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Chickens are simple creatures, with simple needs and strong instincts. Understanding their instincts and needs will play a big role in being a good chicken keeper with a happy flock.
Instincts seem to be programmed into the DNA of any species and are what allows many to survive domestication and thrive. Domestic chickens live alongside us and depend on our good care to live productive and healthy lives.
It doesn’t matter if you have one chicken or 70; during every 24 hour period it’s vital they be provided water, food, and shelter. Caring for chickens is a 24/7 responsibility once you own them.
A healthy chicken could probably survive a day or so without any food or water, depending on weather conditions; but this isn’t something to try. Birds have a high metabolism and need digestible nutritious food with water regularly through the day.
For good care, most chickens should have access to food and water during all daylight hours and any hours that you light the coop. Chickens that get plenty of exercise and good food generally don’t overeat.
Chickens daily fill themselves near the end of the afternoon, filling their crops, in preparation for 8 -14 hours of fasting in darkness overnight. Caring for chickens is easy when you understand their habits.
Large chickens can fill their crop with food and water near the size of a baseball, some softball size. As they sleep through the night this food is digesting giving them nutrients to stay warm through a cold night, to be active in the morning and possibly lay eggs the next day.
Besides filling their crops, as afternoon turns to sunset, chickens respond to darkening skies by seeking shelter for the night. They have excellent vision during the day but little to none at night.
One of a chicken’s strongest instincts is to find a place to roost where they are safe from night-time predators. Unable to see in the dark they can’t see an approaching attacker or escape. When caring for chickens you need to protect them day and night.
The wild relatives of our domesticated chicken breeds, the Red Junglefowl, fly up into trees for the night where they are safe from most predators, and fly down at daybreak to feed. For all domesticated chickens it’s recommended to provide a coop or chicken house with roosting perches so chickens feel safe at night.
Domesticated chickens haven’t lost this survival instinct. It’s important to close up the coop at night to prevent predators from getting in with chickens.
When chickens feel safe in their coop at night they return on their own each evening before dark. Chickens that have been scared or attacked in the coop at night, if they survive, will probably find another place to sleep the next night, making it a big chore to round up and protect them.
Caring for chickens means locking them safely inside at night so predators will learn there’s no free meal at your coop. Once predators are successful at your coop, their instincts will tell them to return for more.
Chickens need a good eight hours of sleep each night, in the dark. They also need to get out in the sun during the day. Keeping chickens inside away from daylight or keeping a light on in the coop all night will lead to weak and sick chickens.
With these three aspects: food, water and shelter in place each day, you’ll have what you need for a healthy and happy flock. Let’s look just a little deeper into these basics of caring for chickens:
FOOD: Buy the best chicken feed you can afford and choose the right type for the purpose of your chickens. General feed options: Chick Start, Grower, Layer, Conditioning, and Breeder.
Chickens need fresh greens often, daily is best. Allowing chickens to roam through lawns or grassy pasture for a few hours before dark, will keep them close to home, provide exercise and a well balanced diet.
Providing whole live seeds, like safflower and black oil sunflower, gives enzymes, protein and good fat. Chicken Scratch is often mostly corn and milo, both low grade food sources.
WATER: A sturdy source, that won't tip over holding more than a day’s worth of water is important.
Scrubbing out water containers, more often in warm weather, will prevent unhealthy levels of bacteria from polluting chicken waterers. When caring for chickens a clean water supply is as important as good food.
SHELTER: The chicken house or chicken coop should offer shelter from night time predators, cold winds and drafts, heavy rains and snow. An average of four square feet per chicken indoors can help chickens feel at ease.
With roosts, nests, food and water inside the coop, chickens can stay inside if they choose.
Attached to the chicken coop it’s good to have a chicken yard or run. 10 square feet of yard per chicken is minimum for chickens confined to the coop and yard at all times. If raising small chicks or chickens, a covered yard will protect from birds of prey.
By the way, have you yet to build your coop? Wondering which way to turn in terms of using quality chicken coop plans?
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