Like most other animals, chickens can suffer from parasitic worms. These are endoparasites that live inside your bird’s body, and are collectively called Helminths by vets.
Does my chicken have worms?
The three types of parasitic worms that your chickens are most likely to contract are:
Roundworms. There are a number of different roundworms, with the large roundworm being the most common. They live anywhere in the bird’s digestive system, and can sometimes be spotted in your chickens’ droppings.
Gapeworms. These nasty parasites attach themselves to the trachea of the chicken, hooking on without moving.
Tapeworms. These attach themselves to the lining of the intestine and can get really long and unpleasant. They are less common, but will more significantly affect the bird.
It’s not always straightforward to tell if your chicken has worms, but symptoms may include a paler comb, decreased egg production, diarrhoea and increased appetite without weight gain. A chicken who has been infected with gapeworm will stretch their neck and gasp for air. Sometimes you won’t spot an infection until it’s really serious and possibly untreatable.
To worm or not to worm
Many chicken keepers therefore choose to worm their chickens regularly to prevent them getting infected, usually once in spring and once in autumn. This is normally done using Flubenvet, a poultry specific wormer you can get at the vets that will kill both the worms and their eggs. Make sure you get a worming treatment that is suitable for chickens, and check if you should be discarding the chicken’s eggs while she is being treated. Always worm all chickens at the same time.
Other chicken keepers think it’s better to only treat chickens that have a confirmed infection. This is partly because some wormers are only effective on particular parasites, and will be pointless if your chickens have a different type of worm. Some also think it’s unnecessary to stress the system by giving the birds treatment for an issue they might not have. Additionally, it can be pricey to worm a whole flock twice a year.
If you don’t want to treat your chickens without a diagnosis, but suspect they might have worms, you can get their droppings tested for presence of eggs. Ask your vet if they will do it for you, or you can send the droppings off to a laboratory in pre-made kits.
Whether you decide to treat only confirmed worm cases or worm preventatively, it’s always best to do everything you can to make sure your chickens don’t contract parasites. One of the best things to do is to regularly move their coop and run to a new patch. This will stop serious outbreaks, as it stops the life-cycle of the worms. Worm eggs are expelled in the droppings from infected birds, and survive on the ground for a surprisingly long time before they are picked up by foraging chickens. This is called a direct life-cycle, as the worm doesn’t need a host animal to get to your hens. Worms that have an indirect life-cycle on the other hand let their eggs first be ingested by for example earthworms, slugs or centipedes, where they lay dormant until the host is eaten by one of your chickens. The larvae hatch inside your hens, and the cycle repeats.
To prevent an unbreakable chain of worm infestations, it’s therefore important to regularly move your chickens. This is made easy by portable chicken coops like the Eglu Cube or the Eglu Go UP.
Another useful thing is to keep the grass mowed as the ultraviolet light from the sun can kill off potential worm eggs in your chickens’ droppings. Clean the run every week and scoop up droppings and wet bedding. If one of your chickens is infected it’ll be very difficult to get rid of all worm eggs from the ground, but every little helps!
Finally, many chicken keepers swear by the mineral supplement Verm-X. It’s a herbal formulation that works to create an environment in the gut that is able to eradicate and expel any intestinal challenges. This can be given as a supplement to your flock regularly to help their immune system stay on top.
As a chicken owner, you are responsible for making sure your birds are as happy and healthy as possible. By providing them with a hygienic home, plenty of space, good food and fun toys, you are doing everything you can to keep them free from illness and parasites. That unfortunately doesn’t mean that nothing bad will ever happen to your flock, however.
Accidents occur and, just like humans, chickens sometimes get ill. As prey animals, they are highly skilled at hiding pain and weaknesses, so by the time they are obviously showing discomfort, they are likely to be very ill.
After spending time with your chickens and getting to know them, you will soon be able to tell what is normal behaviour, and what is a sign that they are feeling under the weather, but to make sure you spot problems early on it’s good to regularly carry out thorough health checks. We would suggest doing this beak to tail check at least once a week – just go through our list:
Your chickens’ eyes should be clear, bright and fully open. They should not have any discharge or look dry, or be watery or teary.
The nostrils, or nares as they are called in chickens, should be clean, without any crusty dry bits or discharge.
Your chicken’s beak should be smooth, without cracks or other damages. The top and bottom should align, with the top one being slightly longer. Healthy chickens keep their beak closed most of the time.
A grown chicken who is not broody or moulting should have a firm, bright red comb. It should be positioned according to the breed standard, i.e. if the breed’s comb is upright, it should not be hanging or looking shrivelled.
It’s especially important to check combs and wattles in winter, as they are prone to frostbite. Larger combs can be protected by a daily layer of vaseline.
When you first let your chickens out in the morning the crop should be empty, as they should have spent all night digesting their food. After eating, the crop will feel firm, but not rock-hard. If it never seems empty or the hen’s breath is really foul smelling, you could be dealing with an impacted or sour crop.
Unless she is moulting, your chicken should have a shiny and full plumage. Bald patches or ruffled feathers could be a sign of stress, parasites or behavioural problems within the group. It’s important that you know what moulting looks like as it happens at least once a year, and should not be confused with other feather problems.
Legs and feet
Check the scales on the legs and make sure they are smooth and lying flat against the bone. Raised or dry looking scales can be an indication of scaly leg mites. Also check the bottom of the foot and remove any dirt to check for cuts or black spots, which could cause the chicken discomfort and lead to a potentially fatal infection called bumblefoot.
A hen in lay has a pink, wide and moist vent, whereas an older chicken’s vent is dryer and has a paler colour. It should never protrude or look injured, as other chickens might start to peck her if they see blood.
Mites and lice love the area around the vent, so it’s particularly important to check for little black specks or irritation on the skin.
A slide out dropping tray under the chickens perches or roosting bars, like on the Eglu chicken coops, lets you inspect your chickens poo when you’re cleaning the coop. The droppings should be firm and dark brown with some white, more liquidy parts going throughout. They will vary somewhat depending on what the chickens have been eating, but if the droppings are very loose or have blood in them it indicates something is wrong.
If you follow this list and go through it regularly with each of your chickens, you’re in a good position to spot potential problems early. Some might be treatable at home, like certain parasites or smaller cuts, but if you’re unsure it’s always best to consult your vet. You can read more about common chicken problems in our guide.
Chickens’ fondness for perches is instinctive. Our pet chickens descend from the Asian Jungle Fowl, that roosts high up on tree branches, and holding on to a perch is as natural to hens as scratching and egg-laying.
Most of the breeds we keep today are however not able to get up a tree even if they were offered one to roost in – they are too big and heavy. But by holding onto something, chickens get a sense of security, as perching initially was a strategy to get away from predators.
The Eglu Chicken Coops have perfectly rounded roosting bars that the chickens will love sleeping on at night, but it’s advisable to also provide them with a perch in the run. A wooden stick might not seem like much fun to us, but a perch is an excellent way of enriching their enclosure.
The Omlet Chicken Perch is purposefully designed to be comfortable and easy for hens to use, and it is also durable and super simple to install on your run. Choose between the 1m or 2m, and add enough to make sure all your chickens have a spot to take a break and watch the world go by.
Chickens without perches are more likely to attract mites and lice, or pick up bacteria from sitting on the ground. The stress of not having a place to roost can also lower their immune system and reduce egg-laying.
Take this unique opportunity to save ⅓ on the Omlet Chicken Perch and give your chickens a new toy they will love! Use promo code PERCH4LESS at check out to claim the discount!
Terms and conditions Promotion of third/33% off The Omlet Chicken Perch runs from 10/09/20 – midnight 14/09/20. Use promo code PERCH4LESS at checkout. Includes Omlet Chicken Perch 1m and 2m. Offer is limited to 2 Chicken Perches per household. Subject to availability. Omlet reserves the right to withdraw the offer at any point. Offer cannot be used on delivery, existing discounts or in conjunction with any other offer.
FALSE – Chickens actually have superior colour vision to humans. Thanks to five light receptors in the eye (humans only have three), they can see many colours more vividly than us.
Chickens can be half male, half female – split down the middle
TRUE – Due to a phenomena called bilateral gynandromorph there are chickens where one side of the body is male (large wattle, spur and muscular breast etc.) and the other side is female (duller plumage, smaller comb, slighter build etc). Worth a google!
There are as many chickens as there are humans on earth
FALSE – There are almost 4 times as many chickens as there are humans, more than 25 billion. In fact, there are more chickens in the world than any other bird.
Chickens navigate through magnetic fields
TRUE– Like other birds, chickens use the magnetic fields of the earth to orientate themselves and navigate around their home environment. Additionally, studies show that chickens use the sun to tell the time of day. Daylight intensity is also what tells cockerels when to crow in the morning and when to go roost at night.
Chickens are cannibals
UNDECIDED – You might have heard about cannibalism in poultry, and it does happen that chickens start pecking the flesh of other hens. This is however not a natural behaviour seen in the wild, but a result of a stressful environment with limited space in large egg or meat factories. A happy chicken will not eat its friend.
Chickens have no taste buds
FALSE – While it may seem like chickens will eat just about anything you put in front of them, they do have taste buds, and personal preferences. A chicken can’t taste sweetness or spiciness, but can tell saltiness, sourness and bitterness apart.
The colour of the egg affects the nutritional content
FALSE – Despite what some egg producers have claimed during the years, brown eggs are not healthier than while ones, or vice versa. The colour of the shell only depends on the breed of chicken it came from, and will have no impact on taste or nutritional content.
If you chop their heads off, chickens will keep running
TRUE – Some chickens will indeed keep running after having their head chopped off. The pressure from the axe triggers nerve endings in the neck, sending a message back to the muscles telling them to move, without the brain actually being involved.
The chicken is then moving while actually being dead, but in the case of Miracle Mike, the farmer who tried to kill him aimed a bit high and accidentally left a bit of the brain that chickens keep at the back of their necks. This made it possible for Mike to live for another 18 months (!) after his head had been removed.
You can hypnotise a chicken
TRUE – There are several ways of putting a chicken in a trance, but the most common one involves holding the chicken with its head close to the ground, and drawing a line in the ground going outwards from the beak. This will paralyse the chicken, and she will stay laying still until you clap or poke her.
While it probably won’t hurt your chicken to hypnotise it like this, it’s unclear how much stress it causes her, so make sure not to do it too frequently.
Hens are always talking amongst themselves. All those clucks and squawks means something, and while some of the meanings are obvious – the explosive squawking of a bird running away in panic, for example – others are more subtle.
Here are ten ways in which you can eavesdrop on the chicken chatter and brush up on the bantam banter.
A calm, gently rising borrrrb. This is the sound hens make as they peck their way through the grass or chicken run, and it means two things. It indicates that the chicken is enjoying the endless search for quick snacks, and it’s also telling the other birds ‘everything is fine’. A flock of hens saying borrrb together sends out the reassuring message that there’s nothing to worry about.
The cluck-cum-squawk. This brief, excited cry usually means that there has been some sort of confrontation, usually between a meek hen and a more dominant one who has muscled in to see what snacks the more timid bird has found. The sound is also used if a hen is surprised by something, such as the chicken-run door opening suddenly.
The ‘squawk bomb’. This is when the hen clucks, gobbles and squawks in one hysterical flurry. It sounds as if the bird is about to explode in a cloud of feathers. This is the chicken’s main alarm call, expressing fear and also telling the other birds to run. The causes can be vehicles, dogs, people trying to pick up the hen, or predators.
Cackling. This is the name often used for the familiar Buk-buk-buk-badaaak! call. Repeated several times, and loudly, it is the sound many hens produce after laying an egg. The hen moves away from the egg and then begins cackling. It is thought to be a way of luring potential predators away from the egg and the nest.
Buk-buk-buk (but with no badaaak!) This slightly angry and persistent sound is often made by a hen who wants to sit in her favourite nest box but finds it occupied. It’s meaning is a combination of “I’m here!” and “Get out!”
Growling. If a hen is broody and doesn’t want to move from her nest box, she will make a hissing, growling sound. This simply means “Don’t touch!” and “Go away!”
Chick-chat. A hen hatching eggs will mutter various gentle clucking sounds to communicate with the chicks and reassure them. Once the chicks are hatched and running around, she tells them where the good scratching and pecking places are by saying tuk-tuk! (Cockerels use this sound too, to tell the hens that they have found a good foraging spot).Mother hens also have an insistent Rrrrrr call, which is the chicks’ cue to come running if the hen senses danger.
Crowing. This is cockerel territory, the classic cock-a-doodle-doo – although some hens get the crowing habit too. Crowing says several things. It means a new day has dawned, and it’s time to be up and scratching/pecking. It also tells the world that this is the cockerel’s territory, and that these hens are his. If there is more than one cockerel, the subordinate ones will only crow when the boss has crowed. Crowing usually hits 90 decibels, or even more!
Help! A hen separated from the flock will make an alarm call. The sound is similar to the ‘cackling’ that announces a new egg. It is thought to be an SOS call to the cockerel to come and save his lost hen. There will be a strong element of danger if there are predators around, so it’s a risky strategy for a lost chicken.
Buzzing. First thing in the morning, with the chicken coop still locked, the hens will begin to make repetitive, buzzing clucks, which may rise in volume as the minutes pass and the doors remain shut. This sound simply means “Let us out – there’s lots of pecking and scratching to be done!”
With this knowledge of chook chit-chat, you will be able to tell what your girls are talking about, even if you can’t actually see them. It’s an all-day, non-stop conversation!
A flock of chickens can easily give the impression of peace and equality. But it’s not like that at all!
Every flock of hens, whether it consists of two birds or 200, has a pecking order. This decides who’s top of the chooks, and who’s bottom of the bantams!
The pecking order generally sorts itself out. The more dominant birds will assert themselves, and the others will fall into line. Hens brought up together in the same coop or barn sort this out with minimal fuss; but if two dominant birds are brought together, they will fight for dominance. This involves lots of flapping and pecking, but rarely results in serious physical harm. Any hens who spar in this way should be left to it for a minute or two, unless you fear that one of them is going to be seriously hurt. If you intervene too soon, the battle will commence again as soon as your back is turned.
The point is, once the feathery fisticuffs are over, the pecking order is settled and you won’t have to intervene. It’s very rare for a hen to be so aggressive that she goes out looking for a fight when the hierarchy has already been established.
If you’re worried about the safety of the tussling hens, you can separate them by clapping your hands to scare them apart, and then physically removing one from the battlefield. Some Vaseline on the comb and wattles will also minimise damage, if you suspect that there may be more scuffles before things settle down again.
Hens need plenty of space. If they are too cooped up during the day, they may start to peck each other (an issue that afflicts large flocks kept for mass egg or meat production). To prevent this, you need to make sure your run isn’t overcrowded.
If a dominant hen begins guarding the food and water supply, install a second feeding and drinking station to defuse the tension. Distraction is an effective method of diffusing problems, too. Some corn cobs or cabbages, some CDs or even a peck toy hanging at pecking height, will deflect aggressive birds’ beaks to other things.
A Change in the Pecking Order
It is generally agreed that the most aggressive hens are the ones at the top of the pecking order. But sometimes a chicken seems to rise to the top with very few pecks involved. There is, indeed, circumstantial evidence that the birds’ combs may play a part in the war of the wattles. Hens with large, erect combs tend to be higher in the pecking order than birds with less impressive combs.
If a dominant hen is no longer around, the pecking order enters a state of flux, and there may be new outbreaks of feathered feuding before the new order establishes itself. A previously meek hen may find herself in charge, and this is particularly common if she is one of the ‘old guard’ who suddenly finds herself keeping a new influx of point-of-lay hens in line.
When introducing new hens to a flock, the newcomers should be penned away from the old guard for a week or so, to let everyone get used to each other. Throwing new birds in at the deep end can result in tragedy, as the older birds sometimes gang up on the newcomers and peck them. Once a hen draws blood, the other birds have a tendency to join in the pecking, and death can result.
The pecking order can also change if a dominant hen becomes ill, or becomes broody and spends her time sitting on eggs. If she’s allowed to live a full life and die of natural causes, she may lose her top place in the pecking order towards the end, and in these circumstances you need to keep a gentle eye on the flock, to make sure the old bird doesn’t become hen-pecked.
Being top of the pecking order isn’t all about bullying and the rule of terror, though! Top hens protect the flock by keeping an eye open for danger, and also lead the other birds to exciting new sources of food and scratching.
The hen-based pecking order doesn’t entirely disappear if cockerels are part of the flock, but the male bird will nearly always be at the top of the order, unless he’s unusually timid and the top hen is unusually assertive. The hens will still have a pecking order amongst themselves, though. It also needs underlining that there should never be more than one cockerel to every 15 hens, otherwise things become very unbalanced, the males fight, and the hens might be physically abused.
Living in a flock takes a bit or organising. But as long as you give the hens enough space and keep an eye on things to make sure the pecking doesn’t spill over into open warfare, nature has a wonderful way of taking care of things.
Here’s why the Caddi is the perfect choice for your treat-loving pets…
The Caddi Treat Holder decreases the rate at which your pets will eat their treats. Slower treat release through the gaps in the holder means more satisfaction for longer, and prevents over indulgence.
The Caddi Treat Holder swings around and creates a rewarding, interactive game to keep your pets entertained, which is especially great for rainy days! Your pets will love the stimulating experience of foraging for their treats, and enjoy hours of rewarding fun.
The Caddi allows you to feed your pets treats without having to throw them on the ground. This improves run cleanliness, reduces food waste and prevents pests, as well as being a healthier solution for your pets. Simply hang the Caddi from the roof of your pet’s run with the plastic hook and use the string to adjust the height to suit your pets.
Endless treat opportunities! With the Caddi Treat Holder you can feed a range of fresh greens, fruits and vegetables to your pets, you can use it as a hay rack for rabbits, or fill it with pecker balls for hens. Get creative and reward your pets with exciting new flavours in the Caddi.
You can save 50% on the Caddi Treat Holder until midnight on Monday, just by signing up to the Omlet newsletter. It’s a great deal for you, and an exciting new treat dispenser for your pets! Enter your email address on the Caddi page to claim your discount code.
Now available for just $8.99 if you sign up to the Omlet newsletter!
Terms and conditions This promotion is only valid from 12/08/20 – midnight on 17/08/20. Once you have entered your email address on the website you will receive a unique discount code that can be used at checkout. By entering your email you agree to receive the Omlet Newsletter. You can unsubscribe at any point. This offer is available on single Caddi Treat Holders only. The offer does not apply to Twin Packs or bundles with Omlet Peck Toys or Feldy Chicken Pecker Balls. Offer is limited to 2 Caddi Treat Holders per household. Subject to availability. Omlet ltd. reserves the right to withdraw the offer at any point. Offer cannot be used on delivery, existing discounts or in conjunction with any other offer.
Red mites, or Dermanyssus gallinae, are without a doubt backyard chicken keepers’ worst enemies! They are nocturnal creatures living in cracks and crevices of the coop, and they only come out at night to feed on chicken blood. Most long term chicken keepers will have encountered these parasites, and can confirm that they are more destructive and difficult to get rid of than all other pests combined.
Getting Rid of Red Mites
If you have diagnosed a red mite infestation in your wooden coop, there are a few things you can do to try to get rid of them. Start off by giving your coop a really deep clean. Strip the house down as much as possible to get into all corners, nooks and crannies, and scrub with warm water. You will need to replace any felt or fabric parts and carefully clean perches, feeders and drinkers and other loose objects in the coop. Make sure that you get rid of all bedding that might have been infested.
If you can still see mites crawling out of crevices in the wood when the coop is drying, try hosing the coop and all loose parts down with a pressure washer. Leave to dry for 10-15 minutes and blast it over again to get rid of even more mites. Repeat until there are very few mites emerging after every wash.
Still not completely clear of mites? Time for the anti-mite products. Mix a mite specific concentrate with water using the manufacturer’s guidelines and apply this to the coop. Go heavy on areas where it is likely that the mites are hiding (corners and end of perches are particularly affected areas), but it is important that you treat the whole coop. When the wood is completely dry, apply plenty of red mite powder on your chickens, their bedding and their dust bath before you let them back into the coop.
In summer you will need to re-apply the powder every few days, and it in many cases getting ahead of the mites will mean deep cleaning the coop with detergents on several occasions over a period of two weeks. When autumn comes the mites become dormant and will not feed on your chickens, but they are unfortunately likely to reappear when the temperature rises again in spring.
Preventing Red Mite Infestations
When it comes to red mites, prevention will always be better than cure, and one of the few things you can actually do to keep these little creatures from hurting your chickens is to have a coop that doesn’t make life easy for them.
The smooth plastic surfaces of the Eglu chicken coop leaves very little space for the mites to hide. There are no corners or gaps that you won’t be able to reach with a hose or a pressure washer, which means that one deep clean of the Eglu should get rid of all dust, dirt and possible pests. By cleaning your Eglu on a regular basis you prevent red mites from ever becoming a problem for you and your hens, and you won’t have to spend all that time and money cleaning and disinfecting that you would if you had a more traditional coop.
The Eglu chicken coops have over the last 15 years been the solution for a lot of people who have tired of constantly trying to get rid of red mites from their wooden coops. Here are some of the things current Eglu owners have told us about battling red mites:
“I’ve thought about having an Eglu for two years but this summer’s red mite infestation was too much. I hate using chemicals/insecticides around my hens so I took the plunge and I’m really pleased.”Sue
“After having some terrible experiences with mites we decided enough is enough and time to buy a “mite free eglu” as advertised. We have been slightly put off by the price previously but now I wish I had one from the start! I couldn’t rate the omlet eglu cube any higher! What used to take 2 hours to clean and scrub a chicken coop now takes 10 minutes! We have not had any lice infestations since having the cube I absolutely love it and so do our chickens, just wish we had bought one sooner!”Amie
“The most important feature to me is the hygienic, easy clean & wash nature of all the surfaces. I would never buy a wooden house again having struggled with mites which hid in all the joints and gaps of the boards. There is nowhere for the mites to hide on the Eglu and cleaning is quick and easy. I’m certain that there isn’t a better house available for healthy hens.”Neil
Does the thought of mites make you itch? Watch our video about two neighbours having very different chicken keeping experiences, showing some of the struggles that chicken owners with mite-infested coops are faced with:
Watching chickens scratch at the frozen ground or strut through the snow, you might wonder how they manage to keep their feet and legs warm. After all, this is one part of their body with no feathers to keep it cosy (unless you happen to have a feathery-legged breed such as the Cochin, Brahma or Silkie).
Surprisingly, the simple answer to ‘How do they keep their leg warm?’ is ‘They don’t!’. Those skinny, bare legs have scales, which retain heat to a certain extent, but they will still get very cold if the bird stands still for too long.
And that’s the important detail. A chicken keeps its legs warm by moving, and by not keeping all its toes on the ground for too long. These parts of their body lose heat rapidly; but the solution is quite simple.
Perching is the most effective way of retaining heat. A hen hunkers down when roosting, and her legs are tucked into her warm body. If space allows, install a flat perch too. A piece of wood with a 10 cm width will enable the hens to roost without having to grip the perch, which in really cold weather will prevent their toes freezing. (The lucky ones will simply snuggle down in a nesting box, which is the chicken equivalent of a thick quilt!)
But of course, a hungry hen doesn’t want to waste the whole day perching, so even in the coldest spells she will make a lot of contact with the ground.
Like many other birds, chickens often adopt the ‘one leg’ look, tucking one of their limbs up into the warmth of their bellies. This reduces overall heat loss and stops feet and toes from freezing on the icy ground.
An upturned pot, a log, pallet or other slightly elevated space – cleared of snow or ice – will help the hens get the circulation going again, without having to catch their breath on the frozen ground. Like all birds, chickens are warm-blooded, just like us, and their own body heat soon works its magic. Indeed, with an average body temperature of around 41°C, chickens can remain active in the coldest weather.
The leg-warming process is helped by other tricks, too. Fluffing up the feathers retains body heat, by trapping small pockets of air which are then heated up by the bird’s warm body.
Some owners give their hens a supper of corn and grains, which take longer to digest than a standard pellet or other chicken food. Part of the digestion process involves producing heat – a kind of internal hot water bottle!
In general, hens will eat more food in the cold months, as more of their energy is spent keeping warm. Some owners like to supplement the birds’ diets with extra protein or a little suet, to increase their fat levels for the winter. Fat retains heat, and the whole bird benefits – not just the legs (which will remain as thin as ever!)
Help With The Heating
You can help your hens keep their toes cosy by making sure the coop is clean and dry. Clear out any snow dragged in on the birds’ feet, and keep an insulating layer of straw on the floor. You can give the birds extra protection by insulating the coop – although there should still be some ventilation, to allow the gases released from the birds’ droppings to escape.
You can install an automatic door to help keep the living quarters snug. Heaters are also available – but never use anything other than a heater designed specifically for hen houses. It’s also best to use these only if the temperature gets below -5°C, otherwise hens may get used to being cosy all the time, and that could be disastrous if the heater fails and the birds are suddenly exposed. Heat-pampered poultry can die of cold shock.
A coop should be draft-free, but not completely sealed, as ventilation is important for healthy hens. During the day, a sheltered spot in the run or garden will help them take a breather and warm those long-suffering legs.
Chickens are amazingly hardy, and although not exactly warm, their legs will be able to cope with anything the average winter throws at them. As long as they can toast their toes on a nice perch every now and then…
We are all used to the idea of fresh food being clean and chilled, so surely the best method of storing eggs is to wash and refrigerate them?
The answer is ‘no’. With a bit of ‘yes’ thrown in. Although the collective knowledge of chicken keepers is vast, there is still debate about the best way to store eggs.
We’ve gathered the various ends of the argument and summarised them below. Welcome to the debate!
Unless the eggs are soiled – which is the result of mud or chicken poo in the hen house, rather than dirt deposited during the actual laying – they do not need washing. A freshly laid egg has a shell covered in a protective ‘bloom’, called the cuticle, and this acts as an antibacterial defence system. If it’s washed off, the protection is washed off too. However, if the eggs are then stored in clean boxes, this won’t be a huge issue.
Eggs with dirty shells should be wiped clean, and it’s a good idea to use these soiled ones first – mainly to keep the egg box or egg-skelter looking pretty!
Some chicken keepers keep their eggs in a refrigerator, while others believe this is unnecessary. So what’s the best advice?
There are two rules of thumb – keep them below 20°C, and keep them away from strong odours, as these may affect the flavour. Other than that, it’s really up to you.
A study was carried out in 2013 by Food Test Laboratories in England, comparing the fate of two batches of supermarket eggs. The eggs were kept for two weeks, half of them in the fridge, and the other half at room temperature. In England, supermarket eggs aren’t washed before being sold, so still have the protective cuticle on the shell.
The eggs were tested for ‘usual suspect’ bacteria such as salmonella and listeria, at the beginning of the experiment and two weeks later. The results demonstrated why there is such divided opinion on the issue, as neither sets of eggs showed any signs of bacterial nasties, inside or out.
It’s the cuticle ‘bloom’ that keeps the eggs fresh and bacteria-free. If you’ve had to wash them, it’s probably a good idea to refrigerate them, as the shells will not be protected. Keep them in boxes on the fridge shelves, rather than in a fitted plastic egg tray in the fridge door (formerly a regular feature in new refrigerators).
Eggs don’t like being shaken, as it causes the egg whites to deteriorate and turn slightly watery. An egg that’s shaken by the constant opening of the fridge door is likely to lose its binding qualities in baking, and will look very sad, flat and watery in the poaching or frying pan. Fridge doors are the warmest part of the appliance too, and the area of the fridge where temperature fluctuates the most, which isn’t ideal for egg storage.
Egg basket or box?
Eggs kept outside the fridge can be stacked in boxes, with the oldest ones in the topmost boxes. This age factor is less easy to sort out if you keep the eggs in a wire basket, although these look great on display. Some chicken owners use colour coding dots, or even dates, to sort the young from the old. If you’re unsure about relative age, you can always use the traditional ageing method: place the eggs in a bowl of water, and watch how they sit. Very fresh ones will lie flat on the bottom, while older ones will have their pointed ends raised. Ones that are way past their use-by date will float.
Another advantage of egg boxes is that you can store the eggs with their rounded ends at the top. This keeps the yolks centred, which makes them look their best if you’re hard- or soft-boiling. However, if most of your eggs end up in cakes and quiches, this isn’t going to be an issue.
An egg skelter is another attractive way of storing the fruits of your hens’ labours. These keep the eggs in age-order, and they look great too.
Storing shelled eggs?
Any leftover raw egg can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container. It should be used within three days. Stored yolks should be covered in water to prevent them drying out. The water can be poured away before use.
Uneaten cooked eggs (i.e. hard-boiled) will always leave an ‘eggy’ whiff in the fridge. This is caused by hydrogen sulphide, a gas that forms when eggs are cooked (you’ll notice it’s never present in raw eggs). Although not exactly pleasant, the gas is harmless. Eggs stored in this way should be eaten within one week.
So, the main takeaway here is that eggs can be stored wherever you want them to be stored. As long as you keep them away from heat, strong odours and too much shaking, you’ve got the storage conundrum cracked!
In winter, one of the biggest concerns we see from our customers is: “how well is the Eglu going to keep my chickens warm?”. In this blog, we explain the science behind the Eglu’s carefully designed features, which ensure your chickens are kept nice and toasty in the colder months.
Air is an amazing thermal insulator. Heat is conducted between an area of more heat to an area of less heat. The warmer molecules vibrate rapidly and collide with others, passing on energy. If the material the heat (in this case the body heat from the chickens inside the coop) is trying to pass through has few molecules in it then it will be harder for the heat to transfer through it. This is the case with air, and that is why it’s commonly used as an insulator in everything from walls and windows to cooking utensils and drinking flasks – and chicken coops! The Eglus’ unique twin wall system captures air in a pocket between the inner and outer wall, taking full advantage of air’s great insulating properties. This solution stops the cold air from moving into the coop, and retains the warm air in the coop. The same process also keeps the chickens cool in summer by stopping the warm air from entering the coop and making it too warm.
Perhaps even more important than the coop’s insulating properties, is how well ventilated it is. If the coop doesn’t have good ventilation, you run the risk of either having a nasty draft if the coop has badly positioned vents or large holes and openings, or a build up of moisture if the coop is too tightly insulated. Both will prevent the chickens from staying warm on chilly winter nights, and can cause unpleasant respiratory illnesses.
The Eglu coops are designed to let air flow through the coop, but without creating an uncomfortable draft for the chickens. The vents are positioned in such a way that your pets won’t notice the fresh air flowing through the coop, but the warm air evaporating from the animals and their droppings will move through the vents and prevent any moisture.
How chickens keep themselves warm
Chickens, like many other non-migrating birds, have a layer of downy feathers under their visible plumage that they can fluff up to create air pockets close to their bodies. This will retain the heat, and will keep them warm during winter.
Chickens also have a high metabolic rate that will speed up even more during winter, helping to keep their bodies warm. This is why you might have to feed your chickens a little extra during the winter months.
Chickens are also able to decrease the blood flow to their bare legs to minimise loss of body heat. The overlapping scales on their feet and legs trap some warm air, so walking on snow and ice rarely causes chickens any discomfort. When roosting in the cold, the feet and legs are tucked in under the warm feather blanket, and the chicken might also tuck its head under a wing to get some extra body heat.
We often get asked which is the best cover for an Eglu run to keep pets comfortable all year round. Read our simple guide below so you know how to help your pets in all weathers!
These shades are a thinner cover material which offers protection from the sun, without creating a tunnel where heat can build up inside the run. These are smaller than the winter covers to allow better airflow through the run for ventilation. Move the summer shade around the run to suit the time of day and your hens’ routine. You may wish to change this for a Clear or Combi Cover in summer when there’s rain on the way!
The Clear Covers allow for sunlight to flood your pet’s run, while also offering protection from rain. This makes them ideal for spring and autumn, so the run is light and warm with sun, but also protected from unpredictable wind and rain.
Get the best of both worlds, with shade from the sun on one side and light coming in the other, as well as full wind and rain protection on both sides. The Combi Covers are half dark green, heavy duty cover for extreme wind and rain protection, and half clear cover to let in sunlight and warmth and to let your pets see when you are bringing them treats!
Heavy Duty Covers
For strong, hard-wearing protection against the worst of winter choose heavy duty covers. Even when the temperature drops to single figures, the rain and wind batters your pets home, or a deluge of snow covers your garden, the dark green, impenetrable heavy duty covers offer sturdy weather protection. Your chickens or rabbits will be able to hop around the Eglu run in complete peace, without getting cold, damp or wind-swept!
Extreme Temperature Covers
Chickens and rabbits are very efficient at keeping themselves warm in cold weather, and the Eglu’s twin wall insulation will assist them by keeping cool air out and warm air in, but when temperatures plummet below freezing for multiple days in a row, they may appreciate a little extra support. The Extreme Temperature Blankets and Jackets add another insulating layer, like your favourite wooly jumper, without compromising the ventilation points around the coop.
Chicken manure is one of the best things you can use to improve the soil in your garden. Once composted, chicken droppings are full of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and other important nutrients, and increases the soil’s ability to hold water. This means more beautiful flowers, and bigger and more delicious vegetables!
Collect your chickens’ droppings and compost for up to a year before using the manure.
2. Pest Control
Chickens spend their days scratching around the garden in search of yummy treats. They love finding beetles, grubs, caterpillars and ticks. Sometimes they even go for those pesky slugs! This is an extremely environmentally friendly way of getting rid of pests, with the added benefit of happy and content hens!
Want to create a new bed in the garden? No problem, get the chickens in to do the job for you. If there’s one thing they do well it’s tilling and turning. Spread some chicken feed where you want the soil to be moved and aerated, or leave a pile of leaves that you would like spread over a resting bed, and you can be sure that the chickens will have sorted it in half the time it would take you to source a rotavator.
4. Free Weeding
In a similar way, if you want to clear a bed of weeds or grass, get your chickens on it. They will munch on weeds and dead matter you haven’t already removed, leaving the fun bits of gardening to you!
Although clever, chickens are however not able to differentiate weeds from the plants and seeds you actually want to keep, so it’s best to keep them off flower beds and veg patches where you are growing things you actually want. Use a good fencing to limit the chickens to certain parts of the garden.
5. Added Calcium
One of the best things about keeping chickens is the delicious eggs they provide you with. But did you know that eggshells can be highly beneficial to your garden? Eggshells are made of calcium carbonate, and are a perfect way to introduce minerals to your soil. Calcium is essential for building cell walls, making sure the plants stay strong and healthy.
Grind up your shells with a mortar and pestle and spread on your compost, or straight in your bed.
6. Great Company
With chickens around you will have even more reason to spend time in the garden. It’s so much fun seeing them scratch around and hear their friendly chatter, and they are great company for any keen gardener. People even claim that being around chickens relieves stress and leads to better mental health.
So what’s stopping you? Chickens are the perfect pet you and your garden needs.
Snowy weather can bring great fun for all the family, but when it comes to our pets we need to take extra care to keep them happy and healthy (even if they love it!) Take a look at our snow safety advice, and make sure you’re prepared for whatever winter may bring…
Dry off damp fur and feathers
Check on your outdoor pets a few times throughout the day during periods of snowy weather and check they haven’t got too wet. Damp fur and feathers will take longer to dry during colder temperatures, making it difficult for them to warm up again. Indoor animals should also be dried off with a towel after being outside or going for a walk.
Clean paws of ice
For dogs and cats in particular, snow can get compacted into their paw pads and turn to painful cubes of ice. Use a towel or drying mitt to dislodge any chunks of snow and dry off their feet. Also take care when walking your dogs in snow, as salt used to grit the roads can be poisonous. Watch that they don’t stop to eat snow at the roadside and clean their legs and paws of any snow or dirt after their walk.
Pets of all kinds will use more energy to keep themselves warm in winter, particularly in super cold, snowy spells, so they will benefit from some extra food. Although they will appreciate more treats, don’t be tempted to overfeed on these. Something nutritious will help them the most.
Outdoor pets will need more dry bedding in their coop or hutch for them to snuggle into and keep warm. However, make sure their home is still well ventilated to keep fresh air moving through and prevent health problems. Read other ways you can get your coop winter-ready. Indoor animals might also appreciate an extra blanket or a cosy den for bedtime.
If you have a cat who still likes to go outdoors whatever the weather, be wary of the potential of antifreeze poisoning. Look out for symptoms such as vomiting, seizures or difficulty breathing and call a vet immediately if you think your cat may be ill. An outdoor enclosure could also provide a solution for letting them play outside in safety.
Don’t forget about the wild birds in your garden!
Place a wide bowl or tray of water in your garden with something inside to float around (e.g. rubber duck!) to keep the water moving and prevent freezing. Extra wild bird food will also be appreciated!
Chickens are built to be outside, and they are known to withstand some pretty extreme temperatures. Under the visible plumage birds like chickens have a layer of downy feathers that can be puffed up to create an extra layer of insulation that will keep them warm.
Cooped up chickens will soon get bored and agitated, and even though you might be surprised that they choose to go out in freezing temperatures, you should definitely always give your chickens the opportunity to stretch their legs.
Ensure chickens have a dry and sheltered spot in a secure run or in an area of the garden where they can spend time outside.We have plenty of different covers that makes this an easy job. Clear covers are ideal for winter as they will protect your chickens from wind and rain while still letting the light in. Put straw on the ground to prevent a build-up of mud, and install a perch or two for the chickens to rest on during the day.
Close the door to the coop when all chickens have gone inside to roost for the night, or let your Automatic Chicken Coop Door do it for you. If you have chickens who are eager to stay out later you can use a Coop Light to encourage them up to bed.
2. Don’t compensate for bad insulation by blocking up the coop
Well insulated coops, like the Eglus, will keep the chickens warm in winter by capturing the heat from the chickens’ bodies while not letting any cold air travel through the walls. They are also designed to let air flow through the coop to prevent a build up of moisture, without any nasty drafts.
Drafts and moisture are the two biggest winter enemies for chickens, as they make it difficult for them to stay warm and dry. If the coop is too tightly insulated the moisture evaporating from the chickens breaths and droppings will have nowhere to go. This humid environment – and the possible build up of ammonia – is really bad for chickens, and can lead to unpleasant respiratory illnesses.
Make sure that your coop is well ventilated, with vents that directs the air somewhere other than straight onto your chickens.
3. Don’t heat the coop
Chickens are hardy creatures that will gradually adapt to lower temperatures, and heating the coop will mean that your chickens never get used to the cold. This will also make them less likely to actually leave the coop and get that exercise, fresh air and entertainment that they require to stay happy and healthy.
Apart from the fact that heaters in the coop will always be a potential fire hazard, you also run the risk of your ill-adapted chickens getting a shock at a sudden drop in temperature if the power was to go off for some reason. This is much worse for them than having a slightly chillier coop.
If you’re worried you can always add a bit of extra bedding to the nest box, or put an extreme temperature cover on your Eglu.
4. Don’t leave eggs too long
Although the Eglu will keep your eggs warm and toasty, there is a risk that eggs laid elsewhere in the run or the garden will freeze in winter. Frozen eggs are not automatically dangerous to eat, but when the content of the egg freezes and expands, there’s a higher risk of bacteria entering through the cracks in the shell.
Collect the eggs every time you visit your chickens to minimise the risk of a frozen yolk.
5. Don’t ignore the water
As goes for all animals, you will want to give your chickens constant access to fresh water, even in winter. They won’t drink as much during the colder months, but here that’s actually a disadvantage, as the water is more likely to freeze if not touched regularly.
Bring the drinker inside overnight and take it out when you go to check on your girls in the morning. If the temperature goes below zero during the day, check the water as often as you can, and break the ice or change the water if it has frozen.
There are several water heating solutions available on the market. There are heaters that you can easily plug into an outdoor power source, but there are also battery powered ones you can put in the water. Just make sure the chickens are not able to peck their way through the heater.
If the temperature stays around zero, you can put something floating in the water, like a tennis ball. As the floating object moves, it will break up surface ice as it forms on the water, which will stop, or at least slow down the freezing process.
6. Don’t put off cleaning the coop
Hanging out in the garden is not as tempting in winter, but you will still need to make sure the chickens’ house is nice and clean. It is likely that your chickens will spend more time in the coop in winter and produce more droppings there, so keep an eye out and change your routine accordingly.
7. Don’t limit the fun
The chickens might not venture as far out in the garden as they normally do, and the opportunity to forage for bugs and other treats will be limited when the ground is frozen or covered with snow. This can lead to chickens getting bored, which might result in aggressive feather pecking and egg eating.
You will need to make sure that they have plenty of fun things to do in their run. We have lots of boredom busting accessories in our shop. Put up perches the chickens can sit on and try the super fun Peck Toys or the Caddi treat holder for gradual treat-dispensing hentertainment. Or, if you feel your chickens might be the adventurous kind, why not put up a Chicken Swing they can enjoy together?
8. Don’t stick to the same feeding schedule
Your chickens will most likely eat more in winter, as they need the energy to keep warm. Give them some extra food, and make sure it doesn’t freeze in the feeder. For an extra snack, sprinkle some corn on the run in the afternoon to add both calories and some foraging fun.
Also make sure that you provide plenty of grit. As chickens don’t have teeth they need it do digest their food. The rest of the year they find and swallows little stones and pebbles as they peck around the garden, but if the ground is frozen this will be much harder.
9. Don’t ignore combs and wattles
All chickens, but particularly breeds with large combs and wattles, run the risk of frostbite on these sensitive body parts during winter. It’s not necessarily dangerous as it’s normally just the tips that get affected, but can be a bit uncomfortable. To prevent this, apply petroleum jelly to the combs and wattles during cold spells.
10. Don’t take covers off when the sun is shining
If you’re in the habit of taking the covers off the chickens’ run when it’s sunny, it might be a good idea to stop doing this in winter. Clear covers in particular will create a lovely sunroom feeling on the run when the sun is out, and your girls will love having a warmer spot to retreat to. Covers will also stop cold winds, so we would suggest keeping them on permanently in winter.
Most hens lay their eggs with minimum fuss. They might make a bit of noise to announce their egg-laying achievement, but will soon return to the daily business of exploring and scratching for food. Some hens, however, are a bit more moody. Broody, to be more accurate.
A broody hen is one who sits on her egg with every intention of staying there until it has hatched – no matter whether the egg is fertilised or not. This is very useful if you want to hatch some chicks, but otherwise it can be a problem.
The cause of broodiness is linked to body heat, backed up by maternal instincts. Hens who are cooped up together in a hot henhouse may suddenly heat up to a level that makes them think “I’m going to hatch an egg!”. Certain breeds seem more susceptible to broodiness than others, with the Silkies and Cochins being particularly moody-broody.
Signs of Broodiness
A broody hen undergoes a personality change. The most obvious sign of this is her refusal to leave the nesting box. She will sit there with the air of a bird who will happily wait until Doomsday for the egg to hatch. This misplaced dedication will also make her grumpy and liable to peck or cluck angrily if you try to move her.
When you do manage to oust her from the box, she’ll simply head back there again and resume her brooding. Once she feels established in her new maternal role, she will fluff out her feathers and may begin to self-pluck her chest feathers to line the nest.
How to Stop a Hen Being Broody
Appearances can be misleading. The hen may look as though she will sit in the box for eternity, but in reality she will only stay there – usually – for three weeks. This is the length of time it takes a chicken egg to hatch.This means, if space allows, you can simply let her brood for 21 days, and then the mood will lift and she will return to business as usual.
Having said that, you need to make sure the hen gets food and drink during this time, and this may involve forcibly removing her from the nest box and shutting it off until she has taken refreshments. Wearing sturdy gloves is a good precaution when doing this, to make sure you don’t get pecked.
Dipping the hen’s rear end in cool water is a common way of bringing broodiness to an end. Again, the condition is linked to body heat, so a sudden cooling of the rump will usually do the trick. The method is unsubtle – you take the hen and dunk her hind portions into the water for ten seconds.
A related anti-broody trick is to place a packet of frozen peas or sweetcorn kernels underneath the hen in the nestbox. Crushed ice cubes in a bag will do the trick, too. This has the dual impact of cooling the chicken down and making life in the nest box too uncomfortable for brooding.
Sometimes a simple obstacle such as a plant pot or a couple of bricks will have the desired effect. If the hen can’t access the nest box, she can’t sit there and brood.
Some owners use a so-called ‘broody enclosure’ to break the habit. This is a wire cage or crate, in which the chicken is placed along with food and water. The wire is slightly uncomfortable, and will also help cool her down. After three days, this gentle form of solitary confinement will usually break the broody habit. The signs that the brood-mood is over are obvious – the hen will stop fluffing out her feathers and will stalk around the cage, rather than sitting and brooding.
Then again, you could purchase some fertilised eggs and let the broody hen get on with it. If you want chicks, this is by far the easiest, and most natural way of producing them – under the fluffy belly of a broody hen.
Roosting high up in trees comes natural to chickens, as that is one of the safest places to rest if you’re a chicken in the wild. And doing so on gently moving, or even swinging, branches makes you an even more difficult target for predators. So instinctively your birds should be happy to jump straight up on their Chicken Swing!
With that being said, chickens are vulnerable and clever creatures, which means that they can be wary of new things. They don’t like being the first to try something, so if you’ve got your flock a new toy and are disappointed they don’t seem particularly interested in it, you might have to help them take the leap!
Setting Up The Chicken Swing
The Chicken Swing is cleverly designed to make it as easy as possible for chickens of all ages to use it. The base of the swing has a texture resembling a corncob, which makes it more grippable than a smooth plastic surface.
Make sure you place the swing free from any obstructions such as walls, mesh or other things on the run. Choose a sheltered spot under cover so the hens can do their swinging no matter the weather!
Eventually you ideally want the Chicken Swing to sit above the chickens’ heads, so that they will be able to swing without the risk of bumping into one of their friends. It’s no problem for a chicken to jump up a few feet, but to make it as easy as possible in the beginning, start with the swing close to the ground. The Chicken Swing is lightweight enough that if it were to hit one of your hens, it won’t hurt them.
You won’t need to train all your chickens to get on the swing. They are flock animals, so if you get one of them to show the others how it’s done, there’s a high chance the others will follow shortly!
Letting your chickens have a go
So choose your most adventurous chicken and place her on the swing, which at this stage should be hanging very low to the ground. Give her something delicious straight away, so that she associates the swing with yummy treats. Do this a few times until you feel she’s comfortable perching on the swing. At this point, push the swing slightly to get it moving. Reward the chicken every time she swings towards you. Push a bit more every time you’re trying, and start lifting the Chicken Swing higher and higher above the ground.
If the chicken at any point seems stressed or anxious, stop the training, let her down and go back to basics. It’s important that she only has good feelings associated with the swing!
It’s not guaranteed that all chickens will warm to the swing, it’s just a fact you have to accept. Young chickens are in general more likely to take risks and learn new things, but personality plays a big part, so you’re not automatically going to succeed just because you’re introducing the swing to chicks. However most chicken will, after some persuasion, absolutely love swinging, and it’s worth a bit of work when you see your girls queueing up for their go!
Here at Omlet we often receive calls from aspiring chicken keepers who are seeking chicken keeping advice before getting their first birds. Some of the most popular questions we get asked are, what should I feed my chicken with or how can I protect my chickens from predators? One question that keeps coming up is, do I need to shut the Eglu door at night?
Often people ask us this question because the idea of adding another task to their daily routine might be one of the reasons which puts them off chicken keeping. Much like you wouldn’t like to sleep with your front door open, unfortunately for chicken keepers, nor do your chickens, therefore most nights we would recommend you close the chicken coop door. But having to close the door doesn’t necessarily mean that it would need to be done by the chicken keeper themselves! Have you ever thought about automatic door system? Well luckily for chicken keepers, Omlet has recently launched a new Autodoor which will solve all of these problems. Even though our Eglus are specially designed to keep your chickens warm in winter with a unique twin-wall insulation system which works in a similar way to double glazing, leaving the door open overnight would let the cold enter inside which might result in having frozen eggs after a freezing winter night and could make your chickens feel unwell. Which is why we strongly recommend you use the handle on top of the Eglu and simply lift and twist it to close the door in one convenient motion each evening after having make sure all your flock are inside As important as it is to close the door to protect your hens from the cold, it is also important to do it to protect them from potential overnight predator attacks. Most predators would wait for the night to attack your chickens therefore by simply closing the door it would protect your flock from being attacked by predators such as racoons, foxes and coyotes. Having said how important it is to close your chicken coop overnight we understand that not everyone has the luxury of being at home every night to close the coop door especially for people working late shifts that are often home well after the sun sets. That is why we recently launched an automatic chicken coop door that can be attached directly to any wooden chicken coop, wire or the Omlet Eglu Cube Mk1 and Mk2.
Much like a personal chicken coop concierge, the Autodoor will always make sure your chicken’s coop is securely closed at night even when you’re running late. Whether you decide to use the light or time mode, the Omlet secure and safe Autodoor will either open and close at dawn and dusk or at specific times that you have programmed it to. In addition to being designed to be used in different modes the Autodoor has a unique safety sensor detecting any blockages to prevent your chickens from being injured when they decide to stop half way through the door. Benefits of the Omlet Automatic Chicken Coop Door:
Easy to install, no maintenance required
Operated by light sensor or timer
Powered by battery
Works with all wooden chicken coops
Improves coop security and insulation
Compatible with the Eglu Cube
Reliable in all weather conditions
Built-in safety sensors
Can be used with any chicken run or mesh
To summarise, closing the coop door is definitely the recommended action for every chicken keeper in order to protect their chickens from the cold and predators however this task can easily be completed by an Autodoor. Check out the review below to see what one of our Autodoor owners thinks of this new product:
“Thank you Omlet for a wonderful product and great service. The door arrived quickly, very well packaged and my concerns over fitting it were unfounded as I was able to complete the task completely unaided. The door is easy to operate and means my girls are safely tucked up at dusk and I do not have to get up ridiculously early to open the coop and stop them hollering!” – Wendy
Most chicken keepers limit their attentions to hens and eggs. Roosters – or cockerels, as they are sometimes called (and definitely not to be confused with roasters!) – are simply not on their tick list. After all, roosters are territorial, keen to defend their flock of hens, and famously noisy first thing in the morning.
But they are also beautiful birds, and if you intend hatching your own chicken eggs, your hens will certainly need the attentions of a rooster.
There are several cockadoodle-dos and cockadoodle-don’ts to consider if you are thinking of adding a rooster to your flock.
First, the good stuff
Cockerels look fantastic as they swagger across their territory. Their huge combs and wattles quiver like jelly, their pointy rear-end feathers and ‘mane’ of spiky neck feathers are wonderfully showy, and their posture suggests someone who has just strutted onto the dancefloor to show off some amazing moves.
But it’s not all about beauty. Roosters always have an eye out for danger, and will fight off any intruder they think they can tackle. The bird is not silly enough to attack dogs or cats, but it will make it clear to them that they are not welcome, through body language and alarm calls. This gives the hens time to flee for shelter, and the rooster will beat the retreat too, if things start to look too dangerous.
A rooster will add harmony to a hen flock, making sure none of his birds are bullied, and keeping everything in order, a bit like a hands-off, benign sheepdog.
If you want to hatch chicks, hiring the services of a rooster is the only way forward. Fertilised eggs are still edible, as long as you collect the eggs on a daily basis. Any fertilised egg taken away from the warmth of a broody hen will not develop into a chick.
And the downsides?
If you live in a town or village, noise might be an issue with the neighbours. In many places in the USA, roosters are banned for this reason. However, if your bylaws don’t place an outright ban on male chickens, you’ll have the law on your side. But what about those irate neighbours?
The irony is that people who keep roosters – and many others besides – love the sound of early morning cock-crow. I raise my hand, as the author of this post, and admit to loving the sound of a rooster at daybreak – and I live in a village with half a dozen cockerels battling it out first thing in the morning. It’s a much better sound than car engines and slamming doors as people prepare for the working day. If people can live with the sound of road, rail and air traffic, surely they can get used to the wonderful sound of a full-throated rooster?
Sadly not, in many cases, and a crowing cockerel can be the subject of arguments and recriminations. So, so if you have nearby neighbours, it’s an issue you can’t ignore. Start off by speaking to everyone who live near enough that they will hear a cockerel crowing in the morning and see how they feel about the idea. You never know, they might be really excited about the prospect of a new alarm clock!
There are ways to keep roosters quiet before everyone has got out of bed. Some people swear by anti-crow collars, Velcro strips that restrict airflow to the rooster’s voice box. They don’t hurt the birds or affect their breathing, but they transform the noisy COCK-A-DOODLE-DO! into a much quieter clucking sound. If you have a large rooster you may also be helped by a coop with a low roof. Roosters must stretch their neck to crow, and if the coop roof is not high enough to allow him to stretch the neck fully, he will have to wait until you let him out.
With that being said though it’s worth noting that roosters naturally crow, and if you (or your neighbours) can’t stand being woken up at the crack of dawn, you might be better off sticking to hens.
The rooster is not just a chicken version of a sheepdog, he’s a guard dog too. At the sight of any intruder, he’ll let you know. This is just the kind of vigilance you’d expect from a bird once declared to be the messenger of the sun god. And that’s a lovely image – he’s not crowing to annoy anyone, he’s crowing to announce the arrival of the life-giving sun. Who could say no to that?
If you keep chickens, you already know what a happy, healthy hen looks like. If anything changes, it’s a sign that all is not well in the henhouse.
The commonest problems are not due to diseases or parasites, but stress. If the henhouse is overcrowded, dirty, or too hot, or if the birds are feeling harassed, they will become stressed. The symptoms include egg-eating, aggression to their neighbours, loose droppings, lethargy, and a sudden interruption to their egg-laying.
The cause should be obvious enough, once you stop to look. Too many birds in one house? No shelter from direct sunlight? No room to exercise? Nothing but wet mud? These things can be sorted out by rearranging the hens’ environment, extending the run, and getting a bigger hen coop. Check the hens’ diet, too – are you feeding them a good, fortified chicken feed, supplemented with some corn
? Poor nutrition is a gateway to other health issues, as it weakens the birds’ immune systems.
Infectious Bronchitis – The Commonest Chicken Disease
There are many diseases that can afflict chickens, but thankfully most of them are uncommon. Anecdotal evidence shows that Infectious Bronchitis is the one that small-scale backyard hen keepers are most likely to encounter.
Hens suffering from this ailment will have a quiet, rasping, wheezing cough, sneeze or snore. The first signs of the problem are usually a loss of interest in food. As the disease takes hold, the hen will develop a ‘runny nose’, with discharge from the nostrils and eyes.
The bronchitis is caused by an airborne virus, and the best remedy is vaccination of the flock. Any infected birds should be isolated and kept somewhere dry and warm, making sure they eat and drink well. Some will die, but most pull through.
Note: the symptoms described here are also associated with other diseases, including Infectious Sinusitis, Newcastle Disease, and the deadly Aspergillosis, Pullorum and Bird Flu. The Omlet Chicken Guide has more details.
Bumblefoot – The Commonest Chicken Injury
A leg or foot wound that becomes infected can result in Bumblefoot. The wound will not always be obvious, but the biggest clue is a limp, or the tendency to stand for a long time on one leg while the other hens are scratching and pecking for food.
After a few days, the limb will swell, at which point you need to act fast. Taking the bird to a vet is the best bet, as the wound will need thoroughly cleaning, and minor surgery may be involved if the problem is severe. Untreated hens can die.
Not all limps are the result of Bumblefoot, though. Hens sometimes land awkwardly after the chicken version of flying. Broken toes and legs are quite common too, and these will require a splint. But if there is no visible surface wound, Bumblefoot is unlikely to set in.
So, look out for the limp – that’s your first clue that all is not well.
Common Chicken Mites
Chicken parasites are common, but not usually life-threatening. The commonest ones are the mites, of which there are several species.
Red Mite, or Chicken Mite – These nasties hide away in the henhouse, in corners, under perches and elsewhere. Anti-mite powders and liquids can be applied to the coop, and keeping things super-clean at all times will discourage the tiny red bloodsuckers.
Northern Fowl Mite – these are a bit bigger than red mites, and live on the birds rather than just dropping in for a quick bite. Remedies are available, and need to be applied to the bird itself.
Scaly Leg Mite – This variety causes a hen’s legs to become rough, sore and weepy. Antibacterial scaly-leg treatments are the only way to tackle the problem; although rubbing in a little Vaseline can ease the discomfort.
Depluming Mite – This variety burrows into the feather shafts, causing swelling and producing a discharge on which the mites feed. The hens will then begin plucking their own feathers to relieve the discomfort. The mites spread quickly, so the whole flock and henhouse will need treating.
Quick action is the best way of tackling these ailments. Each morning, carry out a quick visual health check. Any of the following should be taken as a warning sign: