First, let’s define a healthy flock. A healthy flock is comprised of individual chickens that are vibrant and free of illness and signs of illness, no mites or other critters are present—there are no shortcomings in diet, housing, nest boxes, dusting area, manure management and so forth. And if it’s a laying flock, the flock is laying eggs that free of signs of shortcomings. We’ve selected breeds appropriate for our climate and situation. And lastly, if and when there are signs of illness then holistic remediation is swift and thorough.
Supporting a Healthy Flock
- Housing. Housing should be appropriate for the flock and the situation. There should be consideration of climate, flock management strategies (confined, part-time confinement, pastured, etc), breed size and temperament. Housing should protect the flock from predators, have plenty of ventilation along with nest boxes, dusting boxes, roosting bar, and so forth. You might want to consider the use of diatomaceous earth for the prevention of mites and other creepy crawlies. Provide protection from the sun and heat as well as from mud and muck. Keep in mind that chicken wire, chain link fence, and so forth will not protect the flock from all predators. Yes, it's true there's a certain amount of blissful denial regarding predation in urban areas--but once you start housing prey, other animals will notice! Provide protection from predators.
- Diet. Listen to episode 14 for more on diet. Be sure that the diet is meeting the flock's nutritional needs--perhaps seasonal changes are appropriate or perhaps the rations should be increased or decreased. You might want to add diatomaceous earth to the feed. Offer plenty of diversity including things like forage, black soldier fly larvae, quality kitchen trimmings, and so forth. Consider supplements such as apple cider vinegar, whey, yogurt, and other fermented foods. Offer grit and oyster shell (or other source of calcium).
- Water. Clean, available at all times. Using chicken nipples can support access to clean water at all times--be sure the nipples are installed as they are intended to be used including proper height, angle, and number of nipples. Be sure to monitor water level in the water reservoir if you are using one---I use a top off strategy so that it doesn't get overlooked. The size of the reservoir should be more than adequate for those hot-hot days! Since eggs are mostly water and hydrated chickens are key to lovely eggs--moderating the temperature can be a good thing. Add ice during the peak of the day during heat waves. If I know that I am going to be out in the afternoon and it going to get hot, then I will use two gallons or so of ice (all the ice the ice bin in our freezer holds) and fill the rest of the bucket with water. If you are in a cold climate where the water could freeze, definitely be sure that the water isn't frozen. But, encouraging drinking by providing water at a 75 degrees or so is wonderful for the chickens.
- Plastic. Plastic seems to be everywhere. Protect the flock from nasty plastic bits. Tarps often degrade in the sun and spit out plastic bits. Fruit and vegetable labels and tags. Plastic chipped along with organic material. Plastic can congest the crop and vent. Yuk!
Monitor for Early Indicators of Problems
Watchful eyes and record keeping can spot problems early. Unusual behavior, deterioration in appearance, changes in droppings, sudden and unexplained drops in the rate of lay, and so on can be indicators of problems. Keep a copy of The Chicken Health Handbook on hand and it's good to know other chicken keepers who can provide insight and guidance.
What to do When There is a Death in the Flock?
Sometimes chickens die. And while it's not the most pleasant of subjects it is a reality. Last year I wrote a post about being ready to handle a death in the flock.
- Gail Damerow (1994). The Chicken Health Handbook. Storey Publishing. ISBN: 9780882666112.
- Harvey Ussery (2011). The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An All-natural approach to raising chickens and other fowl for home and market growers. Chelsea Green. ISBN: 9781603582902.
- Special thanks to Dale, Nia, and Steph for all the love and support!
- Raleigh, the guy I love to hate when it comes to all things internet.
- Aaron Glasson, Permaculture Velocity logo
- Music: Tell Somebody by Alex Beroza featuring AdmiralBob, digccmixter, licensed underCreative Commons 3.0
- And to all those podcasters out there sharing good information on podcasting for those of us just getting going with this podcast thing! Thank you!