Over recent years, many people have taken the plunge and decide to keep chickens.
Unfortunately, some people have done so without doing even basic research into the care and upkeep of their flock.
Subsequently, some birds languish or die simply from lack of appropriate care or attention.
This is certainly something you don’t want and something which can be easily avoided.
We have put together some of the most common ways in which chicks or chickens health and survival can be severely impacted and what you can do to avoid these things.
This is the number one cause of death for many chicks. Setting up the heat lamp safely is very important, not only for the safety of your birds, but your property too. The number of coop or barn fires caused by heat lamps that have not been secured correctly is depressing.
In springtime people get ready for the chicks- preparing the brooder, bedding etc. and of course, a heat lamp. Heat of some type is needed to keep the chicks warm through their first few weeks of life.
I cannot stress enough to double and triple check the securing of the heat lamp. If the lamp should fall into the bedding, it will start a fire in less than two minutes as the heat from the lamp is that intense.
I have recently used a heating plate for my chicks with great success and little fear of fire. I do, however, use a heat lamp on occasion. I use a metal chain to suspend the fixture, duct tape to secure the wiring and an extra securing with strong twine for securing all!
We have talked in our complete guide to raising chickens in winter about heating the coop during winter. Adult chickens do not need extra heat over the winter. They are able to keep themselves warm enough, adding a lamp is not necessary.
Family Pets (Dogs!)
Dogs love to chase things- rabbits, cats, the mailman, and baby chicks.
It is their nature to do this and expecting them to not chase chicks is a bit optimistic. Dogs can be trained to interact with chickens, but it takes time and patience on everyone’s behalf.
Many folks have dogs and cats happily co-existing with their flock.
Training a puppy is best since they can be trained easily at this age. An older dog can learn but the process will be longer and many folks do not have the time or patience for correction training.
If you simply don’t have the time, ensure that your chickens are safe from your dog. Be aware that smaller terrier type dogs will dig under wire, so you need to protect against that possibility by burying your wire mesh.
Lack of Security
Chicken is a favorite dinner for many predators- foxes, raccoons, hawks and so forth, so you need to have top notch security for your birds.
This is a good place to note that chicken wire keeps chickens in- but will not keep predators out! Many people have found this out the hard way thinking their birds are secure and safe only to find it wasn’t so.
Your coop should be able to withstand assault from many different sources. Rats for instance will gnaw through the base or side of a run to access the feed, eggs or small chicks. Always check your coop perimeters weekly for signs of damage.
A good way to ensure they don’t eat through the floor of the coop is to cover it with half inch hardware cloth. This prevents them from gaining access to your flock.
We all know how cute raccoons are right? You won’t think so if one gets into your coop.
They are incredibly smart and can figure out how to open simple locks. It has been said that if a three year old child can open the lock, so can a raccoon. Use locking mechanisms that require an opposable thumb to open- raccoons can’t open these.
Foxes, coyotes, weasels will all try to dig into your run and coop. Be sure that your perimeters are safe and remember to bury your hardware mesh.
Hawks are difficult to protect against if you pasture your chickens.
Birds of prey are protected species so cannot be trapped or harmed. If you have an outside run, try to cover it over with wire mesh (chicken wire will do here). If that isn’t possible, string a thick twine or similar across the top of the run in a random fashion.
The idea is to disrupt the flight path of the bird and make it extremely difficult to enter and leave the run from above.
It is said that if you have poultry you will have vermin. Rats, mice, voles and chipmunks will all visit the henhouse looking for food.
There are several ways to deter these visitors and one of them is the use of poison. Bait stations can be enclosed so that chickens cannot reach the poison itself, but the rodent will leave the station and go to die somewhere else.
If the carcass is found by the chickens they will peck at it and possibly eat it- they can become very ill or simply die themselves.
There are three different types of poison in common use:
- Bromethalin: This is a very potent neurotoxin that kills within twenty four hours. This type of poison has no antidote, so should not be used around livestock, pets or small children.
- Vitamin Based: Will kill within twenty four hours. This does have an antidote but should be used cautiously when animals, birds and small children are present.
- Anti-Coagulants: Probably the most widely used poison around. It is slow acting so takes time to be effective. Again, this needs to be used cautiously around livestock. If you suspect an animal has ingested any of these, call the veterinarian immediately.
Always use poison with extreme caution around any livestock, pets and children. Animals can and do eat poisoned meat and become sick themselves.
Chickens and Chemicals Don’t Mix!
If you house your chickens in a barn or some other multi-purpose building, make sure any chemicals are safely stored away.
Chickens are plain nosey and will investigate just about anything if they think its food!
Bleach, gasoline, oils, antifreeze should all be contained within a cupboard or placed out of reach for your hens.
Livestock medicines are potentially deadly to hens if they can access an open container. They are incredibly curious creatures and will investigate almost anything, so be sure to close all containers tightly.
Glass, Wire and Nails
Whilst they are pecking around for grit and tidbits they may pick up small pieces of glass, wire, nails or other metal odds. The item is likely to lodge in the gizzard where it can cause bleeding, infection or even death.
If you are working on a project make sure you clean up all your stuff. Have a small container on hand for any detritus to go into so the hens can’t eat them!
In the summer heat, each hen can drink around a pint of water a day. They absolutely must have access to clean, fresh water at all times.
I use three separate one gallon drinkers for thirty hens and I fill these daily at least once. If you are unable to check on the status of your drinkers frequently, simply buy bigger drinkers. It’s quite easy to figure out how much water they will need- one hen = one pint.
It is important to have more than one drinking station. Occasionally you will get a hen that will guard her drinker so the lowest in the pecking order may get deprived.
Dehydration can quickly overcome a hen, eventually leading to death. If a hen has not had consistent access to water through the day, she will not lay eggs well for the next couple of weeks.
We all love to spoil our girls with treats and special ‘tidbits’. Please make sure you aren’t giving them something that is bad for them!
Here are some of the foods they should not be given.
Absolute no-nos’- chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, raw dried beans, moldy produce, avocados’ and salty stuff.
There is controversy over the humble potato– some people say absolutely no, others will feed cooked peelings or mashed potato to their flock. The potato and tomato are both members of the nightshade family so if you’re cautious it’s wise to stay away from them.
If you feed apples to your girls, do try to remove the seeds as they contain trace amounts of cyanide.
Having said that, chickens have been trawling through orchards for years and few have died from eating apple seeds.
Rhubarb leaves are also toxic to chickens. I have two hens that ate all of my rhubarb leaves last year! They are still alive, but I’m not sure what the long term effects may be.
If you are reading this, you are unlikely to be neglecting your birds!
There are people who expect their hens to be completely self- sufficient and do not buy any feed believing that the chicken can find enough to live on in the yard.
Certainly in earlier times this was the norm for chickens.
They would scratch around on the farm and gather enough substance to stay alive. It should also be noted that in the ‘old time’ hens laid considerably fewer eggs because their diet was so bad.
Chickens can also be ‘hoarded’ just like cats and dogs. In these instances usually animal rescue services get involved. In fact, many bird rescue places will try to rehome hens with responsible owners.
We all love to let out girls out to patrol the yard and dispatch unwelcome guests such as caterpillars and bugs. Are your garden plants safe for them to nibble at?
I think most people know that foxglove gives us digitalis, a potent medicine that lowers the heart rate. It is most definitely not for chicken consumption!
Some of the other toxic plants on the list are: holly, lobelia angels’ trumpet, jimsonweed, pokeberry, sweet pea, honeysuckle, bleeding hearts, myrtle and elderberry.
This is by no means a comprehensive list these are just a few of the many toxic plants out there.
Interestingly, many of those plants mentioned are also poisonous to humans too! Chickens are pretty smart (mostly) and avoid things they should not eat.
Lack of Health Care/Checks
As we all know chickens aren’t much bothered by HMOs’.
They do however, need regular health checks. They can suffer from a variety of pests and parasites, so it is up to the responsible keeper to do regular checks on each bird.
Parasites such as mites can make a bird become so anemic that the bird will die. A worm infestation can cause birds to drop weight, become lethargic and non-productive- gapeworm can even cause a bird to suffocate!
Every day when you see your girls, you should be making mental notes- Emily seems depressed today, Betty is preening excessively etc. Each of these mental notes will guide you when you check your hen over.
Sometimes there isn’t anything obvious wrong, but you get the feeling somethings ‘up’.
This is being in tune with your flock and catching problems before they get out of hand. To ignore subtle warning signs is not a good policy and can be detrimental to the wellbeing of your entire flock.
Too Much Diatomaceous Earth
There’s a truth to the saying, too much of anything is a bad thing. And when it comes to diatomaceous earth (DE) there isn’t any better way of saying it.
While DE is thought to rid chickens of external, and internal parasites, too much can cause respiratory problems.
It’s easy to go gung-ho on the DE in your coop, especially when you know there are mites present, but it’s best to remove your chickens before dusting the entire coop. The particles (the silty silica) in DE are easily inhaled and can cause your chickens to have breathing problems, and even die if they’ve inhaled too much.
This is especially concerning if you keep your chickens in a confined area, where they can’t escape the dust from DE.
Mixing DE with other types of dirt and soil can be helpful in avoiding problems, but whenever using DE take care not to overdo it and suffocate your chickens.
Even if you are a diligent and caring flock keeper, accidents can and do happen. You cannot be perfect all of the time.
Many of the things mentioned here you are likely already doing because you love your ladies!
We hope that this article has opened your eyes to a few potential hazards to your flock and made you think about your own situation and how it can perhaps be improved or changed.
Do you have any other accidents to add to the list? Let us know in the comments below…