As a newbie, I started to ask around, and I found one Facebook group in particular, that was very helpful. I wanted to avoid some of the common pitfalls and not make the same mistakes others might have. So I asked: What are some important health and happiness tips you as an experienced chickens keepers wished they’ve learned sooner?
This is what I got back.
Lesson 1#: Handle small chicks so they well trust you as adults
I make sure the coop is secure at night, always have fresh water & the more you handle them as chicks the more you will be able to handle them as adults.
– Sal CiranoI
So, how do I make my chickens not scared of me?
The very first thing you need to understand is your chickens are not running away from you because of who you are; they are running away because it is in their nature.
If you want to learn more, you can read my guide on how to keep chickens from running away here…
There’s a high chance you can fix a chicken’s fear-based response, but certain chickens will escape from you no matter what – and you have to respect that distance.
There are three things you need to keep in mind to have a more friendly relationship with your flock. First, always act as a dominant, easy-going owner. Don’t be aggressive towards them, even when they act negatively. Second, treats are great but don’t overuse this tactic; this can lead to unwanted behaviors in your flock. Third, never run or scream at a fleeing chicken – if they want to be away from you, let them.
When it comes to being a dominant owner, it’s all about being easy-going and standing your ground. Chickens need an alpha male around; they rely on one to bring order to things. If you act like one, they will respect that – but it doesn’t mean they will stop fearing you. This is the first step towards the relationship you want with your chickens. An erratic owner will never get the chance to be affectionate with his flock.
Treats are the key to develop a more affectionate relationship with your chickens. Fruits and veggies are a great option for this. Never force treats upon your chickens, let them welcome your actions.
Finally, never chase your chickens. This will only make them run away harder. Stand your ground like you are supposed to and offer treats; if they want them, great – if not, they’ll come around eventually.
Combine all three elements and your chickens will slowly start to get accustomed to you. Always bring treats around and pet them if you have the chance.
Remember: some chicken will always be frightened – or at least, act frightened – of you. Forcing yourself on them will only make matter worse. If they don’t want anything to do with you, let them be. You’ll still love them for who they are!
Lesson #2: Chickens get bored in winter
In the winter they will get bored. If they get bored, they will pick each other, sometimes to death.
Hanging cabbage, suet cages, and puzzle toys for parrots work well to break up boredom.
– Chelsea Lizotte
So how do I entertain my chickens during winter?
I have found out that the hardest time of the year to keep chickens entertained is during the winter. I assume this is due to the fact that it is quite dreary and cold out. Luckily, I have found quite a few solutions for keeping my chickens happy and entertained during the winter months.
Adding stumps and logs and hanging cabbage, like Chelsea mentions, have been a real game-changer. The chickens are happy to have a new place to perch and I am a fan of the fact that I can easily find a log laying around in the back yard. You can’t get much more affordable than that! This option seems to be a favorite of the chickens as it allows them to safely get up off the cold, snowy ground.
I can see some have also had great success making sure that my chickens are entertained and happy by installing a sunroom. I know this sounds very complicated, but it truly is not it seems. To complete a sunroom all you need is a thin sheet of plastic. In fact, saran wrap is perfectly acceptable for this task.
You will simply create a frame that holds the plastic and then prop it up against your home or a big rock, in efforts to provide protection from the harsh weather. Some chickens apparently can not get enough of this and spend quite a bit of time in the sunroom because it provides them with some much-needed warmth.
Setting out some random boards has also proven to be a hit with the chicks. The chickens respond well to the boards and use them as a way to get in some activity by perching upon them and pecking. This is the simplest option that I have found and I can’t believe that I did not think of it sooner. It has truly been a game-changer when it comes to making sure my chickens are getting in their daily exercise!
Lesson #3: Chickens can get diseases from wild birds
Clean water, clean coop, keep wild birds out
– Elizabeth Liz Iacoponi DiFrancisco
Really? Chickens can get diseases from wild birds?
So, that got me thinking. Why is that important? They are al birds, and we don’t have raptors big enough to take chickens, so are wild bird dangerous?
Yes apparently, my chickens can get diseases from wild birds. In fact, if you let your flock mingle with wild birds, they are bound to get something nasty from them. And it’s not about direct contact either: if you have your own chickens around your house, free-for-all birdfeeders are also a dangerous thing to install.
Most people who have a flock to call their own I’ve talked to love animals. I know, I love them too. But the harsh truth is you are endangering more animals than you are helping whenever you carry dangerous practices – like having a public birdfeeder.
Wild birds can carry diseases and your chickens can get sick from them; it can also happen the other way around: your sick chickens can spread a disease to wild birds, and they can carry it to other chickens – and thus a small outbreak begins.
It’s always best to keep things separate. If you cannot help yourself, let wild birds roam around your property and eat off a birdfeeder but never, ever let your chickens share the same spot. It can be incredibly hard to accomplish, but it is a must if you want to keep everyone healthy. Wash your public birdfeeder at least once a week to avoid any nasty surprises.
You might be thinking: “how terrible disease can be if a live wild bird has the strength to come all the way into my house”? Well, it can get bad – really bad. In 2014, the bird flu spread into America for the first time in years. In a year, almost 50 million birds died. Safety measures are necessary to avoid a catastrophe.
The bottom line is, wild birds can spread disease among your flock and vice-versa. It’s best to avoid a terrible scenario by keeping your chickens and other birds separated.
Lesson #4: Newcomers needs to be quarantined
Too little space and too many roos are the main issues for chicken happiness. Mine free range in my little yard and have zero roosters. There certainly are diseases but the nature of this page really highlights them. Start clean (but you don’thave to stay that way), quarantine new comers. Your chickens will develop their own microbiome which leads to healthy bodies and immunities.
– Alice Byrnes
But why do new chickens need to be quarantined?
Whenever people think about quarantine, they think it’s something reserved for sick or ill chickens (at least so I thought) – but it’s what you are supposed to do with new chickens as well. No matter where you are getting your new chickens from, you need to put them in a separate area, away from your healthy, already-established chickens.
You must quarantine every new chicken you have decided to add to your flock. And it’s rather easy for you to understand why: if unfortunately, your new chickens carry disease, it’ll be easier to treat it in 4 chickens than it would be in 20. And, if, sadly, the new chickens die, you will only lose them and not your entire flock. You must quarantine new chickens to lower the chance of any possible risks.
Now, I already understand why you should quarantine my new chickens – but how should I do it? A quick google search will show you there are multiple methods and timetables found online. When it comes to your chickens’ health, you need to play it as safe as you can.
Because of this, I recommend you quarantine all new chickens for 30 days. Or, at least, four weeks. I know a lot of people will tell you one week is fine, or to go as long as ten days – but you need to consider that some diseases have a long incubation period. A new chicken might seem fine today and show symptoms two weeks from now. Before you know it, your entire flock is carrying lice because you couldn’t wait for a couple of weeks.
By the time four weeks have passed, you know the new chickens are ready to be introduced to the rest of the flock – go ahead and do it, worry-free! Always keep in mind you should introduce new chickens to an established flock slowly – but you probably know that already!