Whether you’re keeping them for food, eggs, or as pets, poultry has special needs when it comes to veterinary care.
There are strict federal rules that must be followed when considering treatment and medication for chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese because even if their owners see them as companions, they are still considered livestock (food animals) in the eyes of the law. Here are some tips to help with the care of poultry:
What to Look for When Buying
When picking out your birds, you want hens, pullets or roosters that are alert with bright eyes, smooth and shiny feathers, clean legs, bright combs and clean nostrils. Chicks should be perky and bright-eyed. Make sure all poultry is vaccinated for Marek’s disease.
Safety and Predator Control
Within the flock, make sure to provide ample space and places for timid birds to hide. There should be enough feed and water stations for the number of birds you own, and that they are easily accessible. One feed station should be provided per rooster. It’s also important to keep in mind that continually adding birds to your flock can increase stress levels and should be avoided.
Be sure your coop has ample ventilation such as screened or shuttered openings and fans if space will allow. Four square feet should be provided per bird. A small door should be provided to allow access, and a temperature of 70-75 degrees should be maintained. To keep the coop cool, Styrofoam insulation can be covered by plywood on the south and west sides. For a warmer coop, provide thick insulation on the north side and on south-facing windows.
Deterring predators is very important and you can do this by installing hardware cloth over any holes, windows, or openings. Electric fencing outside of the run and a fenced ceiling are also good barriers. A concrete base discourages digging predators, as does burying outside fencing 12” deep. Installing a sill underneath gates stops ruts and holes where predators can enter and chickens can escape. Rodents should be managed as they will eat eggs.
Finally, you will want to confine your chickens in the coop at night. A motion-activated security light can be installed outside the coop to discourage predators as well.
Wood shavings, straw, or dry lawn clippings are ideal as they are non-toxic and easy to clean. Litter is another option, but beware of toxins. Bedding 4-8” deep is ideal for keeping the flock cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
8-10” of nesting space should be provided, which works out to approximately 1 box for 4-5 chickens. A 4” sill should be sufficient to prevent eggs from falling and to hold in bedding.
Outdoors in the run, be sure to provide shelter from the sun and wind. A south-facing run will dry quickly and it’s wise to build a run with a slight slope, so water doesn’t puddle.
Water needs to be clean and available at all times, and water stations can be hung bird’s chest high to help keep them clean. In meat birds, milk can be given for added protein.
A medium weight chicken will eat up to 3 pounds of food per week. Feed comes in the form of pellets or crumbles, either of which can be made into a mash. Scratch can be provided in small amounts as a snack; just be sure to avoid scratch containing barley. Most table scraps can be given as snacks, but be sure not to give raw potato skins, onions, garlic, fish and especially no avocado pits as the lining of the pit is poisonous to chickens. Fried or spoiled foods should also be avoided, along with foods high in fat and sugars.
Grit, calcium, and small amounts of salt can be provided as supplements, although salt will not be required if you’re feeding a commercially manufactured food.
In hot weather, it’s important to make sure air circulates, that you provide cold water with electrolytes, and give your birds shade from the sun. Temperatures above 104 degrees must be avoided; you can spray the coop with cold water to help keep temperatures down.
Cold weather means watching your flock for frostbite, which can be prevented by applying Vaseline to combs and waffles. Other ways to keep your flock warm include fluffing up bedding, making sure water stations are free of ice, and feeding warm mash throughout the day. Scratch can be given early in the day for extra calories.
A well-managed coop only needs a deep cleaning approximately once a year; however, it’s important that feeders and watering stations are cleaned weekly, if not more. To disinfect, use one tablespoon of chlorine bleach added to one gallon of water.
Claw trimming can be performed if the claws are curling under the toe, but only trim them back if they are causing the chicken to become out of balance. Rooster spurs can be reduced as well.
To inhibit the spread of disease, keep members of your flock away from outside birds, including wild birds such as geese, ducks, and birds from other flocks. Minimize harm to chicks by keeping them separate until they grow larger in size. Don’t forget to consult with Crow Hill about deworming—we can tailor a schedule to your flock’s needs.
In laying hens, avoid obesity and provide at least 15 hours of daylight. In winter months, supplemental light can be provided in the coop. Help avoid broodiness by collecting eggs daily and remove and broody hens from the nest as needed. During molting periods, cat food can be a good supplement, as well as raw meat for protein.
Finally, be sure to keep a detailed flock history, outlining any illnesses, concerns, or other issues.
Dr. RiceWatkins and her staff have extensive experience working with poultry and can advise and assist owners with health concerns, illness, vaccinations, worming and most other poultry care issues. If you’d like to schedule an appointment or have questions about our veterinary services for poultry, call Crow Hill Veterinary Hospital at 303.838.4677.