Every year, hundreds of backyard chickens suffer from health problems caused by their environment.
Their human companions are often shocked when they discover their chicken has been exposed to a hazard in their own home which they were not aware of.
There are many risks in most backyards. Some are so common that we might even fail to recognise them as dangerous. Others are more obvious, but these can also distract us from less obvious hazards.
Whether inside a coop, or free-range, chickens are at risk of attack from predators large and small. These predators can be airborne - hawks, owls, falcons, eagles; in the trees around your coop - possums, snakes; or in the yard - dogs, cats, rats, mice.
Small children, while meaning no harm, could also hurt your chickens through play.
You can protect your chickens by securing them in their coop at night, even if they are free range during the day.
Chickens are intelligent and love to roost in the same place every night. They will come home around the same time at the end of the day and can be locked up safely for the night.
Lay down extensive wire mesh (preferably tightly woven and tough) on the ground around the coop and even on the floor of the coop. Spread dirt over it and allow grass to grow through it.
This way, burrowing/digging animals such as rats, mice, dogs, and even foxes, will not be able to dig through the wire and into the coop.
Remove any overhanging tree branches that can allow snakes and rats to 'drop in' for a visit and feed.
Make sure the coop is fully roofed and any access points are blocked. Also make sure your fences are secure and always check your coop perimeters weekly for signs of damage.
You can also have a rooster with your hens, if allowed by the local council. Roosters use their natural protective instincts to chase away predators or warn the hens of aerial predators such as hawks.
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It's important to be safety conscious about poisonous garden chemicals, such as baits and chemicals.
Keep in mind the effects of secondary poisoning, when rodents and insects that have been poisoned are consumed by chickens, as this can result in illness or death of the chickens.
There are a number of plants that we might grow in our garden, either as decorative plants or for eating, that may be poisonous to chickens. This is especially in dry weather when garden plants are more heavily watered. Research the plants you are growing to make sure they are not dangerous to your chickens or other pets.
Did you know that chickens like to peck at shiny objects and will often gulp them down without hesitation? This can lead to an accumulation of hardware in the bird's insides, which can cause either obstruction or ulceration of the gizzard, or lead poisoning. It's important to make sure you check your chickens coop/yard area is free from any of these unusual or random objects.
Chickens can't swim very well, so open bodies of water such as water troughs, ponds, swimming pools, etc., pose very real threats to their wellbeing. Make sure that you either prevent access to the open water sources, or place bricks or similar in water troughs that chickens can stand on to get out of the water.
While chickens might be great for helping us dispose of leftover food, there are some foods that we should never give our chickens. These include chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, raw dried beans, mouldy produce, avocados and salty food.
Creating a safe environment for your chickens is essential to ensure their health and happiness. By being vigilant and addressing these common hazards, you can help your feathered friends thrive and enjoy the benefits of backyard chicken keeping.
For more information visit the RSPCA Knowledgebase
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