Like any pet owner, as an owner of backyard chickens you need to make sure that you do everything necessary to keep your pets healthy. Since the health of your chickens will impact the quantity and quality of eggs they produce, it makes sense to be knowledgeable in the area of chicken health.
There are four key areas to keep in mind: adequate housing for your chickens, regular feed and water, stress minimization and parasite prevention. All these areas are interrelated and are important for healthy backyard chickens.
When purchasing or designing a chicken coop it is important to make sure your chickens have a well-ventilated but not too draughty chicken coop or chicken house in which to shelter. In hot weather chickens in a poorly ventilated chicken coop can succumb to the heat. There are chicken coops available on the market with removable weather shields to allow for good ventilation in summer and then cosy housing sections for winter.
For the colder and wetter months, chickens also need to have appropriate shelter from the rain and wind. It is also worth checking that your chickens' bedding materials, such as straw or sawdust are not wet for an extended period of time. A wet soggy, bedding area inside the housing section of your chicken run can lead to ammonia and other noxious gases forming, which can lead to lung infections in your chickens.
Chickens need a regular supply of food and water and will almost predictably stop laying eggs if they go for even a day or two without these essentials. Chickens tend to stress quite easily and can even 'go off the lay' for several weeks if they've been stressed by inadequate food and water. If possible, also provide your chickens with kitchen scraps and weeds from the garden. This will improve the health of your chickens and the quality of the eggs they lay.
Chickens will also stop laying eggs for a period of time if they've been frightened by a fox or dog who may have tried to enter the chicken house. It's obviously important to make sure your chicken coop is fox proof for the safety of your flock, but there's sometimes little you can do to prevent the fright your chickens may experience when a would-be-predator tries to enter.
Over crowding can also be stressful for chickens if they constantly have to fight to get to the chicken feeder each time. Make sure you have enough space in your chicken coop for the number of chickens you've chosen to keep and an adequate number of feeders and drinkers for the chickens to share.
Unfortunately a common issue for owners of backyard chickens is the occurrence of parasites such a lice or mites in their chicken coop. Mites will happily live in the cracks and crevices of the walls of a timber chicken coop for quite some time, coming out usually at night to feed on the chickens innocently inside the coop. Mites are either red in colour (after a blood feeding) or black and can most easily be found on the chickens at night using a torch, although they are very small, almost invisible without magnification. Lice are white and larger than mites and are more 'host' specific, meaning they'll more likely stay on the one bird compared with mites who may parasite many chickens over time.
To treat the chickens there is a range of anti-mite or anti-lice powders that you can dust your chickens with, to discourage the parasites. If mites are the problem, your chicken house will need to be cleaned with a high-pressure spray for an extended period of time to really combat this problem. Mites essentially love living in wood so ideally get rid of as much wood as possible from your pens. If you haven't already purchased or made a chicken coop, you'll have fewer parasite problems if you chose one made from steel or aluminium. While mites can still appear in these coops, it's not as common and they're much easier to clean to eradicate these pests.
As far as pets go, chickens are a very low maintenance pet. While there are a range of other health issues that can arise in chickens, the key areas summarised in this article are the most common problems faced by owners of backyard chickens. In order to have a regular supply of eggs from your chicken coop, be sure to provide them with good housing (not made from timber); make sure they have a constant supply of quality feed and water; don't have too many chickens in one coop (reduce their stress levels) and occasionally check for parasites.
Be sure to look at Royal Rooster's great range of chicken coops that are perfect for any backyard. Royal Rooster also make slim-line drinker and feeder sets that reduce grain wastage and keep water nice and clean. www.royalrooster.com.au