Chickens As Pets
Other hens are larger and more robust
and come in a variety of colors; black, brown, white or speckled. They all eat bugs, snails and slugs - good news if you are
trying to reduce the number of these pests!
Did you know that chooks (hens) are able to eat the Sydney funnel web spider without any ill affects? How good is that? They make your yard a safer place to be and double as a pet for the children...
Chickens can be bought as "day olds" (under a week old) or "week olds" (over a week). You can buy them fully grown too, but they make better pets when bought young. Make sure you buy from a reputable breeder who can tell what sex they are. The neighbors will not be pleased to be woken at dawn by a rooster crowing.
A young chicken will need to be kept inside where it will be warm, until it is older. A newspaper lined cardboard carton with sawdust or straw in the bottom is fine. A day old chicken will benefit from the extra warmth of a pretend mother. To make this, push many strips of fabric through a strong piece of cardboard and hang it so it dangles to the floor of the box. This is a good job for the children. Chicky will run straight into it and be perfectly content. Alternatively, you could use a new mop head.
To make a drinking trough that the chicken will not fall into or tip
over, take an empty food can (tin) and hammer a hole through each side just under the rim. Fill with water and place a saucer over
it. Invert the whole quickly and you will see that water trickles out of the holes, but stops when the level rises to the rim of the
saucer. It's a fascinating experiment for the children. Another tin to hold the special chicken growing mash is all you will need. Of
course, keep the bottom of the box clean and dry.
When the chicken is grown up, change the food to laying pellets and gradually introduce chopped kitchen scraps. It will eat what it wants and leave the rest to be discarded with the soiled sawdust. If you have a garden, this is excellent fertilizer.
The hen will need a warm, dry place to live outside. An old aviary is fine, but it's not much trouble to hammer in some stakes and wrap wire mesh around them. This will keep the hen safe from stray dogs while you are away. If it flies out, cut the long wing feathers back to about half, on one wing only. This will not hurt the hen, but will prevent it from flying.
Remember that a
hen is actually a bird and it is natural for birds to roost in trees. Make a perch for your hen by poking an old broom handle
through the mesh of its cage under the roof, but about one meter (3 feet) from the ground. Check on whether your hen is actually
roosting. Some hens need to be taught. Dusk is the right time to gently pick up the hen and place it on the perch. It will soon
realize what it is supposed to do.
A small drum, box or even a dog kennel filled with straw will make an ideal nest for your hen to lay eggs. If you use a larger dog kennel, it can double as a nest and a night shelter too, with the simple addition of the perch. Or if you have a garden shed, the hen will not mind sharing with a few rakes and spades. If you live in an area where the winters are snowy, it will be best to keep your hen in the barn or shed.
As with any hobby, take your time, enjoy and learn along the way!
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