Here are some of the things pet chickens need. Always contact a vet or poultry expert if you are concerned about their welfare.
Anyone who has a chicken or chickens, either on external premises like a farm, petting zoo or at home, has to register the animals with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. There are strict regulations on how the animal will be housed, fed, cared for, transported, etc. As the owner it is your responsibility to ensure that you are registered and follow all the legislation.
Department of Agriculture Website - http://www.agriculture.gov.ie
http://www.agriculture.gov.ie/avian_influenza/informationonthepoultryindustry/ - click to view the regulations for poultry
Chickens need access to clean water in their house at all times. Drinkers should be cleaned regularly and stale or dirty water replaced.
Drinkers should prevent young chicks climbing in and drowning. If chickens are moved or their drinkers are changed, they should be provided with some types of drinkers that they are familiar with using.
Chickens like to scratch the ground to search for seeds, roots and insects. Additional feed, suitable for their age and breed, should also be provided within their house. Food dispensers should be cleaned regularly. Chickens also need insoluble grit to help digestion.
The house needs to be warm, dry and well ventilated. The floor should be covered with dry material (e.g. wood shavings or straw), which must be topped up or replaced when needed. Chickens like to forage, dust bathe and preen their feathers, and so a material such as wood shavings should be supplied whenever the birds can't do this outside in dry soil.
There should be plenty of space in the house for chickens to move around, exercise and stretch their wings. As a rough guide, 12 square metres of floor area should be enough for up to 30 birds. More space may be needed if there are lots of facilities.
Chickens need perches to roost on at night. These should be lengths of wooden batten, around 3 to 5cm wide with rounded edges. There should be enough perching space for all the chickens to comfortably roost at the same time (around 15cm per chicken), and enough space between perches to let them get up and down without injury. Perch height should be adjusted to suit the size of the birds.
The entrance to the house should be big enough to allow chickens to pass through without difficulty and without having to crouch down. Providing more than one entrance can help to avoid bullying and encourage all chickens to go in and out.
The house should be cleaned frequently and disinfected to remove any parasites.
The outdoor area needs to be large enough so that it can be divided up if necessary, to allow chickens to roam on good pasture every day while other parts recover.
There should be overhead shelter, such as small trees or purpose-built, and places to perch. These will help to provide protection from sun, bad weather and predators, and encourage the chickens to explore. Chickens like dry soil areas to dust bathe in.
If feed or water is also provided outside, it should be sheltered and care taken not to attract wildlife. Grass should not be allowed to become too long, as long strands can become trapped in the chickens' crops.
Fences should be well-maintained, provide protection against predators, and desiged to ensure the birds cannot escape but do not become trapped or injured.
Introducing new chickens
Mixing chickens with very different body sizes should be avoided, as this can result in bullying.
Healthy birds are bright-eyed, alert and interested. Signs of poor health include:
- hunched posture
- head tucked under the wing
- reluctance to move
- hiding in corners.
Lice are 2 to 3mm in size and can be found all over the body with eggs around the shafts of the feathers. Red mites are smaller and can be found under the wings, or in crevices within the house. Seek advice from a vet if you spot any.
Chickens need regular worming, particularly if kept on the same ground for more than one month.
Additional requirements for egg-laying hens
Hens need quiet nest boxes where they can perform laying behaviours where they feel safe. Boxes should be draught-free and lined with clean, dry, comfy nesting material, such as straw or wood shavings.