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Chicken Needs

Feeding and Foraging

Chickens like to have both feed and forage for total health, and have an amazing ability, like nay animals to eat the things that they need in proper measure. So providing a good variety of food is the best way. As well as the Corn, Maize, Rye and Millet of standard "scratch feed", chickens also like to have sunflower seeds for essential oil and calcium. They love to forage also for bugs, worms, and plants. A 'laying mash' is also recommended to provide nutrients (another pet or feed store item.)

A nice chicken treat is just going out into the back yard and digging a hole. Not only will they eat the worms and bugs you unearth, they like the dirt as well to keep cool and kick around. It is, of course, also fun to feed them table scraps and old produce and such. Chickens have individual tastes and preferences that change over time, just like people. Chickens enjoy an occasional cantaloupe because the moist contents are cool on a summer day and the enzymatic effect helps keep their digestion clear, just like people!

There is a question about potatoes and tomatoes. Some say not to give them the green plants of both tomotoes and pototatoes and rhubarb. This must be because of oxalic acid and/or the nightshade connection, so perhaps caution is due.

Here's what our chickens really like:

  • Potatoes: they like the tubers cooked only
  • tomatoes: fruit is fine
  • cheese: extreme yummyness
  • rice
  • noodles
  • fresh corn: oh yes!

They like flavored foods like curry and savory things, we feed them almost anything. They like Russian kale, lettuce, and greens -- very good for them. fatty things are good. Sometimes chickens don't get enough oil in their diet.

What NOT:

  • sweets
  • cake (not a lot, pie is OK)
  • too much meat is bad for aggression
  • eggs may incite nest box egg eating
  • Rhubarb is bad.

They don't seem to eat carrots, celery stalks, and other tough bunny food type things. Not recommended to feed them sticky 'gloppy' stuff like marshmellows or hard chunks, too large, that they might choke on.

Make sure that your yard is free of poisonous plants. Chickens are dietarily curious and experimental and may do them selves harm. Make sure there are no dangerous objects that could lance their feet or faces (though they seem to do OK with thorn bushes, I have had to rescue one from a bush once.) They like cooked rice and greens, which are very important for avoiding anemia and thin shells. Feed them oyster shells (available at the pet or feed store) to insure enough calcium. They eat it up!

Dusting

You will need a sandbox to fully please your chickens, and they will demonstrate this approval by stretching out full length in the sand and kicking it over themselves. This serves to cool and clean the chicken and is part of their natural behavior. If they don't have a sand box, they will be more prone to dig one for themselves. Sand is available at Home Depot and other such places. Dusting also allows the chicken to get some sun, so place the box accordingly. Sun is necessary for healthy absorption of vitamin D (just like people.)

Mud

What happens when the earth turns to a heavy mud? It can be disturbing to have the eggs become soiled. You could use sand but you have to clean out the coop every now and then and so the sand depricates after a while. We've put down this stuff called play sand from the hardware store. I suppose that beach sand would be ok. It would contain little seashells which are good for the chicken. They even say the chicken should get oyster shell in its diet so i would say go ahead and use beach sand, but you might want to paw through it a little for broken glass and trash. Be prepared to keep putting more.

in extreme conditions you can build little frames with screen and lay them down on the ground for the chickens to walk on. Raised floors can get rats living underneath them, so use sand, straw, or removable frames. they actually like to wade upto their ankles in very shallow water (more like mud) looking for worms. but they don't like baths and get upset if you try to put them in water. we've never heard of one swimming. i think they lack the waterproof feather configuration of ducks and geese, and so it would sponge up and sink. no paddles either. that would make them a pathetic swimmer. i think if you want to see sheer panic, then tossing a chicken into a lake would be quite effective. but we've never actually witnessed this.

Perching and Sleeping

Chickens like to perch on thick round dowels or tree limbs to sleep in their secure roosts and to rest during the day out in the yard (preferably under cover of some branches.) Make this situation available to them and they will use it.

Water

Chickens like fresh water, particularly when it is trickling, as from a garden hose. Keep plenty of drinking stations around. Like people, chickens can forget to drink enough water if there is not enough of it in their immediate environment, so we advocate occasional water feeding or placing of food in shallow trays of water - especially on hot days. We nursed a baby chicken back to health after it had lost its toungue to an infection at the pet store by feeding it papaya, tomatoes, yogurt and very small amounts of goldenseal in water until it completely recovered and was able learn to eat normally. It still drools a little.

Sexual Behavior

The rooster grabs the hen by the neck and forces itself upon her in a violent manner, using a small organ at it's tail to penetrate the chickens egg laying vent. One sex act is sufficient to fertilize many eggs. Often this damages the hen's feathers. Copulation is quick and appears rather painful for the hen...sometimes they appear to like it... afterwards hens do display the 'fluff' orgasm reaction, so maybe on some level they really want it. Oh well, its a mystery.

Much more interesting is lesbian activity between chickens. Not so violent as chicken heterosexuality, lesbianism in chickens results when the dominant hen mates with the attractive underling. We have observed some curious configurations in the field. The dominant chicken might mount "the bitch", (usually the same chicken gets this honor every time), while the other chickens circle quickly around, become rigid and stare intensely at the dominant chicken, acting as supports or balance points so that it will not topple over during "the act" (whatever that is for lesbian chickens...) You too may notice some rather organized lesbian activity in a flock comprised only of hens. This is normal. They're not really hurting each other, though at times it may appear so. Apparently they all find it entertaining.

Roosters

If you have a rooster expect frequent copulation and violent attacks upon your person if you invade its space (which is the whole back yard if you don't keep it in a pen). We don't advocate roosters unless they are carefully controlled. They rough up the hens and spoil their plumage, and really hurt when they peck you. And they are loud. Really loud, and usually not legal in suburbia. here's a common problem; we received this by email:

"Hello
We have 5 dominicks hens 1 rooster dominick, and 1 road island red rooster we have noticed today that the domnick rooster had blood on him everywhere, and the hens were pecking at him and the other rooster, so we seperated them Don`t know what to do after this, can you help?"

here's our reply:

"hello,
you have an inately unworkable situation there. not only are roosters extremely territorial by nature, but it looks as though your hens have rejected the dominic. i would guess that the chickens have significant periods of confinement. this is irritating to chickens, and they get snippy. we advise people to let their chickens range if it can be done safe from predators."

"when roosters (and chickens) are confined they usually fight. two roosters confined together could end up killing each other. that's our experience. you definitely need permanent separate pens for each rooster. i'm not saying there are no nice roosters, but it is the nature of the beast to fight. it is protecting the flock from the usurper. rhode island reds are tough, strong birds. the dominic looses."

"now you have a situation where both roosters will need separate quarters. the flock might once have accepted the dominic rooster, but now its too late. they've tasted its blood, and reestablishing normal acceptance will be difficult."

"so here's the plan:
1. every rooster needs their own separate area - you can have one adjoining wall of chickenwire, so the inhabitants can safely see each other, and get used to being around each other, without eating each other.
2. only one rooster per flock if you want them together- that's the natural way.
3. regulate their time together carefully - even if you have only one rooster, you wouldn't keep it with the other birds because roosters tear out feathers during sex, so the hens get ratty looking after a while. or the hens might decide they don't like the rooster, so put them together to mate, not to live."

"mating can be just as hot an issue with chickens as it is with people. it dosn't always work out pesonality-wise. you can have them together some, but watch them and make sure the rooster is not being too mean (or vise versa). roosters are generally tough and complex, so its hard to manage chicken utopia with one around, and darn near impossible with more than one. unless they all have their own separated areas."

Shelter

A double house works best, with one side completely enclosed with plywood for noise considerations, and an adjoining screened area with a pass through door. This will allow you to leave the house for a few days for vacation without worrying that they are too 'cooped up'. Of course you wouldn't want to have chickens if you were away a lot, they are a homebody's pet, so need to be managed on a frequent basis (like most pets, really). The plywood side should have air vents that can be minimized in winter to retain body heat.

There should be a clear plastic or glass window, so the chickens can be stimulated to lay by the correct length of daylight. The house should be secure against all intrusion by predators. Raccoons are strong and intelligent, so build it tough. There should be space for feeder, waterer, perches, and adequate nest boxes lined with straw, oyster shell dispenser, and some method of handling the feces (makes great garden fertilizer.) Do not place accoutrements such that droppings fall in food, water or on chicken's heads while they sleep.

Predators

There are a few creatures you may meet as a chicken keeper. Raccoons and possums love fragile, tender chickens, so protect your flock well! Make sure screens are of heavy gage; and of fine mesh. Install secure latches on the doors. Let there be no space that another creature might use to gain entry. There is nothing more tragic and frustrating than losing a beloved pet. Dusk is the time when the creatures of darkness come out to find food. Be there to close and lock the chicken door every night you let them out. One mistake and they are gone!

Pests

Rats are a problem, aren't they?
the main thing is to not have any holes getting in to the coop, and do not have hidden enclosed spaces in the construction of the roost, for they will attract rat nests.

you can't really stop the chickens from pecking at things. but one would hope that they are discerning. there is a sanitation issue, but rats do live in nature, so its mainly a matter of control.

but to really cure it you have to use rat poison. we use the blue cubes that you can buy at a hardware store.

devise a way to poison rats without the chickens getting hold of the stuff. we put the poison on the roof of our house because we knew rats would go there at night. they took it all in one night.

we also look for rat holes and put poison in there and cover them with a rock. and putting the poison into things that only rats can get into is good. just monitor the poison very well or you'll be minus some chickens. we even look around to make sure that there are no blue (poisoned) rat poops for the chickens to eat. we dispose of them if we find them. we are pretty rat free because of this.

i know it seems mean, but rats will otherwise take over in the absence of dedicated preditors (like cats and dogs - which can also bother or eat chickens). nooks and crannies and spare chicken food is all they need to colonize your place.

SPIDER MITES are tiny red insects that bother and bite the chicken. When these are observed, control them by sprinkling diatomaceous earth in their straw. This bothers the joints of insects and they will leave.

Egg Break Disease

Chickens nearing the age of menopause, or that are deficient in calcium, or through injury may develop 'egg break disease'. This is the scourge of a hen's longevity, and will almost surely kill your bird slowly and painfully. Though the condition is usually fatal, it can sometimes be managed to the point where it will not kill the bird by bathing the affected fowl in warm soapy or salty water. Attempt to clear or clean any eggshells out by irrigating the vent. You might want to get your veterinarian to demonstrate this if they are so inclined. Usually this disease, whether it kills the chicken or not, signals the end of the chicken's egg-laying career.

Egg break is one of the more common diseases for chickens. it can really mess up their insides, and just means that all chickens should be treated delicately. Also, a local feed mill had suggested adding a little cooking oil in their feed, which they say can help prevent egg breaking. Again we say: you might be able to save them by giving them a bath in warm water when it happens and clearing out their vent, but egg break is usually crippling or fatal.

Egg Eating

Obnoxious behavior such as cannibalism and egg eating can only be cured by attention, and lots of it. If you observe egg eating then try to collect the eggs immediately after laying (usually easy to tell when this happens since they scream about it!) and never over-populate or over-confine birds! Quarantine overly aggressive birds.

The Autumn Years

Chickens are amazing animals, especially for the way they can grow on you as individuals. In its last years, 'dippy' was very light and kind of withered, but you could still tell that she loved us and enjoyed sleeping in a box in our room on cold nights. After you've had about fifty of them you get to figure out what kills them. we can get birds to live to past 12. You just need to give them attention and access to a natural environment. Chickens are Arial creatures, very fragile, and prone to burning out via their overbread reproductive systems. Enjoy them and learn from them while they're with us.

--Karl Franzen & Lyn "Zobin" Stafford



Hatching & Rearing>