On-Farm Presentation about Getting Started with Backyard Chickens
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On-Farm Presentation about Getting Started with Backyard Chickens

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The following post is a summarised recording of an on-farm presentation that we did in February 2024 for people interested in getting started with keeping backyard chickens.


Today we're going to take a look at backyard chickens - some of the breeds, behaviors, and traits. We'll also cover setting up your chicken coop properly so it's efficient and works well for a long time, not just something that breaks down after a short period of time.

So, who here has chickens? No one? Perfect, you're in the right place then!

We've got two main types of chickens - purebreds and hybrids. Purebreds come in many colours and sizes, from the large Sussex at 4kg to the small Bantams weighing just 500g to 1kg. Temperament varies a lot too since purebreds are often bred for appearance, not personality.  

Purebred hens and roosters are shown at poultry shows. Has anyone here been to one? I've been to a couple - it's fun seeing all the different breeds. Very noisy though!

Some purebreds are prone to broodiness, meaning they want to sit on eggs for 21 days to hatch them. It's normal chicken behaviour that's hard to breed out. They won't lay eggs, eat or drink much and can get very irritable with their fellow flock members and owners.

Purebreds also go through a seasonal moult, dropping their feathers for 6 to 8 weeks in autumn and sometimes winter. It takes a lot of energy so they tend to stop laying eggs. Being very seasonal layers, spring and summer is a time when all hens thrive and get into full swing with their egg-laying. 

Now hybrids are bred for eggs. Hy-line Browns like this girl, have had around 90 years of breeding in them to be the amazing layers that they are. They’re not too big at 2kg so they won’t eat too much of the high-quality feed that they need for their best performance. Apparently, the Hy-line brown is a combination of a Rhode Island Red and Leghorn purebreds.

Hybrids rarely go broody and have a delayed moult so they lay almost year-round. They lay the best quality eggs in their first year though like most hens, slowing down after 1.5 to 2 years. Purebreds lay less frequently but longer overall and shut down to moult or go boody each year.

This little cutie is a silkie - strange fluffy feathers that absorb water so they need to stay dry. Black skin and bones, 5 toes on each claw and blue earlobes. Cute as pets and easy for kids to catch thanks to the pom-pom on their head that obscures their vision, but not great layers or flyers.

The Pekin bantam is another cute little one. Good layer for its size at 180 to 200 eggs a year but you'd need a few to make a standard breakfast omelette! 

So in summary - purebreds have more variety in size, colour and personality but are seasonal layers prone to broodiness and moulting. Hybrids are prolific layers bred to avoid those traits but slow down faster. Both hybrids and purebreds have their place in the backyard!

Let's talk about setting up a great chicken coop!

You want a nice, dry coop with high-quality bedding like hemp or wood shavings. The key is absorbing moisture from droppings so they break down without getting smelly. Hay and straw go mouldy when damp and attract pests so I recommend avoiding those.

Hemp is fantastic for nesting boxes since it's absorbent, antibacterial and breaks down quickly. It helps keep bacteria away from your eggs! Wood shavings are great for the rest of the coop if kept dry and use a 100mm deep layer. You’ll just need to dump the entire bag into the coop as the chickens will happily spread it all around. Change it every year or two and you'll be all set.

Make sure your coop is fox-proof with tight aviary mesh, even on the floor. Foxes and rodents are clever and love to dig, so don't give them a chance! The mesh also keeps out wild birds that can bring mites and diseases. 

You don't need much space in the coop since they only sleep there - a quarter of a square meter per chicken is plenty. Add some perches higher than the nesting boxes so they roost there instead of filling nest boxes with their droppings overnight. One nesting box per 7 birds is sufficient.

Dust baths are truly a necessity - chickens love tossing dirt and wood ash everywhere to help keep parasites away. Just put it in a dry corner of the run and let them at it.

Feeding is very important with the Hy-line Browns being like Olympic athletes of the egg-laying world so need top-quality food to be at their best. Most commercial laying feed has the minimum levels of protein, calcium and grit which are often low-grade to help keep the costs down. Chicken feed should always have stones or shells in it, which sounds odd but is actually important for chickens that rely on it to help with food digestion in the crop and gizzard. 

Keep your scraps separate so you don't attract rats and avoid things like bread, avocado and anything mouldy. Stick to healthy greens and provide in moderation. 

Make sure to collect your eggs daily, especially in summer. Never wash them since it removes the protective "bloom" and allows bacteria into the shell. Put them straight in the fridge and they'll keep for 5-6 weeks!

When you first bring your new feathered friends home, it's important to give them a proper welcome. We call it "orientation" - basically, just keeping them in the coop for a week or two so they can get used to it without wandering off. Make sure it's fully fox-proof during this time and has their food and water available throughout the day!

If you notice any droppings in the nesting box in the morning, you know they've been sneaking in to sleep the prior night. This means that it's time for some tough love. Remove the offending hens after dark or block the entrance to the nesting boxes in the afternoon. Just keep at it until they learn and start perching in the right spot.

Let's talk parasites - the bane of every chicken keeper's existence. Lice and mites can really cause problems for your birds. Their favourite nit-laying area is around a hen’s vent. Keep an eye out for little clusters of eggs or the little pests scurrying about on you hen’s skin. If you spot them, time to break out the dust or spray and give your chickens a thorough treatment over a 7-day period. 

Worms are another common issue, especially in the warmer months. You might see some abnormal-looking eggs or diarrhoea. Thankfully, it's fairly easy to treat with some dewormer and should be done every 6-months as a rule. 

As far as food safety, if you have young children around, make sure they wash their hands after handling chickens or eggs. Birds can carry some harmful bacteria like salmonella that can really make you sick. A quick scrub with soap and water is all it takes to keep everyone healthy.

Lastly, let's look at water. Plain tap water is perfect for your chickens. Avoid using tank water if possible since it can get contaminated with debris and faeces from possums and wild birds that wash off your roof. If you do use it, make sure to filter it first.

And there you have it - a few extra tips to keep your chickens happy and healthy! With some knowledge and good care, you'll be enjoying your own little slice of rural life right in your backyard. 

It's been great talking with you all today. If you have any other questions, just let us know - we're always happy to chat.

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