Backyard chickens are pets and need proper care too! I can’t begin to tell you how much I love having chickens in my life. They are so sweet and will follow you all over the yard. And I always feel like a little kid when I retrieve eggs out of the hen house.

Backyard chickens have become so popular as of late, I just wanted to cover a few things about them to help you give them the best life possible.

**For those who have hens: please consider adding a few extra hens to your flock & donating the eggs to your local food bank or church that helps the needy. It’s a fun way for your chickens to give back, and you get all the credit! :) 
basic information
In a typical lifetime, chickens can suffer from bacterial infections, egg yolk peritonitis, mites, lice, worms, etc.. They need the expert care of a veterinarian, just like your cats and dogs do. And just like parrots, your money is most wisely spent if you go to an avian veterinarian. You don’t necessarily need to do regular check ups on your chickens, but it is good to get a group fecal test done once or twice a year, and of course employ some sort of treatment & care if you chicken is showing signs of illness.

Hens & roosters should be fed a combination of lay pellets, chicken scratch & fresh foods, as well as oyster shells as a calcium source for the laying hens. Even if your chickens are free ranging for pest control, they need supplemental food in addition to all the good bugs. Now chicken pellets/crumble are usually of extremely low quality - filled with cheap fillers of soy and corn. Whenever you can, choose a pellet/crumble that is organic - or at least one that doesn’t list corn and soy as the first ingredients! A low soy, multigrain formula is best - although they are hard to find. When in doubt, buy Organic Pride Lay Pellets by Purina. For chicken scratch, I’ve found that the King Means Quality scratch is the best (great for pellets/crumble too.) And don’t forget that chickens need fresh foods too! Feeding them fresh veggies & fruits, cooked grains and leftovers from your meals makes very happy chickens! Many times you can get great “leftovers” from your local grocery store or farmer’s markets. 

Free ranging chickens can pick up mites & lice - usually from wild birds. I find the easiest way to examine a bird is to pick it up at night while it is roosting. then check their backside at the cloaca/butt area as well as separate the feathers around the neck, through the feathers and under the wings and look at the bare skin. You may see millimeter light brown bugs moving around - those are lice. Or you may see little black dots moving around - those are mites. Mites can also burrow into the feet to cause “scaly mites’ - that’s where the scales o the feet lift up and it all kinda turns white/crusty on the feet.

If they have lice, dust them with Sevin powder which is a inexpensive plant pesticide that can be purchased at a hardware store/nursery such as Home Depot. By dusting we mean sprinkling little bits of the powder onto their skin (you need to separate the feathers) - especially around the cloaca area. 

But if they have mites running around or scaly mites,  you most likely need ivermectin which you need to give to the chicken internally. It’s a small dose given by syringe once a week for four weeks - but you need the right dilultion of .27% and the dose from a veterinarian (sevin powder does not kill them of.) Please call your avian veterinarian for the dosing amount. 

They can also pick up worms from the wild birds - you can tell by getting a group fecal done at vet office. I take a little from a bunch of different chickens and we see what comes up (you also kinda learn to tell by just looking at the poop.) If that is the case for your flock, use a dewormer like Wazine from the feed store a couple times a year. You just add a bit to their water. To note though, Wazine has been overused over the years so if it doesn’t work, you may need to get a dewormer from your vet - but I found Wazine to work just fine.

Clean water is also a must! Please clean out your waterer now and again with a bleach solution to cut down on bacterial growth.
rescue, breed or buy?
Chickens are facing overpopulation issues just as many other animals are. If you do a search on Petfinder or similar, you’ll be surprised to see how many chickens are at the shelters.

I believe in rescuing all types of animals vs. buying them because there are so many animals in need. But when you rescue, you put your chicken flock at risk for many types of viruses - there are too many to list here. Even with quarantine and making sure the chicken is healthy, they still carry viruses that can, for example, cause cancer! It’s very frustrating.  

Some folks will keep their flocks “closed” and only purchase chicks from a feed store or a hatchery where they have a better ideas of what stock they are getting. This is understandable as the practice theoretically should protect the chickens you have. But please note, the chickens can even pick up viruses at the hatchery so they may come to you as chicks carrying the viruses.

Other folks want to get young chicks to get the most eggs from the younger chicken. But hens lay almost all of their lives and still produce many eggs in their older years. I adopted battery hens that were destined for slaughter at a year and a half old as after that, they do not produce the “maximum” amount of eggs. But my girls still lay eggs every single day. What a waste to take their life just because they don’t meet a quota. Many times the amount of eggs a hen lays is related to the quality of diet and conditions that the hen is in. If you give your hens a good life, they will lay eggs for many years for you.

I feel I have to rescue chickens as there are too many looking for homes. I’ve rescued many in my own flock and I also help place chickens from the humane society. If you want to adopt, you should easily be able to find chickens looking for homes.

If you are patient and willing to do a little research, you may be able to rescue/adopt many chickens from one source. An individual may be moving and need to place his backyard flock, or a humane society or animal sanctuary may be doing a large rescue from a farm or confiscation case. It actually happens more often than you may realize.

And if you need more chickens than you can find to adopt, you may be surprised to find out we actually say that the good sustainable way would be to breed your own. It is too much fun! And the baby chicks will *actually* get to grow up with the loving care of their mother rather than being hatched in an incubator, dumped into a box for shipping, and never being able to sit under their mom and learn from her how to be a chicken. It is just not right. We so easily accept this treatment for chickens but I sure don’t see us signing puppies & kittens up for this! Baby chicks deserve the love of their mother just like all babies do. Now usually 50% of the chicks will be roosters and most people cannot keep that many roosters so that’s why they buy from hatcheries. The hatcheries handle the 50% rooster issue by killing the boy chicks immediately - and in a horrible way. Can you imagine just being born as a boy gets you killed? Then many people who breed their own chickens grow the roosters for meat - which is much better than just buying chicken meat from a factory farm source if you give them a good, happy life before slaughter - but this website is about saving rooster lives (I became vegetarian long ago) & our goal is to create a culture where roosters are useful, needed & in demand! 

Now animal rights groups would most likely say you should give up eggs altogether and not even have backyard chickens, then you won’t have ‘roos that need rescuing. OK - but this is just not really realistic as most people will not give up eating chicken eggs and then you actually miss out on the special relationship between humans & animals. In the past, people had very close relationships with their livestock and all the animals were “employed” in some way for healthy interdependence. They usually were treated quite well as the people depending on their animals for their own survival! At Save the Cocks, we say hens are mainly employed for eggs and the ‘roos are employed for pest control. You can read more about how to get your roosters employed on the WHY RESCUE A ‘ROO PAGE.  

But in the end it would be much better to let your hens raise their own babies so that your chicks can grow up with mom. It’s true sustainability, and really the only kind thing to do for chickens. But we’re not recommending you just start hatching away - please plan ahead to see what placement you can find for any roosters you cannot keep before you start - and who knows, maybe we can help!

Another option on all of this is to find someone who is breeding chickens locally and lets the mother hen raise them until they are at least 4 weeks old. At least you are letting the chicks be parent raised - just find out what they do with all the roosters :)

If you must buy from a hatchery, we encourage you to order a straight run of chicks - meaning both boys & girls included. Please keep the roosters that arrive or find good homes for them. Again, if you only order girls, all the boys that hatch will be killed at the hatchery. 

In the end though, our motto is ADOPT WHENEVER YOU CAN! The animals will thank you for it! :)
free range vs. coops?
 Both are right! I prefer free range as I love to see my chickens out in the yard running around, gobbling up anything they can. If you do this though, you want to try to keep you flock as safe as possible so for homeowners, having a 6-8’ fence around your yard is ideal, or install an electric fence. At least make sure that the chickens go into a predator proof hen house at night - remembering that you have to let them out in the morning! If you don’t provide predator proof housing of some sort, you can attract wildlife that learns there’s an easy dinner waiting at your house. You end up just “feeding the the bobcats & raccoons” which can become a big problem.

But free range chickens are more likely to get mites, lice & parasites so be sure to check them. Plus with the scare of the avian flu, any free range chickens are put at risk. So building a bio-secure, predator proof chicken coop can keep your chickens healthy. A bio-secure coop needs 1/2” aviary wire so that wild birds cannot get into the coop. It also needs a roof on it and secure base so no rodents or predators can get in. The coop will need to be large enough to give all of your chickens proper space, and you’ll need to fit a hen house within it. You’ll also have to maintain the inside, keeping it clean and fresh, like raking it out and then adding fresh pine shavings.

click  here to read my rant on “predator Proof” housing >


Check out the book, 


It’s quite informative on chicken care and gives a lot of info on predator proofing your coop.
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