Chickens – Backyard Poultry

Chickens – Backyard Poultry

Chickens make wonderful family pets. They’re social, funny creatures each with their own personality. Best of all, they earn their keep by providing fresh and tasty eggs. With the right care, your chooks can live a happy, long and healthy life.

Feeding your chickens

Feeding your chicken a complete and balanced diet is essential if they are to stay healthy and lay lots of lovely eggs. Chickens will eat almost anything, so to prevent deficiencies and health problems a wide range of foods should be offered. A good quality poultry pellet should be the mainstay of their diet, and it should be provided in a commercial dispenser to help keep the pellet dry and keep rodents out.

Grain (such as wheat and corn) can also be scattered within their environment to augment their 
diet. Of course, water must always be readily available. In winter, ensure that iced waterers  are cleared each morning to allow access. In addition to a good quality poultry pellet, a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables should also be given daily. See the attached information sheet

Health Problems

We see a large range of medical conditions within chickens. Some of these conditions include:

Calcium deficiency – Especially in high productivity egg layers. Using layer pellets in the diet or adding a powder made of crushed egg shells to their feed can help with this.

Mareks disease – A viral condition which can result in drooping wings and paralysed legs. Mareks is mostly seen in birds 3-5 months of age. Birds from commercial hatcheries are vaccinated against Mareks. Unfortunately it is uncommon for backyard chickens to be vaccinated due to technical issues with the vaccine.

Egg laying problems – hens can stop laying or develop swollen tummies. This can be caused by different reasons. Veterinary attention is required.

Respiratory disease – is very common and has several different causes. It can be very contagious and treatment is vital to prevent the disease spreading to your other chickens.

Worms – We recommend routine worming of poultry every 3 months. We recommend Wormout tablets, dosing at 1 tablet per 2 kg.


Chickens require a warm, dry and safe roost at night, with access to light and shelter from sun and rain throughout the day. In Canberra, chickens need to be protected from urban foxes and domestic cats and dogs. In addition to a secure environment, chickens need to be kept in clean, stress- free conditions, without over-crowding and space to exercise, take dust-baths and have access to fresh food materials. An ideal material for nesting boxes and the floor of a roost is clean, dry straw. Avoid wood-shavings and other materials which may have highly irritant resins or chemicals. Bedding needs to be changed very regularly. If there is no access for dust baths which help prevent parasites, a low container can be used filled with sand and dry soil.

Egg production

A healthy chicken will have a life expectancy of between 7 and 15 years. Chickens usually become sexually mature between 18 and 24 weeks of age, and will be at peak laying for approximately two years. As they get older their eggs often get larger, but their laying season shortens every year.

Moulting usually occurs annually each autumn. Large numbers of feathers are lost and replaced with fresh feathers. Egg production drops dramatically during this time which is a normal occurrence.

Introducing new birds

 Chickens are social animals, and must always be kept in pairs of two or more. However, introducing new birds to your flock should be done carefully.  New birds can bring diseases with them or catch diseases from existing birds, so choose birds carefully or from a single source.  Also, it is not a good idea to mix very young birds with mature birds, as many diseases that the older birds are resistant to, can affect young birds.  Getting replacement or additional birds at point of lay is probably the best way to prevent disease problems.

If your chicken’s behaviour or feeding has changed or does not seem normal please make an appointment for assessment by one of our veterinarians.



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