Written by Chris Lesley
If you've been keeping chickens for a while now, you probably know that chicken keeping is a constant learning experience. Like any hobby, there are always things you can do to improve upon your chicken keeping.
Here are seven expert tips that every backyard chicken keeper should know when it comes to the main elements of chicken keeping such as raising baby chicks, cleaning the coop, and understanding your chickens’ behavior.
Tip #1: Get an Automatic Coop Door
One of the biggest threats to your chickens’ health and safety are predators and pests, such as raccoons and foxes. Although the devious plans of such predators can be foiled by durable coop door lock, remembering to shut and lock the coop door every night can sometimes be difficult, especially if you live a busy life.
An easy way to make sure your chickens stay safe at night is to purchase an automatic coop door opener. Chickens are creatures of habit who will return to their coop at night, meaning it’s relatively easy to set the timer on the automatic door so it closes every night at a certain time.
#2: Use Sand in the Coop Instead of Sawdust
The prospect of cleaning the coop often discourages people from owning chickens in the first place; however, there are plenty of things you can do to make cleaning the coop easier and more eco-friendly.
Instead of using sawdust or woodchips in the bottom of your coop, try using sand. Using sand instead of sawdust will make the coop smell less, make cleaning the coop easier, and produce less waste than sawdust. Even better, chickens love taking dust baths in sand!
If you choose to substitute sand for sawdust, though, make sure you purchase all-purpose sand or river sand. The sand found in sandboxes—play sand—contains lots of dust particles that can damage your chickens’ health.
#3: Keep Your Chickens Busy to Avoid Egg Eating
If one of your goals for keeping chickens is to collect fresh eggs, finding broken or eaten eggs in your coop can be discouraging. However, egg eating has some very understandable and easy-to-fix causes.
One of the main reasons chickens peck at and eat their eggs is boredom. If your chickens don’t have enough things to keep busy with, they may get into mischief and start pecking at and eating their own eggs. You can avoid this boredom by ensuring that your chickens have plenty of space in their coop, a variety of things to peck at, a space for dust baths, and multiple perches to climb onto.
Tip #4: Overestimate How Much Space Your Chickens Need
Like all animals, chickens will occasionally get into fights with one another. If you notice a lot of fighting between your chickens, consider the size of your coop. One of the main causes of chicken fights is a lack of space, so it's wise to overestimate how much space your chickens need to avoid this issue.
Not only should your coop have enough space for perches, nesting areas, and feeding areas, but it should also have enough space for your chickens to spread out, so they aren’t stacked on top of one another. The University of Minnesota recommends three to five square feet of space per bird. If chickens are kept in close confinement with one another, they’re more likely to peck at each other, which can become dangerous if left undealt with.
Tip #5: Purchase Vitamin Supplements
Chickens, like humans, require a balanced diet to stay healthy. Traditional chicken feed, however, doesn’t always contain enough vitamins for your birds. Vitamin deficiency in chickens can cause weakness, lethargy, poor muscle mass, trembling, and poor feathering.
In order to prevent vitamin deficiency, purchase a vitamin supplement to add to your chickens’ food every couple of weeks. Chickens and More specifically recommends buying an oyster shell supplement to avoid calcium deficiency, which can result in rubbery or soft-shelled eggs.
Tip #6: Purchase a Chick-Specific Waterer
When raising chicks, you may be tempted to save money by purchasing or using a traditional chicken waterer for your chicks. However, baby chicks require a bit more attention and care, especially in terms of keeping them warm and dry. Chicks are more likely to climb into large watering troughs and get wet and chilled, or worse, drown.
Iowa State University recommends purchasing a chick-specific waterer to use for the first few weeks of having baby chicks to prevent accidental drowning. A one-gallon chick waterer for every 50 chicks should be sufficient.
Tip #7: Monitor Humidity in the Incubator
If you want to take your chicken-keeping to a new level by incubating and hatching your own baby chicks, it’s critical to monitor the humidity in the incubator to make sure the chicks will hatch healthily. If the humidity in the incubator is too high, condensation will clog the pores on the eggshell and make the shell more permeable to contaminants than can harm your chick. If the humidity is too low, the egg will lose its internal moisture, which can kill the embryo.
To ensure a healthy hatch, purchase a forced air incubator. Forced air incubators prove to provide more accurate temperature and humidity readings, while still air incubators are often inaccurate in their readings. The humidity in the incubator should always be between 70 and 80 percent, according to Texas A&M University.
Although you may have been keeping chickens in your backyard for years, there is always room for improvement. Following these seven tips will help you to refine your hobby of chicken keeping and will ultimately help your birds to be as healthy and happy as possible.
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