Backyard Chickens: Cage Free but Not Carefree

4. Your Chicken Palace: Aim for Function, Not Flair.

Many people get backyard chickens because they look pretty in dollhouse-like coops in their suburban yards. Lots of popular stores also advertise coops like they are pieces of decorative furniture. The reality, though, is that many of these fancy coops lack features that are critical for good chicken health. For example, chickens housed in cold climates need heat when it’s very cold so that they don’t get frostbite, so the coop needs to accommodate a heat lamp or other heat source.

In addition, chickens that are housed inside for many days over cold winters lack exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, which is essential to helping them make vitamin D in their skin. Vitamin D enables chickens to absorb calcium from their food so that they can make hard-shelled eggs. Without adequate UV light exposure, they can lay soft or shell-less eggs or, even worse, have the eggs get stuck inside of them. This condition is called “egg-bound” and is a life-threatening emergency for which you need to contact a veterinarian. Your coop needs to provide adequate daylight or an artificial source of UV light. Cute coops are great to look at, but they also need to be large and airy enough to accommodate your flock size and to allow for easy access for feeding and cleaning as well as providing protection from wild predators.

Finally, coops must be placed in areas where the top layer of soil can be dug up and removed at least once a year. Otherwise, chickens can ingest parasite eggs that are passed into the soil in their droppings and continually reinfect themselves.

5. “Ixnay” on the Pet Play.

Chickens are prey species and are naturally stressed when they are around predators — including pets like cats and dogs.It’s the predators' natural instinct to chase and catch chickens as the birds flap away from them. Even docile pets who mean well and may only want to pick up a chicken in play will use their mouths to do so. But keep in mind their sharp teeth can puncture and kill a chicken in an instant. So, no matter how gentle a dog or cat may be or how much you’d like to see all your pets gamboling together on the lawn, keep your birds and your “predator pets” apart for safety.


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