Chook health is the focus of a new initiative by a poultry feed company aimed at preparing the backyard chicken for spring.
Poultry enthusiasts are being encouraged to follow 10 steps in an attempt to improve a chook's performance as they enter the spring flush.
The spring flush takes place about this time of year when a gland in the chooks' brain recognises winter is ending and signals their body to start, restart or ramp up egg production.
Barastoc animal nutritionist Elise Davine said it happened at the start of each laying season.
"Whether people get them primarily for eggs, as pets, to help teach kids, or to help breakdown food scraps and fertilise the garden, the basics of supporting your chooks' health and performance remains the same," she said.
The company has released a 10-step guide to coincide with its National Chook Health Week to improve chicken health as conditions throughout Victoria warm up.
Ms Davine said the tips would boost the well-being and egg-laying of the chook, as well as prevent disease and injury.
The top 10 tips include:
- Know the rules of the game: Regulations on keeping poultry vary across Australia and cover things like how many birds you're allowed to keep and whether roosters are allowed in the mix. Check with your council for more information.
- Pick your team for their natural abilities: What's your reason for wanting chooks? For a bountiful supply of eggs commercial hybrids with high egg-laying potential (such as ISA Browns or Hy-line Browns) are ideal. If you are wanting 'chooks with looks' breeds such as Plymouth Rocks, Barnevelders, Silkies, Polishes, Frizzles and Sebrights will be great companions even if egg numbers are less.
- Room to move: You'll need at least 0.4 square metres of floor space per bird in a coop, bearing in mind their need to stretch their wings and play around.
- Protect players from injury: Be mindful of threats include foxes and feral cats. The enclosure you install must be strong enough to keep your chooks safe, particularly at night.
- Ensure the coop is fit for purpose: Chooks like to lay in a place that's comfortable, private, clean and secure.
- Hydrate: Surface water or any water that could be contaminated by wild birds can affect your hens. Try to keep the container off the ground so it stays free of droppings and deter your chickens from standing or walking through it.
- Foster team dynamics: Monitor the situation and intervene if necessary during the settling-in period of new chooks to make sure nobody gets hurt.
- Is there a doctor in the (hen) house? Familiarise yourself with common poultry diseases and watch your chooks closely - chickens will do their utmost to hide any signs of illness.
- Yellow card: It's not just sportspeople that need to be sent off occasionally; poultry can develop undesirable tendencies, too. Watch for unwelcome behaviour such as broodiness, egg-eating, and plucking at feathers or pecking other birds, and be prepared to step in. Don't be afraid to isolate a bird for a few days or add toys or distractions into the pen or garden.
- Eat right: Backyard chooks love foraging in the garden. However, the average backyard does not contain nearly enough quality food for domestic poultry. Guarantee their health by providing a complete, balanced commercial feed with calcium for eggshell and bone strength.