it, you can start washing! Wash the feathers as if washing your hair but use an old toothbrush or something similar to take the dirt off its feet and legs.

Then rinse your chicken with plenty of clean water. You will probably find that you need a couple of bowls of water to get rid of all of the soap.

Dry it off with a towel, being careful not to damage the feathers, then let it run around in the sun for a while.

8.   Healthy and happy

There are lots of easy health checks that you can do regularly. When fully grown the chicken should sport:

  • A nice firm comb
  • The comb will be bright red when the chicken is in lay
  • The eyes should be beady and bright
  • A healthy chicken will be perky, lean and active
  • Scales on the legs and feet should be smooth and not lifting
  omlet-extended-4x4x2-walkin-run-cube-chickens  

9.   Weekly jobs

Move the house to a new area of grass. This will prevent one area of your lawn being over-used and any disease from building up in the area.

Try to check that your birds are well every week or so by picking them up and checking for all the signs of a healthy chicken.

Make sure that the straw, hay, or shavings in the nesting box are clean and fresh.

10. Googy-licious!

Once the birds are laying, they may not always produce eggs like clockwork. Reasons could be:

  • When chickens moult their egg production will drop and most likely stop.
  • If a bird has had a fright this can result in no eggs for a while.
  • Egg production is the first thing affected by dehydration. Make sure your birds have plenty of clean water.
  • If you are letting your chickens roam about in the garden they may have made a nest under a bush or in a corner somewhere. Follow your chicken discreetly to find the nest.
  Images courtesy of Omlet
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