How to Care for Your Hens
Chickens are very easy going pets. For just a few minutes daily care you'll be rewarded with the tastiest, freshest eggs and their lovable characters.
To help you keep your chicken happy and healthy we have tried to put together the routines we follow at Widgits Birds:-
Letting your hens out
Let your chickens out in the morning when it's light. If you are at home you may want to let your chickens out of the run as well. But if no-one is going to be in and you have foxes which are about during the day it will be safer to leave the chickens in the run.
Check for eggs!
Nest boxes should be checked and eggs removed daily as they can become crushed. This is not only a waste of eggs, but could lead to hen’s egg-eating. It will also discourage your hens from getting broody.
Food and Water
Make sure the feeder is full of fresh (in date,check your pack) layers pellets or meal and the drinker is emptied and refilled with clean water. If it is extremely cold make sure that the water is not frozen preventing the chickens from drinking. In either extremely hot or extremely cold weather it is best to check the water twice a day to make sure the chickens don’t go thirsty as water is very important to their health. Chickens drink much more than you’d imagine so make sure that they always have access to plenty of fresh water.
Make sure that if it’s very sunny or raining heavily that part of their run has some cover. We have raised all our houses from the ground so that the chickens can use these to shelter from the elements (and also to discourage rodents).
Check Your Electric Fence
If using an electric fence you should make sure that it is turned on and that it is working.
Spend five minutes with them
When you let your hens out in the morning take time to observe your hens as you will become familiar with their routines and in time this will help you learn to spot the tell-tale signs of trouble, and this ability will enable you to deal with any problems quickly. Handling is important too, because picking up your hens will enable you to check for parasites and to assess their weight and general condition.
Treats for your chickens
Chickens can be easily persuaded by giving them treats but only after their morning feed of layers pellets.They do have individual tastes but as a general rule they enjoy soft fruit and vegetables, left over pasta, rice and bread. As they don’t have teeth they can’t manage to eat things like potato peelings unless they have been cooked a bit to soften them. To keep things neat and tidy try filling a net bag with a selection of things and hanging it in the run for them to peck at slightly raised off the ground, which will encourage them to jump and therefore provide extra exercise for them. Don’t feed your chickens any form of meat or anything salty or sugary.
It’s best to only give your chickens these extras in the afternoon. This way they won’t fill up on food that is not as nutritious as the layers pellets. If they don’t have a good diet, their egg production may well drop.
For afternoon treats we use the Small Holder’s range of super mixed corn which contains 70% Wheat with maize (Non GM), soya oil, peas, barley, oyster shell and grit.
Grit is another important part of your chickens’ diet. There are two types of grit in your layer’s pellets. Firstly, there is a soluble calcium grit which is used to create the egg shell. Secondly, there is a hard flint like grit which the gizzard (a muscular organ) uses to grind up the feed.
Your chickens will also pick up edible things from your garden but an extra supply of grit will ensure that the egg shells are always hard and that the gizzard is able to work properly.
Close the door
As dusk falls your chickens will potter back into their house to roost. Closing the door or pop-hole behind them will ensure a peaceful and secure night protecting them from predators. Don’t leave it too late in the evening or you may find that the fox has been there before you.
Place the Feeders away from the coop in either a secure disinfected clean bin or inside your shed and clear away any uneaten food left in the coop.
We use trays under the perches to act as droppings trays. Keep an eye on the level of droppings and empty it when it looks reasonably full. Depending on how many chickens you have this may be every 3 to 5 days.
The droppings can be dug straight into the vegetable garden, but it is a little too strong to be used fresh in flower beds. Adding the droppings to your compost bin will speed up the process and produce excellent compost.
Turn the bedding over in their house and remove any visible poop. Sprinkle with BioDri and add fresh bedding if necessary.
Moving the House and Run
There is no hard and fast rule for how often you should move the house and run as this depends on how much time your chickens spend inside the run as opposed to out in the garden. Simply keep an eye on the grass and move the house and run when the grass becomes slightly worn otherwise the ground could become chicken sick. In general this could be once a week if your chickens are spending the majority of the time in the run. Your chickens will do droppings on the lawn, but these can be cleared by raking, brushing or simply with the lawn mower. Another good solution if you have limited grass is to site the house and run in a layer of playground friendly wood chippings or bark.
Clean nest area
Refresh the nesting box by cleaning out the dust extracted shavings (or shredded paper), wiping clean, sprinkle with Bio-Dri and put a fresh handful of bedding in. Don‘t use hay as this can go mouldy if it gets damp.
Food stock take
Check that you have enough feed for the week ahead. If you run out and have to buy a different brand you may find your chickens won't eat it as they can be quite fussy.
Try to check that your birds are healthy by picking them up and checking for all the signs of a healthy chicken as outlined below.
Parts of the chicken to check regularly:-
Comb -When fully grown the chicken should sport a nice firm comb. The comb will be bright red when the chicken is in lay.
Eyes-should be beady and bright.
Beak-should be clean with no discharge from the nostrils.
Active -A healthy chicken will be perky, lean and active.
Legs and feet-should be smooth and the scales should not be lifting. The colour of the legs is a good indicator of whether the chicken is laying. If they are very yellow then she is probably not laying eggs yet.
Body-When you pick your chicken up her body should be plump and firm.
Vent -located under the tail feathers should be moist and white, with no lumps, crustiness, bleeding, etc.
Droppings -should normally be solid and have a white cap which is the urine as chickens do not do this separately. Over feeding on greens can result in some diarrhoea but if the droppings are consistently different then there may be something wrong.
Good as new
Once a month it’s a good idea to give the house a really deep clean. Luckily this doesn't mean hours of scrubbing. If you have a pressure washer then you can use this to get the house spic and span. If not then a hosepipe and a soft bristled brush will remove any dirt.
We use the following four steps using DEFRA Approved Disinfectants:-
Step one- Remove old bedding. Spray interior areas and all equipment with Poultry Shield solution (1 part Poultry Shield with 9 parts water) Pay particular attention to roof joints. Leave to soak for one hour, then wash/brush clean. The double action of Poultry Shield destroys red mites while at the same time its powerful detergent action dissolves dirt and grease allowing for easier cleaning. You don’t need to worry as its safe if your birds are present, it’s bio-degradable and can be used in organic systems.
Its best to leave the house in the sun to dry (the UV light will kill bacteria) but if its cloudy just wipe it over and remove any excess water before putting fresh bedding in the house and nest box.
Step two- Add BioDri powder to the litter at the rate of 50gms per square meter. Pay particular attention to pop-holes and to areas around drinkers and feeders. This contains a DEFRA approved disinfectant-Bio VX . It is completely harmless to the hens but it will absorb ammonia, reducing odour and reduce the numbers of harmful bacteria through its disinfectant qualities and drying action.
Step three- Sprinkle Diatom powder (at 50gms per square meter) in the nesting boxes and dusting areas. As prevention is better than cure-once mites are visible to the naked eye, the problem is much harder to control. We find the combined use of Poultry Shield and Diatom as the most effective means of controlling both Red Mite and Scaly Leg Mite. This can be used in organic systems and you do not need to worry as it is safe to use when the hens are present.
Step four- Rinse out drinkers with a solution of Poultry Shield solution (one part Poultry Shield with nine parts water) as drinkers are potentially major sources of infection-particularly when sited in outdoor runs. Regular cleaning and disinfection greatly reduces the chance of spreading infection.
Lice and Red mites
By keeping the house clean you will almost certainly avoid any problems as they like to live in dark, dirty conditions. Lice will be visible as little light brown insects normally on the skin around the vent. Their eggs are laid on the shafts of the feathers and look like a white crust. If the house is kept clean and the chickens are dust bathing regularly, they are unlikely to get lice but if they do a simple dusting of lice powder around the infected area, the vent and under the wings will get rid of them. Red mites live in crevices only coming out at night. By maintaining good husbandry and following the four steps, it is extremely unlikely you will ever see them but if you do a thorough clean of the house using Poultry Shield and Diatom will effectively get rid of them. We sell both products in our eShop.
Just like cats and dogs, it is a good idea to worm your chickens once a month using either Verm-X or Diatom, a 100% natural wormer. Twice a year worm them using Flubenvet, a pre-medicated wormer.
This is because they can pick up types of worms from the ground which can live in their intestines.
If your chickens have stopped laying but are eating lots and have a spot of diarrhoea then they may need worming. Another sign is a pink rather than red comb. You can buy Verm-X or Diatom, a 100% natural wormer from the Widgit’s Birds eShop.