10+ Tips for Healthy Chickens

All backyard chicken-keepers have an interest in keeping their pet chickens healthy and happy and making minor adjustments to various aspects of their care can have a significant impact on their health and longevity. There are a number of small steps that can be taken to promote the health of backyard chickens.
A few basic principles of good chicken management have a significant impact on their health and longevity. Here are a number of small steps that can be taken to promote the health of backyard chickens.Provide the correct feed: As basic as it sounds, chickens must be fed properly to perform optimally and to be healthy. Even though our great grandparents may have fed their flocks cracked corn or scratch, advances in science and the work of poultry nutritionists reveals that backyard chickens require much more nutritionally to live long, healthy lives, while producing nutritious eggs. Chickens at different stages of development require different feed formulations.1. Provide the correct feed: As basic as it sounds, chickens must be fed properly to perform optimally and to be healthy. Even though our great grandparents may have fed their flocks cracked corn or scratch, advances in science and the work of poultry nutritionists reveals that backyard chickens require much more nutritionally to live long, healthy lives, while producing nutritious eggs. Chickens at different stages of development require different feed formulations.

While the feed manufacturer’s recommendations for their products should always be followed, generally speaking, day old chicks through eight weeks old should be provided with starter feed. Adolescent chickens up to 18 weeks of age should be fed a grower or a flock-raiser type ration and laying hens should be fed layer ration no earlier than 18 weeks of age or the the appearance of their first egg. Layer feed contains calcium that laying hens need for eggshell production but is detrimental to younger birds.
While layer feed contains added calcium, an additional source of calcium, such as oyster shells or crushed eggshells, should be made available in a separate dish, apart from the feed.While layer feed contains added calcium, an additional source of calcium, such as oyster shells or oyster shells mixed with crushed eggshells, should be made available to laying hens.
My chickens get small amounts of scratch occasionally.
2. Ferment the Chicken Feed
Fermenting chicken feed improves the digestibility and nutritional value of feed, making various components more usable (aka: bioavailable) to the chicken and increasing the protein content while supporting digestive health and immunity with probiotics. Learn more about the benefits of fermenting chicken feed and how easy it is to do, HERE.
This article outlines the basic benefits of feed fermentation for backyard chickens and shows how to do it in 3 easy steps. Fermenting is easy and the advantages for chickens, significant.3. LIMIT Treats!

The ingredients in commercially prepared chicken feed are carefully calculated by poultry nutritionists to ensure that a chicken’s daily vitamin, mineral and protein requirements are met. Supplemental foods (treats/snacks) replace a portion of those essential dietary elements to some degree. Excessive treats, even healthy ones, can cause any of the following: obesity, reduced egg production, malformed eggs, habitual laying of multiple-yolked eggs, vent prolapse, protein deficiencies, feather-picking, fatty liver syndrome, egg binding, reduced egg production, increased risk of heat stroke and heart problems. Ideally, no more than 5% of a flock’s daily dietary intake should consist of treats.
Supplemental foods (treats/snacks) replace a portion of those essential dietary elements to some degree. Excessive treats, even healthy ones, can cause any of the following: obesity, reduced egg production, malformed eggs, habitual laying of multiple-yolked eggs, vent prolapse, protein deficiencies, feather-picking, fatty liver syndrome, egg binding, reduced egg production, increased risk of heat stroke and heart problems. No more than five to ten percent of a flock's daily dietary intake should consist of treats.Common sense should be the guide in treat selection. The types of foods we require to maximize our own health are the foods we should consider when spoiling our chickens: high protein, whole grains, low salt, low sugar, fruits and vegetables. Dairy products are an exception to this general rule because birds are not equipped with the enzymes necessary to properly digest milk sugars. Some yogurt on occasion is fine and does contain beneficial bacterial cultures, but too much dairy can cause digestive upset and diarrhea. Opt for probiotics specially formulated for poultry in lieu of yogurt for good gut health.

Cooked eggs are an outstanding source of protein for chickens, which is particularly helpful during a molt.
Cooked eggs are an outstanding source of protein for chickens.

Healthy Treats for Chickens

Scrambled Eggs it may seem ironic to feed eggs to chickens, but eggs are an outstanding source of protein, vitamin A, vitamin E and beta carotene.2  Chickens will not develop a raw, egg-eating habit as a result of eating scrambled eggs.  During a molt, eggs are one of the best sources of protein to feed a chicken.

Cooked eggs are an outstanding source of protein for chickens, which is particularly helpful during a molt.Pumpkins are packed with antioxidants, vitamins A, C and E, minerals including copper, calcium, potassium and phosphorus, dietary fiber and protein in the seeds. Pumpkin seeds contain 30 grams of protein per 100 grams of seeds.1   When  pumpkins are in season, I make my flock “Peeps’ Pumpkin Pie,” for a nutritionally power-packed treat. Unsupported claims propose feeding pumpkin seeds to chickens as a “natural dewormer,” however, there is no scientific evidence currently to suggest that pumpkin seeds are capable of deworming chickens. I give my chickens pumpkins and pumpkin seeds simply because they’re nutritious and they enjoy them.
Pumpkins are packed with antioxidants, vitamins A, C and E, minerals including copper, calcium, potassium and phosphorus, dietary fiber and protein in the seeds. Pumpkin seeds contain 30 grams of protein per 100 grams of seeds.1 When pumpkins are in season, I make my flock "Peeps' Pumpkin Pie," for a nutritionally power-packed treat.Meal worms are a good source of protein, reportedly containing 49% to 51%. They can be purchased live or dried and can also be farmed very easily at home. During a molt, meal worms are an especially smart snack choice.
Meal worms are a good source of protein, reportedly containing 49% to 51%. They can be purchased live or dried and can also be farmed very easily at home. During a molt, meal worms are an especially smart snack choice.Homemade Flock Block Substitute Flock Block is a commercially available treat for chickens that is intended to entertain chickens and fulfill their natural pecking instincts.They can be purchased at feed stores for approximately $13. I have purchased the product once or twice, but have always thought I could make a similar treat myself. I made my own treat block recently and am much happier knowing that my homemade Flock Block Substitute is a healthy, fresh, nutritious treat for my flock. The recipe includes an Omega3 feed supplement which increases Omega-3 levels in eggs, improves laying rates and chickens’ health and lends naturally occurring amino acids to the recipe, which serve as important building blocks of the protein in feathers and eggs.
Homemade Flock Block Substitute- Flock Block is a commercially available treat for chickens that is intended to entertain chickens and fulfill their natural pecking instincts.
For an extensive list of healthy treats for chickens, visit my blog here

Sprouted GrainsSprouts are whole grains or seeds that are grown with water before being fed to the chickens. Sprouting grains is an easy way to provide chickens with fresh, nutritious greens any time of year with very little effort. DIY instructions HERE.

Alfalfa Cake-This protein-packed alfalfa cake recipe is a fantastic way to provide molting chickens with a variety of protein sources in one treat while keeping them entertained and active.

A note about scratch: Scratch is affectionately referred to as ‘chicken crack.’ Chickens love it, but it’s not the best treat choice for them. Scratch typically consists of cracked corn and a mixture of grains, which lacks an appreciable amount of protein, vitamins and minerals. Scratch should be thought of as chicken candy and only given in small amounts occasionally. *Scratch should not be mixed into the flock’s feed.*

Provide clean, fresh water to chickens at all times. Again, this sounds like common sense, but most backyard chickens drink from waterers harboring fecal matter, bacteria and other organisms that can make them sick.4. Clean Water:
Provide clean, fresh water to chickens at all times. Again, this sounds like common sense, but most backyard chickens drink from waterers harboring fecal matter, bacteria and other organisms that can make them sick. The solution to dirty water is employing poultry nipple waterers. “Nobody who is raising chickens professionally has used cups, bell drinkers or troughs in the past 25 years. … Nipples have been used successfully on literally billions of chickens. The professional farmers across North America have made nipple drinkers the standard for all chickens. … The disease reduction is so striking that there is no doubt which [system] is better.”

Probiotics: The Natural Choice for Healthy Chickens5. Probiotics
Probiotics are live, nonpathogenic bacteria that contribute to the health and balance of the intestinal tract. These good bacteria can strengthen the immune system and help chickens digest food more efficiently, helping them stay healthy and grow better. Read much more about the benefits of probiotics HERE.
Probiotics are live, nonpathogenic bacteria that contribute to the health and balance of the intestinal tract. These good bacteria can strengthen the immune system and help chickens digest food more efficiently, helping them stay healthy and grow better.

6. Clean Coop
A cleaner coop is a healthier coop. Chickens have sensitive respiratory systems that are easily irritated by mold and ammonia from accumulated droppings. Clean coops are less likely to house external parasites such as mites and poultry lice. For five ways to keep a cleaner coop with less effort, click here.

A cleaner coop is a healthier coop. Chickens have sensitive respiratory systems that are easily irritated by mold and ammonia from accumulated droppings. Clean coops are less likely to house external parasites such as mites and poultry lice.7. Dry Bedding:
A wet environment created by accumulated droppings or spilled water, provides a breeding ground for coccidia and other harmful organisms to flourish. Coccidiosis is an intestinal disease that can rapidly kill chickens if it goes undetected or untreated. Three ways to ensure the driest environment possible are:

  • by employing a droppings board and removing droppings from it daily
  • by using sand as coop litter/bedding and as ground cover in the run
  • by keeping waterfowl and chickens in different yards (Less moisture results in fewer opportunities for organisms to grow that can make chickens sick.)

Many diseases and illnesses are easily kept at bay by keeping living conditions dry.
A wet environment created by accumulated droppings or spilled water, provides a breeding ground for coccidia and other harmful organisms to flourish.8. Observe Droppings:
The first sign of a potential health problem often will be found in a chicken’s droppings. Knowing which droppings are normal and which are abnormal is an extremely useful tool in assessing  chickens’ health. Installing a droppings board underneath the roost provides a regular opportunity to observe abnormalities unobscured by shavings or other bedding material. Keeping a well-stocked first aid kit handy to treat some of the more common illness and disease early is highly recommended.
Knowing which droppings are normal and which are abnormal is an extremely useful tool in assessing chickens' health. Installing a droppings board underneath the roost provides a regular opportunity to observe abnormalities unobscured by shavings or other bedding material.
Broody hens that will not be permitted to hatch chicks, either due to the unavailability of fertile eggs or the preference of the chicken-keeper, she should be broken/broken-up as soon as possible to return them to their regular routines.

9. Break up Broody Hens:
A broody hen is one that is inspired to sit on a collection of eggs until she hatches chicks. Whether she is sitting on a clutch of fertile eggs or an empty nest, she will sit and wait for chicks to hatch indefinitely. In the 21 days normally required to hatch eggs, a broody leaves her nest briefly once or twice daily to eat, drink and relieve herself, neglecting her own health for the good of her anticipated chicks. Her comb will lose color, feathers lose sheen and she will lose a noticeable amount of weight. She can tolerate this drastic change in 21 day stints, but protracted periods of broodiness are unhealthy for her. She becomes vulnerable to external parasites, malnourished and emaciated.  Broody hens that will not be permitted to hatch chicks, either due to the unavailability of fertile eggs or the preference of the chicken-keeper, she should be broken/broken-up as soon as possible to return them to their regular routines.

Providing supplemental lighting when natural daylight hours decrease to 13 hours or less is a safe and common practice undertaken to keep hens producing eggs in the autumn and winter months.10. No Supplemental Light for Youngsters:
Providing supplemental lighting when natural daylight hours decrease to 13 hours or less is a safe and common practice undertaken to keep hens producing eggs in the autumn and winter months. However, adolescent chickens should not be exposed to supplemental lighting as it can cause them to reach sexual maturity too soon, resulting in egg-laying before their bodies are properly equipped. Egg-binding and prolapsed uterus are two of the possible consequences of premature egg-laying.

A dust bath is the chicken equivalent of a daily shower. Chickens dig shallow spots in dirt, sand, or even flower pots to work into their skin and feathers to aid in skin and feather maintenance and parasite control. A dust bath can be as simple as a dry patch of dirt in the backyard or a shallow bucket filled with sand. No additives or supplements are necessary to accomplish the objective.

11. Provide Dust Bathing Areas:
A dust bath is the chicken equivalent of a daily shower. Chickens dig shallow spots in dirt, sand, or even flower pots to work into their skin and feathers to aid in skin and feather maintenance and parasite control. A dust bath can be as simple as a dry patch of dirt in the backyard or a shallow bucket filled with sand. No additives or supplements are necessary to accomplish the objective. According to Gail Damerow in The Chicken Encyclopedia, adding diatomaceous earth (DE), wood ashes or lime-and-sulfur garden powder to their dust bath is hazardous to their respiratory health and should be avoided unless they are “seriously infested” with parasites. Even in that case, she writes, “the benefit may outweigh the danger of TEMPORARILY adding such materials” (p. 93, emphasis added).

“It is considered a serious human health risk if inhaled, and exposure to it occupationally has been the subject of much controversy with OSHA and NIOSH. It is believed to cause diseases such as lung cancer (silicosis), and carries some of the same risks as exposure to asbestos. You should never breath the dust created by DE if you work with it around your birds – wear a respirator if you do.”

10 Tips for Healthy Chickens via The Chicken Chick®

The treat trail. They will follow me anywhere for treats!

Sources & further reading:

1 http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/pumpkin.html
2 http://www.motherearthnews.com/eggs.aspx#ixzz2AcKccLNq
http://shagbarkbantams.com/de.htm
http://www.poultryhelp.com/toxicplants.html

http://www.exoticpetvet.net/avian/onions.html
http://www.avocado.com/site/fun-facts/avo-info/avocado-toxicity-in-animals-and-pets

http://www.merckvetmanual.com/mvm/index.jsp?cfile=htm/bc/213200.htm (salty foods are acceptable in moderation, occasionally as long as there is plenty of fresh water available, but never salt alone)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phytohaemagglutinin
http://www.merckvetmanual.com/mvm/index.jsp?cfile=htm/bc/211102.htm
http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=15+1912&aid=2236
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7255913

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Comments

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Helga
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I always learn something new on this site, thank you!

Patsy Lucas
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Your tips, advice are ALWAYS so very beneficial, thank you!

seaside peeps
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Thanks for the useful information.

seaside peeps
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The link to the in the Clean Coop section seems to be broken.

jeff
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I use lime an have no bugs in coop an every month or so I treat each bridge an Chick with lime

chicklady
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I have referred to your site many times and have found so much useful information. Thanks for sharing this valuable info. I have a 3 mo. old rooster that seems to have a bad hip. His right shoulder droops as his leg and foot begins to twist to the outside, almost completely around backwards. He doesn't seem to be in pain but it is hard for him to get around, especially as his body gets tired. It's hard for him to forage and he can't dust bathe as he has trouble with his feet slipping from underneath him. We've raised… Read more »
Wendy Robinson Chumbler
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Wendy Robinson Chumbler
I've had chickens for 2 yr now and earlier this year I lost all but 3 to preditors. After setting up a more secure area I searched and found the multiple mix of chickens that I wanted. I'm looking at colored eggs. I've raised all of them since they were about 5 days old, so I want to make sure that I'm doing right by them. Until your site I gave scratch daily, now I know better and it was corn at that. I have 2 groups, 1 set are 5 months and up. The other group are just now… Read more »
lisa
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Love love love all the info! I have three hens, the last hen I got came from the same farm as my other two. She is missing feathers from her back and nothing I have tried has worked to get them to grow back. The guy said she was missing them because the rooster had been in there with them. I clean the coop daily, they get bit they get fresh water with electrolyte in it I have treated her and the coop for mites nothing has worked and she is the only one like this. She has a nice… Read more »
Jill Carr
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I attempted to ask a question twice but can't get through. What's the appropriate way to post?

Jill Carr
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What is your recommendation regarding calcium for 1 member of the flock? I have 5 chickens, 1 is 19wks the others are only 11wks

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