It’s essential that you maintain close contact with your animals to ensure they remain healthy. Even if you do all of the right things, It isn’t always easy to maintain good animal health. This seems to be especially true with chickens.
We decided to start raising laying hens this year after building a new chicken coop from recycled materials (see the series of coop-related articles). At first the chickens were quite happy and produced eggs regularly. However, with the excessive summer heat, we noticed that their egg shells (not the inside of the egg) seemed to suffer. The eggs weren’t quite as smooth as normal and the shells were thinner.
We had given the chickens oyster shells to eat and they have access to a wide variety of plants and insects, so we thought we were covered. However, it turns out that the chickens weren’t eating the oyster shells and that the summer heat was severely draining their calcium levels—yet another effect of global warming. Because we were inexperienced, we missed some warning signs and the chickens actually began eating their own eggs.
After a lot of thought, we finally found some solutions to fix the problems with our chickens that may be helpful to anyone else who is encountering this problem. Here are the things we changed in our coop and our chickens seem a lot healthier now than before.
- Place the water feeder where it won’t get dirty (after all, chickens are birds and will fly to the water).
- Mix the oyster shells into the feed at a ratio of 9:1 to ensure the chickens get enough calcium in their diet.
- Collect the eggs several times a day.
- Remove any broken eggs from the coop.
- Add a vitamin D supplement to the chicken’s water during high heat times when the birds are less likely to get the full amount of sun they require (if you don’t want to use the supplement, then give the chickens vitamin D enhanced milk).
- Provide fake eggs in each of the nest boxes (the chickens will peck the fake eggs, find that they won’t break, and be less likely to peck the real eggs as result).
Things could have easily been worse. We didn’t lose any chickens this summer and they do all seem to weigh about as much as they should. All of the chickens have remained active. We also didn’t make a few of the mistakes that novices can make, such as feeding the chickens raw eggs or eggshells (which will encourage the chickens to eat their own eggs). Even so, as with everything else we’ve done so far, this summer has been a learning experience and I expect that we have more to learn as we move forward.
Making sure your chickens have access to a variety of greens and insects is an essential part of raising healthy birds. However, there is more to it than that and unfortunately, chickens don’t come with a manual. You may find that you need to work with individual birds to get the most out of them. Let me know your thoughts about raising chickens at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.