By Dr Will Hume
CHICKENS are a great addition to the family and will contribute in many ways, such as producing eggs, fertilising your garden and devouring food scraps.
The most trouble-free chickens are bought from a reliable commercial supplier and are vaccinated and at the point of lay (16–18 weeks).
Chickens need to be kept in a well-drained and well-ventilated pen and it’s vital to make the pen safe from all potential predators.
If you wish to keep chickens inside their pen you need to clip one wing’s feathers, not both, to prevent them from flying.
A section of the pen needs to be under cover, particularly where the chickens roost and lay. It works well if the chicken house is located under a tree for shade.
Ideally, the chicken house should be north-facing with eaves extending about a metre to protect from the summer sun but let the light in during winter.
Make sure the chicken house is fox proof and unless the sides are attached to a wooden or concrete floor, they need to be dug into the soil at least half a metre.
Make sure the house is tall enough for you to stand up in and cover the floor with sawdust to form a deep litter for the chicken’s droppings.
Nesting boxes need to be off the ground, dark and have fresh straw. If possible, build the house with outside access to the nesting boxes.
Chickens love to settle on perches at night, and perches need to be thick enough for the chickens to comfortably stand on.
Pellets are a satisfactory food source but can be supplemented with food scraps.
Don’t feed more scraps than the chickens can consume or the leftovers will attract vermin plus create odours.
A round feeder is the best choice for the ‘pecking order’ as the weaker, more passive chickens can be on the other side of the feeder and not beside a dominant chicken.
Only provide enough pellets for no more than a week, to prevent them from going stale and becoming unpalatable.
It is essential for chickens to have continual access to clean, fresh water.
Finally, monitor your chickens daily for their health, egg production, plus checking their food and water availability.
It’s a good idea to check your local government requirements as many have by-laws on flock size and housing structure.
For further advice please contact your local veterinarian or Agriculture Victoria veterinary or animal health officer.
– Dr Will Hume is the Agriculture Victoria District Veterinary Officer, Leongatha.