Published on December 14th, 2016 | by Debbie Martin0
Chickens as pets, surge makes them sixth most popular pet
In recent years, one particular sort of pet has seen its popularity surge. Chickens as pets are, according to a recent survey by the Pet Food Manufacturer’s Association, now the sixth most popular pet in the country – just behind rabbits, and ahead of Guinea pigs. This uptick in domestic chicken numbers has dumbfounded many vets, who simply don’t know what to do with the animal, being more used to dealing with cats, dogs, and other mammals. Vets who do have experience with chickens will tend to have experience with large amounts of them in a commercial setting, rather than of individual animals.
If you’re keeping chickens, then – or you’re looking to do so in the near future – then you’ll want to research the basics in order to give your chickens the best possible protection against developing disease, or suffering injury. Let’s examine some of the fundamentals of chicken-rearing.
In order for a chicken to live a happy and healthy life, they’ll need to be afforded the right diet. Their digestive system is designed to pick food up off the floor, and they need insoluble grit in order to properly digest their food (in much the same way that you or I need the insoluble fibre found in vegetables). Some sorts of grit can also help to provide extra calcium. When considering the sorts of feed you’ll be providing, be sure to always bear in mind both the age and breed of the chicken.
Chickens also need a supply of fresh, clean water. Provide this in drinkers that can be accessed even in cold weather. Don’t use chemical de-icers to keep things thawed, as these can poison the chickens. Be sure that small chicks are unable to wander into the water supply and drown. If you should need to replace the drink-dispensers, then try to replace them in kind – that way your chickens will know the purpose of the strange new device you’ve introduced to them.
Food hygiene is crucial in preventing diseases from breaking out. Be sure, then, to clean both drinkers and food dispensers regularly. When doing this, be on the lookout for signs of mould or rust. In the case of food dispensers, be sure that they’re thoroughly dried before putting them to use again – when food is left in damp conditions, it can provide a lure for bacteria and harmful fungus. Neither of these, suffice to say, are good news for your chickens.
Chickens should be provided with shelter at night time, and a place to wander around during the day. Their home should be kept warm and dry, and frequently disinfected in order to keep parasites at bay. Chickens keep dry during wet conditions by bathing in dust – so be sure that there is plenty of wood shavings or dry straw on the bottom of the chicken coop, and that this supply is regularly swapped out in order to keep things clean.
If chickens are not given plenty of room to exercise, then they start to exhibit abnormal behaviours. If you’re a major corporation whose shareholders demand that thirty-seven million chicken nuggets be sold every day, the welfare of the chicken might seem a secondary concern. If you’re a keeping chickens as pets, however, then you’ll be free of such commercial considerations; you might, indeed, even find them slightly repellent! Depending on the size of the birds, the RSPCA recommends that twelve metres squared be provided for thirty birds. If you’re dealing with smaller amounts, however, you might want to keep things a little more generous.
Chickens should be provided with perches to sit on inside their coop, and enclose nest boxes to comfortably lay eggs inside. Provide the latter with a comfortable, dry bedding of straw. If your coop has more than one entrance, then this will help to ensure that your chickens are able to come and go as they please, and will reduce the amount of bullying.
If you’re keeping a group of chickens, then you’ll need to ensure an appropriate gender divide. Of course, this shouldn’t be fifty-fifty; female hens should be kept in groups of at least three in order to avoid depression and other problems. Chickens have adapted to be social birds, and a solitary existence doesn’t suit them.
Where males are concerned, the most obvious problem is unwanted aggression. Avoid introducing two cockerels to the same space, unless the two have been together from a young age, and show signs of getting along well. In most cases, however, multiple cockerels will perceive one another as a threat (often with some justification) and begin to fight. Such conflicts can inflict considerable injury – and they can often be unsolvable. If you’re intent on owning cockerels, of course, then you should be aware of them crowing at the crack of dawn; if you and your neighbours won’t be able to tolerate such behaviour, then you should avoid owning cockerels.
When introducing new chickens, it’s worth exercising caution. This is especially so if some chickens are much larger, as this will result in dominance aggression and bullying behaviour. Watch the way your chickens behave shortly after a new arrival – and look for evidence of fighting in the weeks afterwards. After a few weeks, a new social hierarchy should have been arrived at, and fighting should have ceased.
Knowing the signs of poor health can be vital to identifying problems before they become serious. Hiding behaviour, hunching and feathers that stand on end can all evidence a problem. Chickens should be regularly wormed and inspected for lice and mites – but with proper hygiene, these parasites will be less likely to establish a foothold.
Chicken owners should be sure to sign up to the Great Britain Poultry Register, which will provide important information in the event of a disease breaking out. It’s mandatory that owners of more than fifty birds sign up – but even if you’re just a hobbyist, the information provided can spell the difference between safety and misery for your chickens.