Pet & Backyard Chickens at All West
There has been an increase of pet, backyard, and urban chickens in Bozeman in the past few years due to new city ordinances that allow such. More recently, Belgrade is working to pass an urban chicken ordinance to allow its citizens to also keep chickens. This has been an exciting thing for chicken enthusiasts in our area! With that, All West Veterinary Hospital has seen more chickens and answered more calls regarding chickens than ever before. We proudly offer excellent service and care for all avian creatures including chickens.
Chicken Keeping 101: Basic Husbandry
Keep your chickens in a clean, dry and well-ventilated (but not windy) coop. Providing a predator proof coop and pen is very important to the longevity of your chickens! Bed your coop with pine shavings to absorb urine and feces; add straw in the winter for insulation. As a general rule of thumb, for backyard chicken keeping, birds need 4sq feet of indoor coop space and 10sq feet of outdoor/pen space. Crowding of birds can cause hen pecking, generally unhappy birds, and unsanitary living conditions. Provide a place in the coop for birds to roost (multiple areas and levels if more than three birds), and a nesting box (1 per 3 birds) to lay their eggs.
Ample food and water should be available at all times. A good “layer” feed should be available full time, and providing a selection of kitchen scraps to your birds is a great way to enhance their diets! When your bird is molting (biannual shedding of their feathers), be sure to provide food that has a higher percentage of protein, 16% or more. Feathers are made of nearly 80% protein! When a bird is molting, their egg production slows, and their body focuses on generating new feathers. Foods for your chickens to avoid include citruses, overly salty food, onion, and overly starchy foods. It is important to have a free-choice calcium source, such as oyster shells, always available to allow for strong eggshell production. Free ranging can be a great pastime for your birds that might get bored being penned up all the time. Make sure that your birds are supervised to avoid encounters with neighborhood dogs or people who might not enjoy a chicken scratching in their garden. If your birds are not free range, it is important to provide some opportunity for foraging to prevent boredom and aggression.
Be sure to inspect your birds regularly for parasites like mites and lice, which can be transferred from wild birds. These little bugs can stress your birds, reduce egg production, and are generally not good for the overall health of your bird. These little insects can usually be found in the fine fluff feathers around the chicken’s vent and under their wings and are very easily dealt with by dusting your birds with a powdered pesticide from the local farm store. Keeping the coop clean can also help to reduce parasite numbers, and adding diatomaceous earth to their dust baths can minimize parasites as well. Always read the label when treating your birds with any products! And don’t fear: these disgusting little creatures are species specific, meaning you don’t have to worry about becoming infected with them yourself. Remember to always wash your hands before and after handling your chickens as their eggs and their feces can carry communicable diseases like salmonella.
Chickens do very well when consistently provided with all of the things to meet their basic needs. They make great companions for families with children and anybody who has an available backyard space. We look forward to hearing from our clients with any chicken questions or concerns! Happy chicken raising, and enjoy all those eggs!
This article was written by Megan McGaffigan Lang, an Equine Technician at All West Veterinary Hospital. She is an avid chicken enthusiast who has 5 of her own backyard pet chickens. Photo credit poultryhaus.com.