Caring for Chickens
By Alan Stanford, Ph.D.
Brown Egg Blue Egg
Your birds need starter ration until 6 months of age, they need layer ration after that. They need clean water. You must wash the water dishes every day. If you put 2 to 4 tablespoons of vinegar per gallon of water in their water, it helps keep the water bacteria free and helps the birds absorb calcium.
The birds need a place safe from predators. It needs to be free of drafts and dry.
They need greens, oyster shell, and grit. The greens can be chopped up left overs from your kitchen like radish tops, spinach, cabbage, ... The oyster shell provides calcium, which is important for laying birds. The grit is most important for birds eating other than commercial layer ration (like scratch grains). We mix oyster shell and grit together and have it always available in small feeders for caged birds. You can buy both oyster shell and grit at the place you buy their feed.
For treats the birds like melon rinds, grapes, scratch corn, corn on the cob after you eat the corn, berries, ... White Silkies especially get soiled eating fruits, so be careful.
Feed beneficial bacteria, they keep digestion going correctly and fight disease by crowding out disease bacteria. You can just mix 1-2 teaspoons per bird of ACTIVE culture yogurt with a small amount of food and give this as the only food until they eat it. You can also buy lactobacillus at health food stores, pharmacies, Wal-Mart, and Lake's Unlimited 800-634-2473.
They need you to trim their beaks and nails every 3-4 weeks.
They need you to look them over once a week. Because chickens are prey species they hide their problems. If they show a problem a predator picks on them first.
- Inspect for parasites. You might be surprised but mites and lice can easily kill a bird! If not they can weaken a bird to the point that it gets sick.
- Are there small bugs around the vent, on her head, or under her wings? These could be very tiny red dots (mites) they could be larger translucent/white/yellow (lice). Lice also show us as clumps (of eggs) stuck to the base of feathers.
- Are the leg scales raised and the legs large and rough looking? This is scaly leg mites.
- Inspect for injuries. Look for broken bones, missing feathers, swollen crop, beak too long, toe nails too long, hot spots indicating injury, swollen abdomen (bound egg or worse), abscesses around eyes and throat, pasted vent, unusual manure, bad odor near ears, discharge around eyes/beak/ears, and anything else.
- Keep an eye on the manure. The consistency changes throughout the day and day by day. You should not see blood, excessive mucous, or anything else unusual.
- Silkies can have too many feathers around their eyes. Hold the bird at your eye level. If you can see the bird's eyes, all is well. If not, plucking or trimming is necessary for the bird to thrive or just survive. If you don't want to show, trim. Trimmed feathers don't grow back until they are molted. If you will show the bird, pluck the feathers.
Plucking feathers so show birds can see.
- You will need to pluck every 4-6 weeks
- Pluck above and below the eye
- Pluck the areas just in front and in the front 1/3 of the eye.
- Pluck and then check by holding the bird at eye level and looking for the bird's eyes.
- After you wash a bird, the feathers are fluffier and you will need to pluck again
They don't require it but sure like it if you are their friend, pick them up, and talk or sing to them. If you do you will be rewarded.
For show condition
- Handle your birds often. This makes them tame for the show and also you learn when they are sick or losing weight.
- Keep the coop very clean. Feather legged birds require perfect foot feathers. Some use wire; others prefer wood shavings. Don't use redwood.
- Keep the birds clean. Once stained, the feathers will not come clean. This means you'll be spot washing birds every week.
- Keep the foot feathers clean. Do not pick manure off the foot feathers. The feathers will break. Just stand the bird for 15 to 20 minutes in a tub of water about 1/4 to 1/2" deep.
- If your Silkies are white, keep them out of direct sun. The sun will turn them yellow (unless your Silkies have the "silver" gene).
- If you see broken feathers pluck them being sure to get the quill that is inside the skin. If you leave a stub, the new feather won't grow until the bird molts.