Chicken nutrition and housing
Maintain a healthy flock of chickens by providing a balanced diet, clean and appropriately sized housing and sanitary living conditions.
The eating habits of chickens are affected by the breed, environmental conditions and the feed itself.
Optimal growth and performance depend on balanced nutrition. While some owners mix their own homemade feed, using a commercial feed is more common. It supplies all of the nutrients chickens need to grow and thrive. Altering it with additional supplements is not recommended.
Chickens need carbohydrates for energy, protein for amino acids and fats to supply energy. Vitamins and minerals also contribute to good health. These ingredients are combined in different formulations and sold in the form of a mash, pellet or crumble.
Feed can lose its nutritional value over time, so purchase it fresh. Store feed away from moisture and direct sunlight. Immediately remove stale, rancid or moldy food from feeders.
Chickens will scratch for bugs, but they still require a formulated balanced feed. Entirely free-ranged birds likely will not consume a properly balanced diet for optimal meat and egg production.
More than anything else, chickens consume water. How much water a chicken drinks equates to how much feed is eaten. When not enough water is available, chickens stop eating. A lack of water negatively impacts egg production and growth.
Chicken feeders and drinkers come in different sizes and styles. Protect them from moisture, wild animals and free flying birds by keeping them in the chicken house.
Hatching fertile chicken eggs requires an incubator and brooding housing. Day old chicks need a brooding house. In both cases, lighting and temperature are essential to healthy development.
For older birds, shelter should protect against wind, rain and extreme temperatures. Include a secure, fenced-in outside run for hens. Egg laying houses do not have to be elaborate and many designs can be found. Whatever the style, provide enough space for the number of chickens it will hold. An adequate number of nesting sites yields cleaner eggs and fewer broken eggs. Hens also need perches.
Line the laying house floor with several inches of wood shavings. Known as litter, keep it dry and loose. Stir it when it becomes damp and packed. Replenish with fresh litter regularly.
A healthy laying hen has bright eyes and large, soft red combs and wattles. She has good body size with an enlarged, moist vent. Any yellow pigmentation in the vent, eye ring, earlobe, beak and shank will disappear.
Wear clean clothing when working with the birds. Wash hands thoroughly and frequently.
Vaccinations build antibodies to common poultry diseases. Before introducing new birds to the flock, quarantine them for at least two-weeks to monitor for diseases.
A well-ventilated building reduces ammonia build up, stress and fighting. Provide plenty of water, feed and floor space. Proper temperature is a must. Separate young birds from old birds. Control disease carriers such as wild birds, rodents and insects. Keep litter and manure dry to minimize flies and odor. Immediately remove sick or dead birds.
Regularly clean and disinfect the brooders, poultry house and equipment to reduce bacteria, viruses and parasites. Always clean before housing new birds. Wash feeders and water sources often and according to the type used. Replace the litter as needed, and with each flock.
Different diseases can have similar symptoms. If an outbreak does occur, obtain an accurate diagnosis immediately.