Chickens are generally healthy, hardy, and happy animals that also can be very friendly to people and each other (and other animals). But, unfortunately, one reality about raising chickens is simply that chickens are very prone to sickness, disease, and behavioral issues. It never seems to matter how careful chicken keepers are – problems with health and behavior always seem to arise even with the best of care and the most careful attendance is paid. Basically, the truth is, problems with arise with raising chickens.
Most problems with chickens are very common and are generally fairly benign. Some require minimal adjustments to solve. Some of the common issues, no matter how careful you are, require immediate and severe response as to not lose the entire flock. Here are the most common problems that you can expect with chickens, and how you can fix them.
- Predation. This is one very common and heart breaking problem that every chicken keeper will probably have to deal with at least once in their lifetimes. It seems like everything wants to eat chickens – from the common hawks and eagles that fly in the sky, to the neighbor’s dog. Raccoons, fox, bobcats, bears, snakes, cats, owls, and many other animals are common problems. Securing your chicken coop properly or purchasing well-made chicken coop kits can help discourage predators from taking chickens while they’re in the coop (which is very common). While the chickens are out of the coop, having secure chicken runs that’s covered will help discourage aerial predators and daytime predation. If you insist on free ranging your flock outside of the confines of a fenced chicken run, provide lots of tree cover to quell hawk and eagle attacks, and purchase chicken breeds that do well free ranging and are very predator-savvy.
- Disease. Chickens are just as susceptible to viral, bacterial, parasitic, and congenital sickness as any other animal. There are vaccines that are available to immunize your birds against common yet deadly sicknesses such as Mericks’s Disease. You should check with your local extension agent or veterinarian about whether or not these diseases are prevalent in your area before you buy chicks, or if you have birds that are healthy but haven’t been vaccinated. Other sicknesses, such as simple viral infections, can manifest themselves in chickens in many ways and are usually best sat out, as you would in a person, in isolation. Practice the best sanitary care that you can, and don’t be afraid to use products such as diatomaceous earth or poultry dust. There are medications available for farm use that you can find at feed stores, but always check with a vet first before you medicate. Have a quarantine system ready to go at all times, clean and prepared. A dog kennel lined with old but clean towels is a good start. Any sick chicken should be isolated from the flock.
- Aggression. Roosters are the usual culprit, but sometimes hens can be aggressive towards people and other chickens in the flock. Aggressive hens can be very problematic if they attack people and other hens. These hens can do more harm than good within the flock and are often hard to rehome and may need to be euthanized. Thankfully aggressive hens are rare. Multiple roosters in a small flock with hens will almost guarantee rooster aggression towards each other, towards hens (with aggressive, forceful mating behavior) and towards people. If you’d like a rooster, keep one single rooster for every 6-10 hens to help quell aggressive forced mating behavior and lessen his need for competition. If your rooster is attacking people, generally this is an issue that can’t be solved through training or addition of hens to breed with and protect. Human-aggressive roosters should either be rehomed, or in extreme cases euthanized. Sometimes people report being able to retrain an aggressive rooster by capturing and holding him, which can work. And of course, not all roosters are aggressive towards people.
- Behavioral issues that isn’t necessarily aggression-related. Chickens can be neurotic. They do things like cannibalize each other out of simple boredom. They will lay eggs, then turn around and eat the eggs they just laid. They will eat things like paper clips and screws and pieces of plastic. Their pecking order may isolate a chicken and prevent her from eating. To avoid these sorts of behavioral issues, make sure your chickens are fully engaged at all times- this doesn’t mean you have to put on a 3 ring circus for your birds, but they do need to have enough space to move and explore as they do normally. They need to be able to dust bathe and scratch at the ground, explore under logs stones. They need to be able to jump on things. They need a varied diet of more than their formulated crumble (but the scientifically formulated crumble is excellent for basic nutrition and will help prevent the cravings for eggs and random garbage). Offer simple and fun treats like a head of lettuce, a halved watermelon or even a cooked winter squash. Suet cakes make great treats in the winter. Offer lots of natural perches and rock for them in their closed run, or risk free ranging.
Raising chickens can be a wonderful addition to the home garden and are essentials on the homestead. They offer immense enjoyment and seem to simply “fit in” with human life. They’re fun, cute, and beautiful. They offer a lot more in return for what they’re given. Despite the problems that chicken owners will have to face, they’re so very much worth it!