If you have chickens or are just getting started, here are ten tips for keeping your flock healthy in 2013.
1. Provide plenty of fresh water with ACV.
Whether you choose to provide an open waterer or water nipples or cups, make sure that your flock has plenty of water year round. Keep waterers unfrozen with heated water bowls, uncoated light bulbs, or by bringing waterers into the house overnight. Pour a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with the mother into each gallon of drinking water to improve nutrient absorption and keep the water clean longer.
2. Provide plenty of greens.
The orangey color of the yolk is from carotenoids derived from greens such as grass or alfalfa, as is the yellow of legs, skin, and beaks. Make sure that they have access to fresh or dried greens year-round for their health and yours.
3. Provide animal protein.
Despite proud “vegetarian-fed” labels, chickens are not actually vegetarians. Chickens need to eat animal protein, often in the form of bugs but also small animals such as rodents and lizards. If your chickens can range on healthy land, they will provide this for themselves. If not, you will want to find a source of animal protein such as dried mealworms or occasionally canned tuna. You can also raise earthworms, mealworms, or black soldier fly larvae.
4. Try fermenting feed.
Fermenting increases the availability of nutrients in food. As a wet mash, fermented food also stimulates the growth of villi in the intestine to increase nutrient uptake. As a bonus, the beneficial microbes also help to reduce the prevalence of disease-causing bacteria in the digestive tract. Make a soupy mixture of food and water, add a good starter like apple cider vinegar with the mother, wait about three days, strain and feed. (Did you know ferments are good for you, too? Every culture in the world traditionally eats some cultured food. Try making your own homemade sauerkraut!)
5. Feed your breeders right.
By simply providing extra nutrition to your breeding chickens, you can greatly increase your chances of hatching chicks which hatch strongly, hold up well in the brooder, are less susceptible to disease, have well-formed feet, legs, and spines, and grow robustly. Epigenetic influences can improve or weaken a flock in just one generation. Breeder nutrition also enhances virility and fertility.
6. Move the brooder outside.
By rearing chicks outside with a minimum of supplemental heat, they will feather out faster and grow to be hardier. With access to the outdoors, they will also practice foraging and protective behaviors sooner. Use a contact brooder like the EcoGlow as soon as it can keep the area directly under it at the proper temperature overnight. In warm climates, you can put them outside with an EcoGlow as soon as they hatch. In more moderate climates, you may keep them inside for a week before moving them outside in early spring. Make sure you check your coop and run to close up any chick-sized holes.
7. Use deep litter.
Deep litter is alive with microorganisms which help to process poops and keep the air fresh. These microorganisms also provide B vitamins to chickens scratching in the litter and actually create a small amount of heat to soften winter temperatures. Begin with six inches of dry material such as pine shavings (not cedar) and add another inch to ½ inch each week. Be sure to keep the litter dry and protected from leaky windows or waterers.
8. Renovate the dust bath.
Chickens dust bathe to discourage parasites and keep themselves clean. Try giving them a place to bathe with all the amenities: protection from precipitation; access in all weather; deep, loose dirt; and bonus powders like wood ash or DE.
9. Give them more space.
Chickens would be in heaven if they could roam the jungle freely like their wild kin. Barring that, they thrive in conditions closest to their natural state. Find the balance of freedom and safety that works for you and try to provide as much room to roam as possible in your situation. The exercise is good for their mind and muscles. The pecking order will relax as lower-ranking members move further towards the edge of the group, and the density of pathogens will decrease.
10. Put the chickens to work.
If your chickens are only giving you eggs, you are missing out on one of the major benefits of chicken-keeping: compost. Keep your kitchen and lawn scraps and build a compost pile in the run. The chickens will turn and enrich your compost. You can remove material to age in another location and then use it in your garden. If you don’t keep a garden, your neighbors might appreciate the rich compost and offer you their scraps (which may reduce feed costs) and perhaps barter some of the fruits of their garden in return.