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Lots of people now keep hens and other poultry for many reasons. Chickens are lovely creatures and they are pretty low maintenance. The rewards for looking after them are wonderful fresh eggs and a whole lot more because keeping chickens can be really fun and not hard work at all. Chickens and cockerels have their own special characters, they can provide hours of amusement and if well cared for, can live for a very long time – believe it or not chickens can live well into their teens - which is longer than a lot of other domestic animals.
Making sure the environment your chickens live in is a nice, clean and healthy one, is crucial to their well being. Chickens love to scratch around in the open, but you have to make sure the area they are out in during the day is safe from predators like foxes. Foxes do appear in the day time and will do serious damage if they get to your chickens because they will kill as many birds as they can. Chicken houses need to be kept clean so your birds stay healthy and keep on laying those gorgeous eggs for you. Choosing a chicken house that's easy to keep clean, makes life a lot simpler, but you still need to do this every day. Scraping perches clean, and sweeping the chicken house floor will not only help keep the dust down, which is harmful to your birds, but it also helps maintain the chicken house itself.
Always check for any rat and mice holes. Unfortunately, where there is chicken food there are often rodents too. Try not to leave any chicken food down in their houses at night – this will attract rodents and is a waste of food. It is far better to feed your birds first thing in the morning before they go out to scratch around in the dirt than to leave feed down in their houses at all times – even if you do put your chicken food in specially designed feed containers – mice and rats can still help themselves to the food!
Every once in a while, and especially when your birds are moulting, add some poultry spice to their feed. Poultry spice is great because it is warming for your birds. You can make up your own spice instead of buying it in too, all you need are the following powdered ingredients which you mix together in equal parts and you only need to give your birds very little every once in a while:
Just like any other animal, you will need to regularly worm your chickens. You can use a chemical wormer that you get from your vet, or you may like to worm your birds using a more eco-friendly product, and there are quite a few on the market that do work well. However, if your birds have a serious worm problem, then you might need to talk to your vet to get some stronger and faster acting worm treatment. Birds do lose condition very quickly if they have worms and if this goes untreated, then the birds may die. Lice are another serious problem that if left unchecked can seriously harm your chickens. Just like dog and cat fleas, chicken lice multiply at an astonishing speed. Birds end up being infested with lice and this then leads to the birds becoming anaemic – if untreated this could be fatal for your hens and you will notice that birds with lice do stop laying. There are some very good louse powders available which won't break the bank. You need to separate the birds' feathers and apply the louse powder gently all over, but being careful to avoid the eyes. Red mites are another problem that can rear their ugly heads in chicken houses and coops. They live in cracks in the wood and usually appear at night when your birds roost for the evening. They are blood sucking insects that can cause lots of serious health problems for chickens and other poultry that may live in a house that is infested with them. Again, you need to purchase some special red mite powder to treat your birds if you see there is a problem and the best time to check for red mites is at night, when your birds are asleep. You can do this with torch and you'll soon see the red mites as they move on top of your birds feathers. Then you need to do something about their houses or coops – sometimes it is better to burn the old house and start all over again. Red mites, once they have taken hold in a coop are nigh on impossible to get rid of. When the weather turns very cold, they do die off, but when the next warm spell arrives they usually reappear and they will suck the blood right out of your birds.
Chickens need grit to digest their food properly. It is always a good idea to supplement their diets with either grit or oyster shells. You could even offer them both. Chickens will hunt out grit for themselves, but it never does any harm to put some down for them too.
Chickens like all birds love to have dust baths. If you put down an old cat litter tray and fill this with sharp sand, your birds will love it. They will spend a few minutes in it every day having their dust bath. Dust baths are an important ritual for chickens just as it is for any other birds, because it helps them keep their feathers in good condition and gets rid of any mites they might have picked up. It does not take a lot to keep chickens healthy, they must have access to clean water at times as well as good quality food and grain. As long as you watch out for any tell-tale signs that something may be wrong, your chickens will reward you with lots of fresh eggs and hours of fun because each one of them has their own very special personality.
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