The chicken is a domesticated fowl. The chicken is one of the most common and widespread domestic animals. With a population of more than 24 billion, there are more chickens in the world than any other bird. Humans keep chickens primarily as a source of food, consuming both their meat and their eggs. The domestic chicken makes a great addition to any backyard. Dozens of breeds exist in New Zealand all of which have a lifespan of 3-7 years.
They may not be the cuddliest of pets, but when it comes to maintenance the humble chook deserves a little credit. If you choose the right breed they can provide you with daily eggs and a whole lot of entertainment. Yep, chickens have personalities and can actually be quite intelligent!
Chickens as Pets
You might be surprised to find just how many homes out there in NZ keep chickens for pets. Quite aside from the advantage of fresh layed eggs from your own free range flock, these critters will become quit tame, they eat all your scraps, and they are alot of fun to watch.
Buy your chickens no younger than six weeks of age, bearing in mind they don’t start laying until about five months of age.If you want to increase your flock, buy eggs from a breeder and put them under a broody hen. One that spends a lot of time on the nest. Most local councils have regulations and strict limits on the number of hens you can have, and almost all of them ban roosters.
Chickens need a clean well ventilated house where they can be kept at night and in bad weather, and from which they can access outdoor areas. Provide perches and nesting boxes, and spread wood shavings or straw on the floor to keep the area warm. Fence their outdoor area to keep out predators such as cats or dogs, and don’t use pesticides or snail bait anywhere the chickens have access to.
Commercial chicken feed provides a good balance of nutrients, and if you want your chickens to lay eggs, they need to be well fed, about 130gms per day per chicken of pelleted feed. You can also feed chickens household scraps, especially green leafy vegetables as they produce good quality eggs and help provide the pigments for golden yolks. Chickens also like to forage for insects, so ensure they have plenty of grass to free range on. Remember chickens are greedy so don’t over feed. Overfeeding or feeding too many poor quality foods like white rice or bread is a common cause of reduced egg numbers. Hens also need a source of grit to produce healthy egg shells. When possible the egg shells should be fed back to them.
Free range hens in lay can drink half a litre of water each a day, and more in hot weather, so they need to access fresh water at all times. Change it daily. If they don’t get enough water their egg production will drop and their health will suffer. Poultry waterers are available from most pet shops or rural supply stores. A good sized waterer can be filled with ample water for a few days, but only release as needed. They also stop the birds from getting in the water and contaminating it with droppings.