Having chickens on a farm for profit or fun can be a lot of work but the reward is always worth it. The difference in managing your chickens’ wellbeing can be easier if you know the right tips and tricks.
Cleaning out the coop, checking/changing out the water, collecting eggs, and providing the proper heating source are great ways to take care of chickens. Observing behaviors from chickens also makes the difference in telling if they need medical attention or are happily thriving.
In this article, I’ll be showing you how to easily manage your chickens in all aspects of their lives. This ranges from daily care to what essentials they need to live happily. I’ll also be going over the signs of sick and healthy chickens and some good ways to provide special care for them when they need it.
An Easy Care Guide For Your Chickens:
Things to keep in mind are the cost of the chickens and their needs. Chickens themselves can be $30 each but laying hens can range from $10-$100. Chicks can be up to $5 and starting pullets (which are between 4-16 weeks old) can be around $15-$25.
The cost of caring for laying hens and chicks ranges from $20-$50. This includes food being $15 a month and vet bills being $25-$100. Lastly, a coop averages $500 if you make it yourself, but it may be more or less expensive depending on the materials you use.
- Keep The Water Clean
Every day, you should check to see if the chicken water is clean as they will dehydrate themselves if the water gets too mucky. To clean the water sources, use hot water and dish soap. Every month you should sanitize the water sources with chlorine bleach/oxygen bleach (two teaspoons). Make sure you thoroughly scrub out any soap or chemicals you use to clean since those could make your chickens sick.
2. Keep The Feeding Source Full
You can place a feeder inside the coop but keep it away from the water to prevent it from getting dirty or soggy. You can also bond with your chickens and feed them by having a set time to go out and hand-feed them. Take some time to monitor how much your chickens consume their food and water to get an idea of when to restock.
*Tip: Store your feed in metal trashcans with tight lids. This keeps the feed out of reach for both chickens and outside critters. Source
3. Make Sure The Bedding & Nesting Boxes Are Clean
Replace the bedding weekly and check for specific colored droppings (later mentioned in this article). By cleaning the nesting boxes daily, you help reduce the likelihood of spoiled eggs and even encourage chickens to lay in general. Have bedding materials such as pine shavings, cedar shavings, grass clippings, sun-colored straw, and hay to name a few.
*Tip: You can check for bad eggs by searching for a bad smell, putting it in water (floating means it’s a bad egg), or using the light test. The light test is done by putting the light source next to the egg and if the egg is fresh, the yolk will move when shaken. If it doesn’t move or the yolk doesn’t fill up the inside of the shell, it’s a bad egg).
2. Preparing For Seasonal Changes
Where you live will determine how you prep chickens for upcoming seasonal problems. For hot summers, provide more water sources to help cool chickens down (ice or frozen vegetables work well too). If the chickens are raised inside or outside, they need lots of shade.
It helps them thrive in the heat if there are trees or stalls to lay in. Having a good ventilation system for the coop is a must and you can help give chickens a dust bath. Dirt baths are made with patches of dirt inside cardboard boxes.
For cold winters, provide extra heaters for water and replace any lights to endure the long months ahead. Adjust your ventilation system so that warm air can flow inside the coop without the need for outside temperature assistance. Besides providing extra heaters, you can also supply the coop with materials (compost floor, stone, concrete, coal) that soak in enough thermal mass. This is when the sunlight gets absorbed within a certain mass during the day and then released through the night.
Frostbite is a serious problem for chickens and you can spot it within your flock if their combs are black. To prevent this, you can cover their combs in petroleum jelly.
*Tip: You can also make a sunroom for your chickens to save on extra heat outlets!
The following video provides great tips on what to avoid when raising chickens:
The Top Essentials Chickens Need
- Provide A Secure Shelter
To protect the flock against predators that dig under coops, use 2 feet deep hardware mesh then dig a 6×3 inch trench (6 inches deep and 3 inches wide) and place more mesh there. For flying predators that could swoop into the coop, tarp sheets or sheets of steel can prevent attacks.
Check your coop for holes as even smaller predators can get inside from 1/2 hole entries. You could consider a timer set auto door for when chickens go in and outside of the coop. However, this does depend if you’re comfortable with some chickens getting left behind outside if there isn’t an outside coop provided. Source
2. Give Plenty Of Space Inside & Outside
Having enough space no matter where the coop is placed makes the difference between chickens getting too stressed and disease spreading quickly. When building chicken coops, you need to have at least 3 square feet per chicken inside and at least 10 square feet per chicken outside.
For indoor space, larger chickens inside need 2 square feet per chicken. Small to medium-sized chickens need at least 1 square foot per chicken. Then there’s the free-range spacing which needs to be up to 300 square feet per chicken. When making a fence around the area. there should be 250 square feet per chicken. Source
3. Have Proper Feeding Requirements
If your chickens are laying, be sure to collect their eggs regularly. When your chicks are started pullets (about 18 weeks) you must feed them chicken feed that is high in protein. Once chicks grow into laying hens (20 weeks) they will need pullet feed with at least 18% protein. You’re in the clear for healthy eggs and overall chicken bone growth if you provide a good amount of protein. Source
*Tip: Add 120 grams of “chicken scratch” which is mixed grains (corn, field peas, wheat, alfalfa meal, and oats) for a healthier part of the chicken diet. Source
4. Have Proper Roosts & Laying Boxes
The roosts need to be two feet above the ground and be 2×4 inches wide. They also need to be at least two feet from the ceiling of the coop with 15 inches between each nesting box. There need to be accessible lifts so the chickens can get up to the roost. This can be done with ladders or slanted boards. To prevent chickens from getting frostbite, avoid metal ladders. Source
*Tip: When buying hens, if you see one that looks “puffed out” with their feathers, there is a health problem and she shouldn’t be purchased. For other chicken shopping tips and how to pick good chicken sellers, see the following source.
How To Tell If Chickens Are Healthy Or Sick
When checking for good chicken health look for these signs:
- Overly bright eyes
- Smooth feathers that “shape themsleves to fit” against the chicken’s body. Check for lice through the feathers.
- The comb should be a vivid red.
- Both parts of the beak should be even.
- If the crop (part of the digestive system located on the breast) is small the chicken needs to be fed, if it is large the chicken is full. You can check how they’re eating by feeling for the crop sack that is about two ping-pong balls in size and diameter. Source
- The legs should be bright in color and smooth to the touch. It is normal for senior chickens to have thicker legs.
- The vent (the opening eggs come out of being colored pink, white, and grey) should appear groomed and shiny.
- Poop is solid and brown with white specs. Grey is also okay. Runny poop during the hot seasons means your chicken is hydrated.
*Tip: A chicken’s comb is a great visual representation of how their health is.
Spotty combs can be scabs that will heal in a week. If the spots don’t go away there is a chance the chicken has fowl pox that lasts up to a month (not fatal). Dull-colored combs are a sign of low blood levels inside and internal bleeding. Purple combs are a result of heart or respiratory disease. Black combs mean the chicken has frostbite. An orange comb means the chicken isn’t getting enough sunlight or has an overdose of beta carotene or vitamin A.
When looking for signs of an unhealthy chicken, look for these signs:
- Swollen eyes or eyes shut for long intervals producing bubbles could mean mycoplasma gallisepticum. This will seal the bird’s eye shut.
- Misaligned beaks
- Discharge from the nose (remove from the flock and seek vet advice)
- Bald patches from chicken backsides are signs of stress amongst the flock
- If the crop isn’t the size of a golfball there could be digestive problems. Check with your vet on what to do next.
- Drooping or (frequent) shaking head, coughing, and gasping for breath means there are respiritory problems or viruses from parasites. Chickens do sometimes shake their heads and this is normal.
- If the crop feels empty the chicken could have digestive problems. If squishy, the crop has a bacterial or yeast infection. If hard, there is too much fiber in their diet.
- Chickens will fight each other and sometimes eyes get infected or punctured out. Seek a vet if you see this.
- If there is blood in the chicken poop this can be a sign of Coccidiosis which is a blood vessel that has been punctured by other chickens pecking, egg laying, or other infections. However, this can be confused for the chicken shedding the lining inside their intestines. This is okay but if there are large amounts it can still be coccidiosis.
- Poop is dark yellow, runny or produces bubbles. If it smells really bad this can be diarrhea or other intestinal illnesses. Bright green poop can be kidney problems or having a large amount of grass in their diet (chickens eating lots of grass is normal). Black poop from chickens needs to result in a vet visit as this means there is a serious problem in the digestive system.
How Long Can Chickens Be Alone?
If you are heading out on extended leave, you can leave your chickens alone for up to four days (as long as they have their essentials provided). If you cannot find someone who can properly care for your flock, make sure to provide more sources for water (5 liters), food (five cups), bedding, laying nests, etc. If the coop is sufficiently safe, then you don’t have to worry about predators getting in either.
Can Chickens Stay Cooped Up All Day?
They can stay in on occasion if the coop is big enough for the flock and they have everything they need. However, chickens need to have a good amount of outside time, as it is essential for their health.
Overall Normal Chicken Behavior: My Experience
Back when my family raised a couple of chickens, we found the hens that we had owned longer would try to dominate younger hens. This was observed through feathers being plucked out from the backsides of the chickens’ bottoms and heads. Older hens keep to themselves and generally help younger hens adjust to coop life. They will even stand their ground against new hens.
If there is too much stress within the flock this will result in slow egg production, chickens being pecked to death, and cannibalism. It was tiresome and sometimes I wonder if my family should’ve rented chickens instead. Better yet, I wish we raised easier breeds.
Chickens can be fun and rewarding animals to care for though. As long as you provide the proper care for them, you can have a fulfilling experience.