These days, we are all about the chickens. I consider hens to be the perfect pet – they are easy to care for, fun to play with, warm to snuggle and so very generous with their eggs each day. We keep three chickens – Benjamin is Max’s chicken (she’s a he, apparently); Daffy Duck is Lottie’s baby (although she is unreasonably scared of her baby); and Chirp is Arabella’s third chicken so far (Peep unexpectedly keeled over in the dead of night last Summer and Sparkle went free-ranging and never came home – it’s been a tough year for Arabella!). We plan to add two more chickens to our hen house this month. The excitement!
I remember when we first decided to get chickens I was rather petrified. It all seemed so foreign – we’d had dogs and cats and fish and mice as pets growing up, never chickens. Chickens seemed a bit ‘Farmer Brown’ serious and I was worried that my little urban clan wouldn’t have the skills to deal with them. We were daunted to say the least.
Fast forward a year and we are confident, happy chicken keepers. Our girls free-range most days, taking themselves neatly home to roost in the coop each night. We even managed to upgrade from our eBay purchased flimsy mdf hen house to a larger one built by my husband entirely from ancient stuff found under the house. That’s so farm!
Our first pet may well have been a goldfish creatively called Goldie who lasted all of three weeks, but given my firstborn’s love of animals it was always inevitable that our family would own a pet or two at some stage. The fish thing, well, let’s just say that fish turned out to be less hardy than anticipated. Who knew goldfish kept eating and eating until they died? Who does that?
Needless to say, keeping happy (living) pets is a matter of knowledge and daily care. We learned a lot from Goldie, mostly about having a feeding schedule that involved one person only. We also learned that keeping any kind of pet is a wonderful way to teach our children responsibility, empathy and kindness. Not to mention the wonderful sense of belonging a pet instantly brings them and a safe harbour in times of need.
fancy or pet chicken care :
Keeping chickens as pets
Keeping a flock of chickens is the perfect way to give your child a pet and a few life lessons as well. Which chicken, what feed, which coop, daily routine.
Our chickens have been an educative pet for our children. It’s no surprise that so much of our social language is poultry based – hen-pecked, pecking order, chicken out, chickens come home to roost, count your chickens before they hatch, no Spring chicken… you can see why there are countless opportunities to observe chickens and throw a life-lesson into the mix. You’ve gotta try it!
Here’s a general idea of how to go about getting chickens in!
Do your homework
There is loads of information available online for would-be chicken keepers. I recommend a visit to these places:
City Girl Farming Blog - Kerrie is so friendly and knowledgable
HenCam – a great introduction to keeping a small flock in your backyard
Rent a Chook – let’s you trial being a chicken keeper to see if it’s for you.
The Bok Flock – Mrs Bok is a lovely blogger to get to know.
The right kind of chicken for you
From everyday kind of chooks to exotic specimens, there are apparently around 400 breeds available to keep in Australia. Popular backyard choices (( Please follow to the First Page .. Second Page of this section ))
Get the right size
Next you need to decide whether you would like to keep bantams or full-sized chickens. Bantams are smaller and lighter than standard chickens and lay smaller eggs. They typically lay less frequently as well, however they make great pets for small children and are very easy to care for. Silkies are a very popular breed of bantam chickens – they are sweet to look at and very docile for easy handling. While many bantams are known to be more flighty than their full-size counterparts, our bantam Benjamin (see those short little legs!) is easily our tamest chicken.
3-Add bedding to the coop. There are many bedding available for silkies but the most recommended and common choice is to add wood shavings as the bedding. Wood shavings If you'd prefer something else, try sawdust, newspaper shredding, straw, hay, sand or pine needles.
Be aware that some beddings are better than others, e.g. wood shavings are very absorbent whilst hay isn't and sand is easy to clean but isn't a common choice as chicken owners have had many problems with using sand as their bedding.
What to feed them :
You’ll also need to consider whether you have a local supply of good, preferably organic, chicken feed. You start with what’s called a ‘mash’, moving up to pellets once your hens are laying. You supplement this commercial feed with kitchen scraps, especially greens, and a source of calcium and grit. This is more important if your hens aren’t free-ranging. We also have a grain mix (see below) that we occasionally give to the girls as a treat. Chirp is a mad oats and pepitas fan and Daffy Duck loves corn. Benjamin eats anything.
We use a ‘hopper’ style feeder to keep a fresh supply of water going at all times. It basically refills a small trough as the chicken drinks. The same style of hopper is used for the commercial feed. This way, you can safely leave your chickens for a night (maybe two) and know that they have ample supplies of fresh food. If we go away we do ask a neighbour to check in on them, just to be sure that they have everything they need. Our neighbour appreciates the eggs as a thank you!
A safe, clean home :
A chicken coop doesn’t need to be fancy, although the temptation is to build something cute and fancy for that ‘quaint farm’ look in the garden. By all means, go for it, but just know that all your brood really needs is somewhere safe to perch at night and room to stretch out in the day. We free-range our girls most days (beware the chicken poo – it gets everywhere! Eek!). On the days we don’t they have a chicken run of about 6 x 8 metres – lots of running around room.
You’ll also need to make sure your chooks have somewhere safe to perch at night (a 55mm diametre rod makes a good one, allow at least 1 metre for every 3 hens), at least 30 x 30cm of nesting room for egg laying comfort and at least 2 x 2 m of roaming around room per hen. They will also love having a dry, dusty spot for a daily dust bath to keep parasites at bay. You can find out more here.
A good daily routine:
Each day you’ll need to check for eggs (the perfect kid job!), top up fresh water and ensure your chickens have enough food. You’ll may also have to let them out of their coop in the morning and shut them up in the evening once they’ve headed home to roost. At our place we have a secure chicken run, so the hens let themselves in and out of the coop each day and we let them out to free-range when we can. If we free-range them, we just need to remember to lock the pen each night. This works well for us.
A good weekly routine:
You’ll need to clean out the stinky coop each week and lay down fresh straw or sawdust or similar soft, absorbent material. We put a nice thick layer of newspaper at the bottom of the coop and a reasonable layer of lucerne over that. We put a thick layer (at least 8cm) of lucerne in each of the nesting boxes, ready for comfy egg laying.
You’ll also need to check your flock for parasites and general health.
So there you have it – despite the farmer connotations, it’s all pretty easy to keep happy hens, right? I urge you to get in there and experience the awesomeness that is the lovely chicken pet. My kids adore their ‘little girls’ and they are part of the family. Good thing we don’t keep hens for meat, isn’t it?
How to Care for Silkie Chickens
Silkies make great pets and their fluffy feathers have gotten them the name 'silkie chickens'. Although most silkie owners would say they don't lay many eggs, they are great brooders and great for show! If your interested in getting yourself a few silkie hens, continue reading!
1- Provide suitable housing before you bring your silkies home. Because silkies are quite small and are considered bantams, they don't need a large amount of space like a standard chicken but it's always great to give them plenty of room to roam!
Silkies can be housed in a garage, shed or in a simple chicken coop. Just make sure the housing is spacious enough so that you can clean it, collect the eggs, catch the chickens when necessary and so that the chickens have room to roost, lay, nest and wander around.
2-Decide whether your silkies will stay inside the coop permanently or be let outside during the day. If you are going to raise your silkies inside the coop then it does have to be bigger than usual due to the fact that the silkies will be living there for the rest of their lives. You could also purchase a coop with a run if you wanted to.
The benefits of letting your silkies outside during the day are that they will be happier and healthier, they'll eat your bugs and provide fertilizer for your plants, most of their diet is made up from the stuff inside the ground and grass and you won't need to spend lots of money on a larger coop or chicken run.
The disadvantages of letting your silkies outside during the day are that there is a possible chance of them getting attacked by predators, they could escape and get lost, you would have to keep an eye on them constantly and they can get very dirty, especially during winter and autumn.
4-Add a few other items to the coop. This includes a water container, a feeder, some perches and some nesting boxes (one per each chicken). If you have silkie chicks you should purchase a water feeder rather than filling a container up with water as there is a possible chance the chicks will fall in and drown.
3. Quarantine chickens if necessary.
When an unhealthy chicken is noticed, it is important to immediately quarantine it and accurately diagnose the disease. By expediting the treatment of infected birds, you’ll prevent further spread of the disease.
5- Make sure the coop is predator proof. Silkies cannot defend themselves and all the fluff around their heads can cause them to not see well which is why you have to make sure the coop is predator proof or at least invest in a predator proof coop.
Silkies also need ample shelter to protect them from the harsh weather such as rain, hail, snow, wind and they also need a shady and cool spot to protect them from the sun during summer. If it gets really cold during winter consider adding a heat lamp in their coop so that they can stay warm.
Feeding Silkies :
1- Provide some feed in your silkies feeder. The amount of feed depends on the size of the flock and the type of feed depends on what you are keeping your silkies for such as eggs, meat or breeding. Here are some different types of feed:
Layer pellets. When your silkies begin laying they can be fed layer pellets to help them lay hard eggs. You can also supply them with crushed oyster shells or crushed egg shells if their eggs turn soft.
Finisher diet. This is for meat chickens and should be fed for six weeks until slaughter. Chicks should be fed a broiler starter instead of a chick starter if you want to keep them for meat.
Silkies kept as simple pets can be fed layer pellets or a normal chicken feed which gives them a balanced diet. You could also consider giving them grit which helps them digest their food. However, grit is not needed if your chickens are free-range (live on grass).
2- Feed your silkies a limited amount of treats. Silkies love table scraps, fruits, vegetables, bugs and seeds. Silkies can be fed just about anything like pasta, rice, watermelon, cooked potato, broccoli, fish, cucumber, cooked egg, bread and they go crazy for meal worms!
3-Provide water for your silkies at all time. The water containers must be filled with fresh water daily and they should be cleaned at least once a week. It's also good to have more than one water container if you have a large flock.
1- Collect your silkies eggs. Eggs should be collected every day with a soft basket or something alike. Be careful when collecting the eggs as they are fragile and one drop means a small mess!
2-Keep your silkies away from aggressive hens. A hard peck to the head can cause a severe injury. Silkies heads are vulnerable as they have a soft tissue which is why you should keep an eye on them if you think they are housed with any aggressive hens or roosters.
Chicken Diseases And Prevention Tips :
Bad behavior, nutritional deficiencies and diseases can cause a lot of grief for chicken owners. Use these tips to prevent problems in your flock.
Infectious diseases do not spontaneously appear in chicken flocks. Almost all infectious diseases are introduced into a flock by means that go unnoticed, such as inadvertently carring an infectious disease on shoes or clothing and then tending to chickens.
Just as common are introductions of disease from equipment, feed, other animals, pests, vermin, migratory waterfowl, and most commonly, from new chickens introduced to an existing flock.
1- 1. Keep chickens clean.
Preventing disease in flocks entails proper management and sanitation practices, such as thorough cleaning of equipment and of facilities with proper disinfectants, and minimizing or eliminating the introduction of new chickens to your flock.
Biosecurity measures such as limiting contact with visitors and preventing contact with other birds such as ducks, sparrows and pigeons will reduce the risk of disease in your chickens.
2- Disinfect the coop.
Routine disinfecting of the chicken coop is one of the single most important things you can do to for your flock. Here are some things to keep in mind when disinfecting:
Clean all coop surfaces with a detergent. Disinfectants work best on cleaned surfaces, but remember that a clean surface does not mean a disease-free surface.
Disinfectants are not effective immediately after application—they require at least 30 minutes to destroy infectious organisms.
Warm disinfectant solutions break up residue better than cold solutions.
Let all surfaces dry completely before using. Remember to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for dilution and use. Common disinfectants include hydrogen peroxide, iodine and chlorine.
Some Examples for Chicken coops :
4. Vaccinate chickens for problematic diseases.
Vaccination is seldom used by small-flock owners due to the expense and limited availability of vaccines, the simple lack of disease in small flocks, the unknown presence of disease and the improper diagnosis of disease.
Vaccination should be performed if birds have had a disease problem in the past, if they are transported on and off premises regularly and if birds are continually introduced to an existing flock.
Good husbandry should provide the small-flock owner and hobbyist with healthy, disease-free chickens without the heavy use of medications.