Chicken Care Sheet

Author: Kristy Walker  

CHICKEN

(Gallus gallus domesticus)

Domestic chickens are one of the most important and common domestic animal throughout the world. Most domestic chickens are a subspecies of the red and (most likely) grey junglefowl of the family Phasianidae in Asia. Unfortunately, despite how widespread hybrid chickens are, the purebred red junglefowl is potentially facing a serious threat of extinction due to hybridisation.

Amazingly, it is believed that the sweet little chicken shares an evolutionary link with the Tyrannosaurus Rex, our chicken friends thought to have evolved from dinosaurs. Therefore technically, you can actually house a gang of little dinosaurs in your backyard!

The more scientists learn about chickens, the more we understand they are highly intelligent animals, with intellectual ability akin to that seen in primates. With this intelligence, chickens from a complex social order (the “pecking order”), can distinguish between 100+ faces and recognise humans, see in full-colour, can express over 30 types of vocalisations, and mother hens talk to their chicks before they have hatched. It is here they begin to learn their complex communication - including alerting others in the flock to food or the presence of a predator.

Additionally, chickens love to play! They can also comprehend object permanence, which is quite rare in the animal kingdom. Young children develop this ability when they are approximately 18 months or older!

LIFE SPAN

While chickens can live to around 25 years, this is quite rare. Typically, a well-cared for backyard chicken lives to about 8 years and beyond.

HOUSING

Your new flock of chickens will need a coop of their own to call home. It’s important to make sure all your chickens’ needs are covered and they will be happy in their new home. Providing adequate coop and free range space is vital to help reduce any pecking order aggression within your flock. Keeping in mind that two hens in a flock is essential and three (or more) is even better:

# of Chickens

Min. Coop Area

Min. Free Range Area

1

0.3m²

0.9m²

2

0.6m²

1.8m²

3

0.9m²

2.7m²

6

1.8m²

5.4m²

Your coop and the area that your chickens will spend their nights in needs to be 100% secure at all times, to protect them from any possible predators and pests (such as foxes or rats).

The coop will also need roosting bars located above the ground - these are thick, solid (often wooden) bars within your coop that your chickens will roost on for comfort and security. Chickens typically like to roost when they go to bed, so providing enough roosting space for all your chickens is ideal.

Your flock will also need a nesting area, often with comfortable, secure boxes. While the suggested nesting box ratio is 1:4, many chicken keepers find their flock all choose the one favourite box to use! Your coop and nesting areas will need suitable bedding such as hay.

Depending on your local climate, you will need to consider insulation, ventilation and adequate weather protection for your coop. Colder climates require proper insulation to keep your flock warm, and good ventilation will ensure that fresh air prevents your coop from getting too hot in summer. Given that your coop will be exposed to the elements all year round, a durable, weatherproof construction material such as treated wood is essential.

If you choose a pre-built coop, make sure that it’s easy to clean. Easy cleaning options include a droppings tray you can pull out and wash, and accessible and removable nesting areas. Your chicken coop will require regular cleaning and maintenance – collecting the eggs daily, checking their general health and wellbeing, and regularly cleaning out any waste and refreshing their bedding with clean material, such as hay.

ACCESSORIES, FOOD & ENRICHMENT

In addition to the necessary items such as food and water feeders and drinkers and bowls, you can also offer your flock additional accessories and enrichment activities to make their area even more chicken-friendly!

Enrichment for your chickens can provide both an activity and nutritional benefit if you provide live insects for your chickens. In fact, chickens are known to go WILD for certain live insects, including:

Mealworms

Live Crickets

Earthworms

It’s important, even if you’re not specifically feeding worms to your chickens, to keep up to date with their worming treatments. It’s amazing what chickens can find to munch on in the garden! While providing a specially formulated chicken food every day is essential for their health and wellbeing, your flock will go crazy for a daily live insect treat (or two)!

You can also provide hanging lettuces and give corn cobs and other fresh fruit and vegetables to your chickens. This will give them an extra activity and provide additional nutrition!

COMPANIONS

While chickens can share their living space with other types of fowl, keeping your flock chicken-exclusive is best, especially for beginners. This is because introducing different types of fowl can also introduce different diseases and parasites. If you do need to introduce additional birds, it is recommended to quarantine them for 2-3 weeks to ensure they are healthy and won’t present a risk to your existing flock.

Hens and roosters can typically live together happily, but it’s important to introduce them carefully and to keep your hens and roosters at the right ratio. A general guide is one rooster to every 4-5 hens, however breed and temperament can influence this number. Careful consideration should be taken before adopting roosters, as they can be difficult to rehome, particularly in suburbia. Check with your local council to ensure that roosters are permitted on your property.

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