So you’ve got a small backyard flock of chickens-they’re thriving in their Penthouse chicken coop, egg-sploring and foraging in the spacious run, working out the pecking order, and popping out farm fresh eggs almost regularly now, but now what? You tend to them daily, satisfying their basic needs, but what other types of care and maintenance do chickens require? I’m so glad you asked! Now, while chickens are basically easy to care for, there are several grooming and maintenance procedures that you need to perform on a regular basis and others only from time to time.
Regular grooming and maintenance of your flock is quite simply really. In addition to providing your chooks with fresh feed and water daily there are several tasks that should be completed on a regular basis.
Observe your flock as a whole, paying particular attention to their interactions with each other. Assess their “happiness factor”! Look for any signs of bullying or feather pecking that goes above and beyond simple pecking order security. Chickens by design are prey animals and will automatically conceal signs of weakness or illness so as not to appear as an easy target to predators or even siblings. So, be on the lookout for a loner, a lethargic chook, a bird that is crouched close to the ground, an abnormal gait, a hen who is not eating or drinking, watery droppings, or sneezing and sniffling.
A good rule of thumb is to do an up close and personal health check of each individual hen once a week (or bimonthly). This way, you will be able to take note of any signs or symptoms of parasites or illness and begin treatment before it becomes potentially more serious. Now it’s time for a head to toe physical! Egg-xamine each bird more closely looking for signs of parasites, weight loss, sores or scabs, pale or unusually coloured combs, cloudy or watery eyes, or a hard or swollen crop. Feel the chook’s breastbone. It shouldn’t stick out. A hen’s vent area should be a pinkish color and moist. Legs should be smooth without a scaly texture and feet should be free from sores or a black spot which could indicate bumblefoot.
A quick note on catching and handling your chooks-having a relationship with your chooks is key to being able to handle them with the least amount of stress. Chickens view us as predators until we establish that we are not. Simply put, spend time with your beloved chooks, interacting with them, offering them their favorite treats, and chatting and clucking along with them on a daily basis and you’re well on your way to being able to touch them, pick them up and yes, even snuggle with your feathered friends! There will always be one or two though, that will be strong willed and put up a bit of a fuss when you attempt to handle them. This is quite normal. It’s their prerogative to be finicky!
So, just how do you catch a chicken? So glad you asked. When said chicken is nearby and calmly pecking for bugs, simply grasp her with both hands over her back and sides so she cannot flap in disagreement, lift her up and hug her to your body with one hand underneath for support.
Replace bedding: The number of chooks that you have will determine how often you’ll need to replace the bedding in the coop and nest boxes. A good rule of thumb; however, is to replace it before it becomes a problem such as if the bedding develops an ammonia smell. That is definitely bad news!
Rake out all bedding from chicken coop. Using a paint scraper, scrape off any stuck on waste. Sweep floor. If you use straw for bedding, you will need to sweep and dust further. Scrub the walls, roosts, nest boxes, and floor or removable trays if you are so blessed to have these, courtesy of Backyard Chicken Coops! Cluck, cluck!
Special summer and winter considerations: Adding ice blocks or frozen mint and berry cubes to waterers, as well as, offering them water filled fruits such as watermelon and peaches will help to cool your toasty chooks. Also, changing their water often will assure that your chooks always have access to cool fresh water to keep them comfortable. Check for drafts and holes chewed by unwanted rodents in the colder months.
Bathing: While chickens do not need regular bathing, there are times that warrant a romp in sudsy water. Bathing a chicken is just like bathing any other pet. They may or may not like getting wet and may try to flap on out of the tub, but once you “get your feet wet” by giving a hen a bath, you’ll be an egg-sperienced ol’ hen yourself before you know it! Simply fill a utility tub with soothing warm water and holding the chook with both hands, dip her into the water gently splashing water onto her feathers to wet her. Using baby shampoo, a mild soap such as Ivory, or a pet shampoo, lather her up, rinse and wrap in an old clean towel and dry. Or if you prefer,you can add the soap to the water first. Some people even use a blow dryer to dry their girls giving them the whole spa treatment!
Wing Clipping: Some backyard chicken keepers prefer to clip their chooks’ wings to prevent them from flying the coop! Remember though, that after each molt, you will need to clip again! Usually, chicken keepers clip only one wing causing the bird to be unstable and not be able to gain enough momentum to fly the friendly skies.