By Dr Jeff Cave, District Veterinary Officer
KEEPING chickens can be a worthwhile addition to your household. They’ll supply your family in fresh eggs, fertilise your garden and eat your food scraps.
Generally, the most trouble-free chickens to purchase are vaccinated hens at the point of lay (16 to 18 weeks old) from a reliable commercial supplier.
You need to accommodate your chickens in a well-drained and well-ventilated pen with a shelter for your chickens to roost and lay.
It is essential to make the pen safe from potential predators, therefore fox and dog proof, so unless the sides are attached to a wooden or concrete floor, should be dug into the soil at least half a metre.
It works well if the chicken pen is located under a tree for shade.
The shelter/shed should be north-facing with an eve about a metre long to protect from the summer sun but let the light in during winter.
Make sure the shelter is tall enough to stand up in, and the floor is covered with sawdust to form a deep litter with the chicken’s droppings.
Nesting boxes need to be off the ground, dark and a change of fresh straw regularly.
Ideally build the house with outside access to the nesting boxes.
Perches need to be wide 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 else the leftovers will attract vermin and create odours.
A round feeder is good for the pecking order as the weaker chicken can be on the other side of the circle and not beside the dominant chicken.
Provide enough pellets for no more than one week to prevent them from becoming stale.
Chickens also need permanent access to clean, fresh water.
For chickens that are not allowed to roam outside their pen or yard, you need to clip one wing, not both, to prevent them from flying.
Finally, monitor your chickens daily for their health, egg production, and food and water availability.
Also, check your local government requirements as many have by-laws on flock size and housing.
For further advice please contact your local veterinarian or Agriculture Victoria Veterinary or Animal Health Officer.