Healthy Pets 2014

Backyard chicken adventures

By Dena, Kristen and Rachel
Sierra Animal Hospital

People don’t usually think of poultry as being pets. Birds such as chickens, ducks and turkeys make wonderful companions and are relatively inexpensive to own. Chickens are the bird of choice for us.

Just like dogs and cats, chicken breeds have different personalities. Of the six different breeds we have (Buff Orpington, Araucana, Barred Rock, Black Australorp, Polish and Wyandottes), the more social and friendly chickens are the Buff Orpington and Araucana. These two breeds don’t mind being picked up and handled. They are also very good egg layers. Of course all chickens are different and any well-socialized chicken can be the perfect pet.

Once a breed is chosen, it is time to build an enclosure. A well-built chicken coop is key to survival. Small houses, for egg laying and sleeping, can be purchased at feed and hardware stores, or you can build your own. Make sure you provide enough room inside the house for each chicken to be comfortable. Overcrowding can be detrimental to your chicken’s health. During the day, your chickens should have room to roam. If you do not want your chickens to have free range of your entire property, a chicken run can be built to keep your chickens located in one spot. When building an enclosure make sure you make it as predator proof as possible. It is sad to lose your chickens to a fox or raccoon.

If you buy chicks, keep them warm. Purchase heat lamps. Having the heat lamp at the correct distance from the chicks is also important. Chicks that are cold will huddle together and directly under the beam of the heat lamp. Chicks that are hot will disperse and get as far away from the heat as possible. Adjust the distance of the lamp from the chicks as needed.

Make sure to buy food and “chicken starter.” The “chicken starter” has essential nutrients and antibiotics that your chicks will need to stay healthy and develop properly. You can also add cracked corn and oyster shells. These are good for their feathers and eggs. Always have fresh water available. Some chickens like to stand in their water when they drink so you either need to change their water every day or provide a waterer that they cannot step in.

Then, watch them grow and to reap the many benefits. Depending on the season and breed of your chickens, they will typically start laying eggs around 6 months old. Besides companionship, this is probably No. 1 reason for raising chickens. Many personally believe that eggs you buy at the grocery store do not compare to your backyard chickens eggs. Fresh chicken eggs from free-range chickens taste much better and contain less fat, less cholesterol, more Omega-3 and are higher in vitamins. Plus, you don’t have go to the store to buy the eggs; they are delivered fresh and free every day.

Chickens poop, a lot. However, once the manure has been composting for a while it is great for your plants. Chicken manure provides essential phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium to your plants (which is more than horse or cattle manure).

Chickens love to scratch at the ground. In some ways this may seem destructive. However the disturbance of rocks, grass and underbrush is quite helpful. The scratching helps aerate soils and break down vegetation. This speeds up the process of decomposition, making the soil healthier so other plants may grow. Their search for bugs is also great pest control.

Chickens are natural garbage disposals, taking care of your unwanted leftovers. While chicken scratch and cracked corn may be their regular diets, chickens love a little treat here and there.

Chickens also provide entertainment. They are great learning devices for children. Chickens are fairly easy to tend to; simple tasks such as collecting eggs and throwing food to the birds is fun.

If you spend time with your birds they will become tame. And they don’t mind being picked up and held. Chickens are social birds and will come running in a pack when you come home. They will follow you around like dogs, strutting around, carrying on conversations. They will put a smile on your face.

Special to the Democrat

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