Backyard chicken welfare

Keeping your chickens happy and healthy

Tablelands Telegraph - May 2022

Backyard chickens are a great way to produce food, recycle food scraps and introduce kids to farming. Keeping your chickens happy and healthy means you can feel safe and happy eating their eggs.

Happy chickens need a safe and comfortable place to live. Protection from cold, heat, rain and predators is essential. The coop should have at least 1m2 of floor space per 3 birds. Chickens should also have access to perches and nesting boxes – find all the recommended dimensions here. Like all animals, chickens need access to clean, fresh water at all times.

Chickens can be fed a commercial layer pellet diet, or a home formulated diet. Laying chickens use a lot of nutrients via the production of eggs, so a correctly balanced diet is essential. In most cases commercial diets are easier as they are already complete and balanced. If you want to mix your own ration, a great handout on formulating diets for different classes of chickens can be found here. Ensure food is stored so that it cannot be accessed by mice or rats. Also ensure that chicken feed is labelled so that it is not accidently fed to other domestic species as chicken feed can sometimes contain meat meals that must not be fed to mammals.

Chickens should be checked regularly for signs of disease. Things to look for include: external parasites, appearance of the skin on legs and feet, whether the keelbone feels sharp (a sharp keelbone with no muscle cover indicates poor body condition), and colour of the comb. If you notice your chickens appear unwell, “fluffed up”, or have any respiratory signs (coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge or sudden death), contact your local private veterinarian to arrange a consultation.

Sometimes chickens need to be treated for internal or external parasites. It is best to develop a customised plan in consultation with your private veterinarian. Some internal and external parasiticides have a label restraint “DO NOT USE IN FOOD PRODUCING SPECIES”. Even if you don’t plan on eating the chickens or the eggs, it is illegal to use these medications in poultry.

There is a lot more information on keeping backyard chickens on the DPI website – here. If you are planning to buy a few hens, these fact sheets are a great place to start learning. If you already have chickens, they are a good refresher to make sure you are doing everything right to keep your chickens happy and healthy.

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