I absolutely love chickens. How can you not? They’re characters. Entertaining, inquisitive, productive. Like any pet, backyard chickens have species-specific needs to keep them safe, well, happy – and producing eggs.

Get to know the rules, so you can’t break them

Before you start, look into your local regulations regarding the keeping of backyard chickens. In some areas, you won’t be able to have a rooster and there may be a limit on the number of birds per backyard. Better to be forearmed with this knowledge than to be facing neighbour complaints!

Create a safe, comfortable home

The more time they’re going to spend in there, the larger it needs to be. It also needs to provide protection from predators. Chickens are at risk from every angle: birds of prey from the top of the enclosure, goannas and snakes squeezing between and dogs and foxes digging in underneath. Keep this in mind during your coop construction.

Chickens need to be able to run, scratch at the ground, flap their wings and nest. All of these must be provided for when keeping them in your backyard. If they’re allowed to roam in the garden during the day, great. If not, the run needs to be large enough to allow these behaviours to be expressed. Nesting boxes and roosting perches are also necessary. 

A well-balanced diet

Many people think one of the biggest perks of having chickens is that they make an effective waste disposal unit for kitchen scraps. True. But it’s important their nutrient requirements are met, and that’s not always easy on scraps alone. A good-quality commercial diet suited to their life stage is the easiest way to make sure they’re getting everything they need – whether they’re busy growing or busy laying. Then you can supplement with kitchen vegetable scraps (although, best to avoid avocado and potato peels). Be aware feeding of meat scraps is illegal in some areas for biosecurity reasons, and don’t feed eggshells as this may encourage egg-pecking.

Keep it clean, guys!

Cleanliness is important. Make sure food and water containers can’t be pooped in and are cleaned regularly! Feeders and water units need to be large enough that all chickens can use them at the one time, to avoid bullying and squabbles. Your vet can advise you on prophylactic control of parasites for your area.

Look after your chooks and they’ll repay you in spades! Not just with fresh eggs, but with their quirky companionship and entertaining antics. What more could you ask for?

by Simone Maher, the Baxta Vet