An introduction to keeping chickens

In this short video Local Land Services Veterinarian, Dr Lou Baskind provides an overview of the essentials to having healthy chickens.

The basics

Poultry are birds farmed for meat, eggs or feathers. Most are members of the Galliformes group (chickens and turkeys). There are many breeds of egg laying chickens in Australia. Some include Australorp, Ancona, Silkies, Orpington, Rhode Island Red and Sussex.


A quality coop (shed) is essential to backyard chicken production. Layers need nest boxes – one per 4-5 birds. Have a minimum 3-5 square feet per bird including outdoor space. Their main predators are foxes and cats. An enclosed space for them to stay at night is essential for their protection.

Egg production

Hens begin laying around six months of age, this can continue for 5-10 years.

Peak production occurs in the first two years. Hens need 12-14 hours of daylight to continue laying.

Health and disease

Healthy birds are active and alert with bright eyes. They move around – pecking, scratching and dusting – except on hot days when they seek shade.

There are many poultry diseases in Australia. Some of the most common are Marek’s disease, Fowl pox, parasites such as mite, stickfast flea, worms (ascarids) and coccidia. Exotic diseases such as avian influenza and Newcastle disease are notifiable and must be reported.


Vaccination is essential for keeping poultry. Following is the recommended vaccination program. Small doses of vaccines are available.

AgeVaccine / disease
1 dayMarek’s disease; Live Newcastle disease
Within 1 weekIB (Infectious Bursal Disease)
2 weeksFowl pox; Infectious Laryngotracheitis (ILT)
3 weeksLive Newcastle disease
5 weeksIB
8 weeksFowl pox
9-10 weeksILT
11-12 weeksIB
14-16 weeksLive Newcastle disease (replacement birds)


Raising backyard chickens may require a permit from council. If you have more than 100 chickens you require a Property Identification Code issued by Local Land Services.

If you sell eggs or meat there are additional regulations which can be found on the Food Authority NSW website.


Chickens are omnivores. They eat grain, fruits, vegetables and insects. Chickens should be fed a prepared feed, balanced for vitamins, minerals and protein.

A laying hen diet also needs crushed oyster shell or a similar calcium source for egg production and grit for digestion.

Read more in the Biosecurity Handbook  PDF, 1726.46 KB