To tame the beast this chapter turned into, I'll lay out the basic prevention in this post and the first aid stuff will follow. The good news is that we're going to be better city chicken owners and in turn so will you.
City Chicken Tips for Beginners
- Become an expert on your local chicken laws. I did a post a couple years back that included city ordinances for the Tri-county SC area. For other areas of the country, you can check the Backyard Chicken's database.
- Start with a pair of hens, specifically pullets
- chickens are social creatures so they need some company
- pullets are older and need less care than chicks
- pullets are less prone to harm by snakes and mice and will earning their keep in a few months
- roosters are noisy and potentially aggressive (especially if you have more than one)
- You only need roosters if you want to fertilize your eggs for hatching. I'd recommend saving that for later
Cheap and Easy Tips and Natural Home Remedies
The amount of space and air circulation you provide for your chickens will determine if your flock behaves like the kids on Barney or ones in The Lord of the Flies.
City ordinances in North Charleston require that chickens be confined at all times. If your area is governed by the same rule, take my advice and build bigger from the beginning.
Based on minimum spacing requirements (see table below), two layer hens would need at least 3 sq feet of shelter and another 16 square feet of outdoor run space. I'd recommend tripling or even quadrupling those numbers (triple spacing = 9 sq. ft. indoors with a 48 sq. ft. run; quadruple spacing = 12 sq. ft indoors with a 64 sq. ft run). Otherwise, you'll end up rebuilding your coop several times to accommodate larger flocks, like hubby and me.
To help choose breeds, BackyardChickens.com has a helpful Breed Selector page.
Observation - Watch your Chickens like a Hawk
It's not enough to house and feed your flock. To keep them at optimal health you've got study them. After feeding or caring for them, step into the shadows and watch them like a fox.
You need to familiarize yourself with the normal sights and sounds around the coop. That way, you'll know instantly when something isn't right.
Lots of Clean Water
If you use traditional chicken waterers, keeping their water clean can be a chore and a half. We ended up switching to the avian aqua misers. We bought the DIY kits and made our own waterers.
Deep Litter Method - A clean and dry coop can help prevent many of the problems that irritate your birds. The deep litter method, covered in the January issue of Remedial Veggucation, is fairly easy to do.
Dust Baths – Chickens are hard wired from birth to preen their feathers and dust bathe. It’s their way of killing and removing the external pests before they become a problem.
Dry soil, sand can be added to a box that's kept in a dry, ventilated space. Supplementing with a small amount of food grade diatomaceous earth can boost the bug removal power of their baths.
Home Remedies for Prevention
Garlic and unpasteurized apple cider vinegar are two other staples we keep on hand. A report from Jacquie Jacob and Tony Pescatore from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture verifies their homeopathic healing power.
The most common internal parasite of poultry is coccidia, a protozoa found almost everywhere poultry are kept. Garlic is used with many animals to prevent intestinal worm and parasite infestations. Regular addition of garlic into the drinking water is said to control intestinal worms, including coccidia, one of the most common internal parasites in chickens.
You can start administering the garlic water to day old chicks. Cottage's Herb Farm's website recommends making a cold garlic extract by steeping a few cloves of crushed garlic in a half cup of water overnight.
Unpasteurized Apple Cider Vinegar
- Contains vitamins, minerals and trace elements.
- Lowers the pH level in the stomach, which improves digestion and makes it more difficult for harmful pathogens like Salmonella and Campylobacter to develop;
- Detoxifies the blood and helps remove mucous from within the body;
- Destroys infectious organisms (due to its antiseptic and mild antibiotic properties)
Now that you have the basics for maintaining a healthy flock, I'll get back to editing.
- Chickens Don’t Take Water Baths, They Take Dust Baths, Better Hens and Gardens, April 28, 201, http://www.betterhensandgardens.com/2010/04/28/chickens-dont-take-water-baths-they-take-dust-baths/
- How and Why Birds Preen, Melissa Mayntz, About.com http://birding.about.com/od/birdbehavior/a/Preening.htm
- Natural Remedies for Poultry Diseases common in ‘Natural’ and ‘Organic’ Flocks, Jacquie Jacob and Tony Pescatore, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, February 2011. http://www2.ca.uky.edu/afspoultry-files/pubs/Natural_remedies.pdf
- Smarter Living, Shopping Wise: Food Storage Containers, Natural Resources Defense Council, http://www.nrdc.org/living/shoppingwise/food-storage-containers.asp
- Herbs for Healthy Chickens, Mudbrick Cottage HerbFarm, http://www.herbcottage.com.au/blog/2010/10/herbs-for-healthy-chickens/