A Guide to Keeping Chickens

If you’re anything like us, the last few weeks in lockdown have been filled with daydreams about of  moving to a farm or even just a couple of acres (we’ll take what we can get!) Maybe it’s just us, but every version of this dream involves getting pet chickens… I mean who doesn’t love farm fresh eggs?! Whilst the farmhouse dream may be far from reality, owning chickens doesn’t have to be!  

Chickens can make great pets, that’s why at RSPCA NSW we’ve put together this guide about everything you need to know about getting chickens to ensure you can give them a happy and healthy life.  

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Do you have space?  

Legally, each chicken requires around 3-4 square feet to move around in but we’d suggest giving each chook at least 4-5 square feet of roaming space to ensure that your chickens are comfortable.   

Remember that the more space your chooks have, the happier they will be and the cleaner the coop will be. Also, because your flock will not be living in close quarters with other birds, there is a lower risk of any illness spreading.  

Check your council’s requirements   

There are strict council regulations surrounding keeping chickens as pets and honestly, this should be one of the first things you research before taking the plunge.   

Generally, you are only allowed to keep a maximum of ten hens (no roosters) and must ensure that the chicken coop meets all council requirements.   

If you’re buying your chooks- make sure it’s the breeder is reputable  

Here at RSPCA NSW we always encourage that people adopt not shop. However, if you do decide to buy your hens, make sure you get them from a reliable breeder that can provide you with immunisation records.   

To avoid spreading any existing illnesses from one set of hens to the other, it is recommended that you get all of your chickens from the same breeder. New hens should be kept in isolation for at least 14 days. 

If you want to buy one-day-old live chicks, you must immediately vaccinate them against Mareks disease. The following vaccines will also likely be recommended by your veterinarian: Fowlpox, Infectious laryngotracheitis, Infectious bronchitis and Newcastle disease.   

Some poultry illnesses have the potential to damage other important aspects of Australia’s agricultural sectors, so it’s incredibly important that your chooks are kept in good health and seen by a veterinarian if they show any signs of illness.   

Your chickens need a safe space   

Chickens need to be protected from harsh weather, other animals and have a secure and dry area to roost and nest.    

Although most NSW residential areas do not require a permit to build or create a coop, all chicken coops must adhere to Council standards and be escape-proof. Your hen house must be no more than 3 metres tall and no more than 152 metres long.  

Your chicken coop must protect your hens from predators such as foxes, dogs, snakes, and rats, as well as preventing them from escaping into the neighbour’s yard.   

The wire netting on the run’s walls and ceiling should be at least 1mm thick and the opening diameters should be no more than 10mm.   

Predators can also crawl beneath coop walls and kill or steal your hens so. In order to protect against this, put netting on the floor or build the coop on a hard surface like concrete, or add an additional netting apron over the ground that stretches out from the wall or is sunk into the ground.   

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Chickens have their own diet  

 Chickens that are fully grown require a continual supply of chicken feed, shell grit, and water.   

Scraps like leafy greens, yoghurt, and oatmeal, on the other hand, will be a welcome addition to their diet but only occasionally (think of these scraps like treats!). Uncooked rice, rhubarb, avocado, chocolate, onion, garlic, citrus fruits, and lawnmower clippings are among foods that might create issues so make sure you’re avoiding these.  

Chickens also require a continual supply of fresh water, since they each drink between 500 mL and 1 L of water each day, depending on the weather.  

Make sure you understand how egg production works  

If you are getting chickens with the hopes of having fresh eggs each morning, it’s essential you do some reading to make sure you understand how it all works. In a nutshell, when chickens are around 18 to 20 weeks old, they begin producing eggs.   

Healthy hens typically lay eggs reliably and regularly over the first two to three years of their lives. Following that, egg production will begin to decline. Chickens do not just “stop” producing eggs as they become older, although they do lay less. Overall, most breeds will produce eggs for at least 5-7 years.  

Because egg production requires a large number of minerals and vitamins, calcium and vitamin supplements may be required if your chickens are laying a large number of eggs.  

Remember chickens are a commitment   

Keep in mind that getting chickens is a long-term commitment and not something that should be done on a whim.   

Chickens kept as pets can live for four to seven years, and sometimes up to eight to ten years.

All in all, chickens can make wonderful family pets, but like any pet, it is essential that you do your research before diving in, beak first.