General information

Chickens are reasonably easy to keep, one of the most important things is to choose the right breed for you. Hybrid pullets are often a good starter bird as they are hardy with docile natures.
Housing needs basic requirements such as ventilation, perches, nest boxes and a pop hole. It is also a good idea to have a run attached to contain the birds when necessary, particular when they first arrive . After a couple of days they can be let out to enjoy their freedom, they will go back to their house during the day to feed and lay eggs and at dusk to roost .
Its important to remember chickens are happiest free range , so try to allow them as much space as possible. Keeping them totally confined to a run will cause them to become bored which can lead to vices such as feather pecking. They also like grass to peck at and soil to dust in.
After the age of 16 weeks they can be fed layers pellets or mash .  A protein level of 16 % is sufficient for garden hens , it will usually state on the feed bags how much protein it contains.
Chickens will enjoy treats in small amounts such as greens, fruit and a scratch feed of wheat. Avoid feeding  mixed corn at libb as they will eat this in preference to the layers pellets which will cause them to become too fat,  this is not good for pullets as they come in to lay at around  22 weeks old. They should have access to grit to help with digestion and fresh water should be available at all times.
What type of bedding to use in the poultry house is often a matter of personal choice. Straw appears to be popular among poultry keepers for it's cheapness, however it quickly becomes damp as it does not absorb the droppings. A damp musty atmosphere can cause respiratory problems in poultry. My personal choice and for many keepers is dust extracted wood shavings, for use on the floor and in nest boxes. They absorb the droppings well and also keep the birds busy as they love to scratch and dust themselves in the shavings. A small amount of hay can be put in the nest boxes to encourage pullets to lay in the boxes and not on the floor.
Like all animals chickens get ill, I find that prevention often works better than cure. Parasite infestations can cause illness and even death in bad cases . Chickens need to be sprayed or powdered every 6 weeks for the prevention of red mite. It's also a good idea to spray the poultry house every week after cleaning , products such as poultry shield are very affective. The mites actually live in the wood and feed off the birds at night while they are roosting. Another useful tip is to annually treat the house with wood preserve inside and out. Poultry also need to be wormed at least 4 times a year, wormer's can be added to either food or water.
Another common parasite is scaly leg mite. Symptoms are greyish coloured lumpy scabs on the birds legs caused by the mite burrowing under the scales. This condition is very irritable for the birds and will spread quickly through the flock. Affected birds should be isolated and legs treated with scaly mite lotion. You can also rub Vaseline in to the scabs which will suffocate the mites and soften the scabs. Repeat treatment daily until scabs drop off. Don't ever try to pick them off as this will be very painful for the bird.
By following these basic husbandry tips you should be able to maintain the health of your birds.
  • Try to buy vaccinated stock if at all possible
  • Follow a strict parasite control routine
  • Keep their diet healthy and feed grit to avoid impacted crop
  • Keep housing clean and well ventilated
  • Don't overstock the ground you have available for keeping chickens
  • Use supplements at times of stress such as moulting.
There are various tonics that can be given such as poultry spice added to the feed or battles poultry tonic added to the drinking water. Supplements are particularly useful to help birds through the moult, as there resistance can become low while they are loosing and replacing feathers. Hens also stop laying for about 6 weeks when they are moulting. Natural  products such as garlic can  also be fed on a regular basis, it is believed this is a natural deterrent against internal and external parasites. Apple cider vinegar is another useful product , it can help to speed up the replacement of feather loss in moulting birds and the growth of new feathers in chicks and growers.