If you want your backyard chickens to be as healthy and happy as possible, you’ll need to create the right environment for them. For the most part, chickens aren’t picky; as long as they have some food, some water, and enough space to move around, they’ll have the potential to thrive. But if you’re interested in having healthy chickens who live long lives and produce better eggs, you’ll need to take some extra preparatory steps.
How to Make a Better Environment for Your Chickens
Food and Water
Chickens are omnivores. In other words, they’ll eat just about anything. But if you want your chickens to have all the vitamins and minerals they need, you’ll need to feed them a varied diet.
Chicken feed is a good start, especially if you supplement it with additional snacks for chickens. You can also allow your chickens to graze in your yard and put out additional kitchen scraps for them; old bread and vegetables are common favorites. If you want to supplement your chickens’ calcium intake, you can also feed them crushed shells from old eggs.
You’ll also need to make water readily available for your chickens at all times and change the water daily. If you live in a colder climate, you may also want to invest in a heated water bowl.
The Chicken Coop
Now for the coop. The chickens will spend a lot of time in and around the coop, so it’s important to upgrade it with all the features your chickens need to stay safe, healthy, and ready to lay eggs.
- Security. For starters, you’ll need to think about security. Chickens are tasty targets of a number of predators, including foxes and coyotes – but also household pets like dogs and cats. Most people invest in fine wire mesh to ward off potential predators. It’s also important to outfit the bottom of the coop with wire mesh to prevent the possibility of rodents like rats from burrowing in; rodents are often attracted by the smell of chicken manure.
- Ventilation. You’ll also need to consider the ventilation of the coop. Chickens are prone to respiratory diseases; it’s very easy for them to develop lung disorders and other illnesses that can compromise their health and (in some cases) kill them. One of the easiest ways to prevent this is to improve air circulation in the coop – in addition to keeping the coop clean, which we’ll talk about later.
- Perches. Chickens use perches to roost and sleep at night. The perches don’t need to be very high or very wide, but they should give your chickens plenty of room. If you have multiple chickens, you’ll also need to make sure they have at least a few inches of space between them when roosting together or they’ll get overcrowded.
- Nesting boxes. Nesting boxes are where your chickens will lay eggs in an ideal environment. However, if your chickens feel unsafe or stressed, or if the nesting boxes aren’t adequate, they’ll be reluctant to lay. Most chickens prefer their nesting boxes to be somewhere dark and out of the way, so they don’t feel threatened.
- Overall space. Coops don’t need to be enormous, but they also shouldn’t be cramped. Half a square meter of space per chicken is the standard recommendation here. That should be plenty of room to allow your chickens to nest, roost, and move around.
- Cleanliness. Chickens need a clean environment to stay healthy and happy, just like any other creature. Invest in a coop that has a removable bedding tray to make your life easier; you’ll need to change it out on a regular basis.
Behaviors and Interactions
You’ll also need to modify how you interact with chickens and how they’re allowed to act.
- Allow free roaming. Most chickens are happier when they have the ability to roam around in the yard; don’t keep them cooped up 100 percent of the time. They enjoy walking and grazing.
- Keep a routine. Just like many of us, chickens thrive when they have a steady, familiar routine. Do your best to feed them at the same times every day and keep a consistent sleep schedule. They’ll get used to it and will be stressed if their routine changes.
- Learn to recognize sounds of distress. Chickens growl when threatened, serving as a warning before they peck. They may also squawk if they feel like they’re in imminent danger.
- Provide stimulating activities. Chickens are simple creatures, but they can get bored and stressed if not stimulated. Provide enriching activities to keep them interested. Chicken swings, chicken toys, and even simple mirrors can help keep them entertained.
With these points in mind, you can greatly improve your chickens’ living situation. Over time, they’ll be healthier, happier, and better capable of providing you with delicious eggs (and eventually, meat).