Tips and advice on chicken breeding
We respectfully ask that you let us know if you have been to another farm or poultry establishment for reasons of Bio-security.
Unless the hens have been with you for 6 weeks previously we highly recommend getting all your chickens from the same farm as mixing birds from different places greatly increases the risk of infection among flocks.
Care of Poultry (Advice)
Poultry keeping is simple. We have had poultry here for many years and the lessons we have learnt are through experience. If you are looking for a low maintenance easy pet then look no further.
Chickens need a good balanced "Layers Mash" or "Layers Pellet" which contains all the vitamins, minerals and proteins a hen needs to maintain good health and performance and can be acquired from any feed store. Only layers mash/pellet should be put into the poultry feeder and of course clean water must always be at hand.
We do NOT recommend some of the pre-mix layers pellets/corn/oyster shell and grit products on the market as they will consume too much corn which will reduce laying and cause problems described below. It is imperative that a balanced diet is given for optimum health as described above.
Corn can be given OCCASIONALLY as a treat, you will find that when it is scattered on the ground they will really enjoy it, however: it is important not to give them too much because it gives them a fatty liver which can rupture and cause prolapse when then hen lays eggs.
Grit and Oyster Shell
Small amounts of poultry grit and crushed oyster shell should be given. Chickens do not have teeth so they must have access to grit which the hen stores in the gizzard (an organ of the body) and uses to aid digestion. The grit in the gizzard creates a mechanical method of grinding down the feed in the same way humans use teeth to grind down their food. If access to grit is not provided a "compacted crop" may occur which means the food is not being digested properly and they can get blocked up, in extreme cases birds may not survive.
Oyster Shell is a source of calcium which is dissolvable; usually it will already be mixed in with the grit. The calcium is stored in the bones and feathers of the bird and is also used to produce the egg shells.
A very common issue with chickens is "soft eggs" especially in younger hens which have just started laying, this is usually easily remedied with oyster shell, it is extremely cheap and readily available from animal feed stores. If you leave some in a bowl and then scatter a little on the ground then this will be sufficient.
Taking Your Chickens Home
Please bring either a pet carrier or strong cardboard when collecting chickens for sale
When you get your chickens home for the first time it is very important that they wake up in the morning where you want them to live; over the next few days just make sure they are going in and out of their house from the run, after that they will always return home. Do not let them escape before the first night.
If you do not have a secure run ALWAYS lock them up at night to protect them from the fox, failing this an electric fence is a brilliant idea and really quite effective but not 100%.
The Poultry House
Each hen requires a minimum of 23cm of perch space, the hen house should be well ventilated to prevent bacteria and condensation buildup in the summer but give shelter in the winter. Allow 1 nest box per 4 chickens. Nest boxes should be draft free and in the darkest part of the house, plastic washing up tubs are ideal for this and allow for easy cleaning. To keep healthy happy hens ensure that it is cleaned regularly. We recommend using a red mite product about once a month when cleaning. The most effective bedding is chopped straw which are very absorbent and excellent at keeping things fresh. We do not use hay for bedding as it is prone to mould spores therefore causing a disease risk.
If the run gets muddy in the winter then we find that wood chips are useful which is again very absorbent and very easily composted.
Common Issues and Solutions
Red Mite and Lice
Red Mite is easily the most common problem that we come across. The mites usually only live in wooden housing (especially under felt) and come in from wild birds, they are only active at night and crawl onto the birds from the crevices of the house and feed on their blood. If your hens suddenly decide not to go in the house and look pale around the head then you most likely have red mite. It will reduce laying and in a bad case can kill the birds. If you feel itchy when you go into the hen house it is also probably red mite.
Lice are yellow about 3 mm long and live on the bird, they lay eggs near the base of the feathers mainly near the tail.
We recommend using a red mite and louse powder every time you clean the hen house at least once a month to prevent red mite. The best prevention is to use a product which contains a chemical called Alpha Cypermethrin or Pyrethrum. (A good product is Battles Louse Powder)
Red mite products can be acquired from www.solwayfeeders.com, www.interhatch.com or if you can find an insecticide with the chemical mentioned above from your local garden centre this will usually help. (Please follow all product instructions)
Scaly Leg Mite
This is caused by a mite burrowing and living under the scales of the leg which causes much discomfort and irritation. It is easily seen by raised scales on the birds legs which look very rough and uncomfortable. If left for too long it can cause lameness and can make it difficult to perch, it is also contagious to other birds but is easily treatable. Either massage the legs well with vaseline and repeat again after 7 days or alternatively dip the legs in surgical spirit once a week for 3 weeks.
It is sensible to worm your birds 2-3 times a year to keep your chickens in tip top condition and keep egg production at its maximum, it is extremely easy with the many products available from many merchants, the most common product is Flubenvet which can be purchased straight off the shelf.
Introducing New Hens to an Existing Flock
When introducing new hens to an existing flock the best way is to keep them in a separate area so they can see each other, do this so the new hens can get used to their new home for the first week and build up confidence, then allow them to spend time in the run or garden together.
If separation is not possible introduce the new hens at night so they wake up together, throwing corn on the ground will help to take the attention off each other, and again ensure they have enough space.
Another way is to remove the existing chickens from the house and run and then put the new ones in. Once the new hens are established after a few days you should be able to let the old ones back in again.
Ensure all new hens in the flock are eating and drinking and have access to oyster shell and grit.
This can be a problem in any size of flock and is usually caused by introducing new hens, overcrowding, boredom and sometimes a lack of the vitamins and minerals if the incorrect diet is given. Always ensure that enough space has been provided for your hens. You will notice hen pecking when one hen is consistently being picked on by the others and feathers are removed, sometimes blood is drawn so the "hen pecked" hen must be removed and separated until healed before being replaced as the red colour of the blood will only encourage more pecking. Chickens have a natural pecking order so they will always have a bit of a go at each other and remove the odd feather but make sure it is not to excess.
It will help if you throw some corn on the ground to keep them busy, also try hanging a cabbage or nettles from a string in the run to give them something to peck and play with.
If you have a pecked hen "Stockholm Tar" can be purchased from ebay and applied to the wound as an antiseptic and as a pecking deterrent.
A broody hen will refuse to leave the nest, she will sit in the nest all spread out covering her clutch of eggs. She may sit there for up to a month expecting her eggs to hatch. She will get off the nest once a day to eat and drink.
If your hens go broody the only thing you can do is to remove her from the nest and prevent her from returning for about 4-5 days. If this does not work you will have to wait until she decides to get off her nest but ensure she has access to feed and water.