Chickens were domesticated from the Red Junglefowl in Asia and are the most common bird kept living amongst people. We have utilized them for centuries for meat and egg production. More recently, people in urban settings have been raising chickens to be closer to their food source and have a better understanding of agriculture. As a result, people are discovering what great pets chickens can make! They are personable, friendly and can even learn tricks.
Living with chickens does require knowledge of some of their basic needs. Chickens are best housed in an outdoor coup that can be safely secured from predators. They should have access to an area outside the coup in order do natural foraging activities.
There are numerous diets available for chickens. Most birds kept in our backyards should get a grower pellet from hatching until 16-22 weeks of age. Then they need to transition to a layer pellet and stay on this for the duration of their time spent laying. Chickens also enjoy foraging around in the yard for bugs and other treats. Vegetables and fruits can be provided to chickens to supplement their diet once or twice a week. Access to fresh water at all times is a must.
Common problems that are encountered in chickens include attacks by animals, respiratory infections, ingestion of foreign materials, and reproductive disorders.
Animal attacks are best avoided by having a secure enclosure for the birds to retreat to and locking this enclosure at night time when predators may be lurking around. If a bird has been attacked it is best to get it seen by a veterinarian immediately even if it appear to be ok. Injuries can be hidden beneath the feathers and though you may not see an injury, a fly can easily find it, lay eggs and result in a maggot infestation days later.
There are a variety of infectious respiratory diseases seen in chickens and can be caused by bacterial, viral, and fungal agents. While some are mild, many can be deadly and some even have devastating effects for a flock. Signs of a respiratory infection include nasal or ocular discharge, sneezing, coughing and head shaking. Birds may also be lethargic and not eating as much as normal. It is best for a bird to be seen right away if it has a respiratory infection so that it can be treated. In order to avoid respiratory infections one of the best things a person can do is quaranteen of a flock. More on this can be found here. Providing a well aerated, dry environment is also necessary to avoid certain infections.
When it comes to ingestion of foreign objects, the chicken is prone to this because of their natural desire to forage around in the ground and pick up many different things for tasting. The veterinarians at Arizona Exotic Animal Hospital have had to surgically remove many different objects like screws, nails, wires, glass and even batteries from pet chicken stomachs! To avoid these issues, make sure to search through your yard where your chickens are housed and remove anything that is inorganic and could fit in their mouth.
Chickens were breed to lay a large number of eggs for prolonged periods of time. This process puts a great demand on the bird to mobilize large amounts of calcium, protein and fat through their body to make the egg. As a result of this high output of eggs and stress on the body, it is not surprising that chickens can suffer from a variety of reproductive problems. Egg binding, egg yolk coelomitis (internal laying), uterine infections, and ovarian and uterine cancers are all frequently identified. Bird should always be seen by a veterinarian if they have one of these problems in order receive the most effective treatment. Avoiding these issues can be difficult but one of the best things people can do at home is provide a good diet. Diets that are high in calcium are needed to form the shells of the egg. Many people supplement the diet with oyster shells to provide extra calcium during laying. Exposure to natural sunlight is a must as well because it allows for the bird to make vitamin D in its body which is needed for the uptake of calcium from the diet. Diets high in omega-3 fatty acids may also be helpful to reduce certain disorders of the uterus.