All chickens should live in a suitable environment. A chicken’s home affects how it feels, thinks and behaves. Providing your chickens with a safe, secure place to live that is sheltered from the weather is one way you can make sure that your chickens stay healthy and happy.
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act says that your animal has five groups of welfare needs. These are five groups of things that animals need to be healthy and happy. These five welfare needs are called the Five Freedoms.
Under the Animal Welfare Act, all animal guardians (owners) need to provide these five groups of things for their animals. One of these Freedoms is: Freedom from Discomfort. In this section you will learn about this freedom and how you can make sure your chickens have the right environment and shelter they need to be free from discomfort.
Companion (pet) chickens depend on their owners to provide them with everything they need in their life. It is a guardian's (owner) responsibility to check their chickens’ environment every day, and make sure they have everything they need, and that nothing in their environment can harm them.
The ideal chicken environment is one where chickens have a secure, sheltered indoor area where they feel safe (a chicken coop), as well as access to an outdoor area to roam, forage and stretch their wings. If you live near potential dangers, such as roaming dogs or cars, this outdoor area should be fully enclosed to keep them safe.
Here is a basic guideline of what should be in your chicken’s home ALL of the time:
Inside your chicken coop, you also should have:
Chickens are happiest when they have space to explore and room to flap their wings.
When planning your chickens’ home, make sure that you have enough space to allow them to roam, forage and stretch their wings. The bigger their enclosure, the better!
The size of your flock (group of chickens) will also play a role in determining how big your chickens’ home should be. Overcrowding can result in stress, which often can lead to illness.
The indoor area or your chickens’ coop should be spacious enough that they are able to nest, perch and move around comfortably.
Always monitor your chicken’s interactions with each other.
If any chickens are being bullied, it may be a sign that they need more space.
Chickens are highly inquisitive, so they love investigating new things. Unfortunately, that can mean they can get themselves in trouble easily - not everything is safe for chickens to eat or play with!
Always make sure that all toxic or dangerous items are removed from your chickens’ environment. This includes things like
Keep your chickens safe by monitoring them when they are roaming around outside. Your chickens should always be able to go back into their sheltered area (the chicken coop), if they are ever feeling threatened. Lock your chickens in their coop at night to keep them safe from predators.
Another thing to consider is whether the soil on your property is safe for chickens to live in. Until 1965, many paints on the New Zealand market had high lead levels. Even if a house has been recently painted, it may have been painted with lead-based paints or have layers of old paint covered by modern paint. As the paint was stripped and the house repainted, the lead-based paint fell into the soil. Now, the soil in some properties is contaminated with lead, which can be fatal in large amounts. Chickens will ingest the lead as they peck and scratch around in the dirt. Not only can lead poisoning be fatal in chickens, but the lead can be passed onto humans as we eat their eggs. Ask your parents whether there could be lead on your property.
Just like humans, chickens don’t like to be too cold or too hot. Your chicken coop should be insulated so that it remains at a comfortable temperature in both summer and winter. The ideal temperature for chickens is around 21°C, however if you have young chicks, they need to kept at a warmer temperature. Heat lamps can be installed in your chicken coop if needed.
Chickens that are too cold may fluff up their feathers as a way to keep them warm. If you live in a particularly cold area, you may need to provide extra straw bedding to keep your chickens warm at night. Chickens will huddle together for warmth.
Chickens that are too hot will often breath with their beak open (like they are panting) and might seem quite lazy. If your chickens look like they are too hot, try and provide some ventilation (e.g. open windows of the chicken coop) or give them extra shade. Sprinklers on the roof of a chicken coop can also cool the temperature down.
Just like our homes have windows, chicken coops should have windows too, or some form of ventilation that allows good air flow.
Ventilation not only helps reduce the temperature when it’s hot, but it also helps remove dust and moisture particles produced by the chickens.
Ideally, the windows (or vents) in your chicken coop should be easily opened or closed and placed on the bottom and top of walls.
This means you can choose where you want to allow air to flow through.
How often you clean your chicken coop depends on many things. The enclosure size or structure, how many chickens you have and what you feed your chickens all contribute to how fast your chickens’ enclosure becomes dirty. Old food and a build-up of droppings can make your chickens very ill, so it is very important to always keep your chickens’ environment clean and hygienic.
As a rule, every morning when you feed your chickens, always:
As you clean your chicken coop, try to clean around your chickens as quietly as you can. Never corner them, and allow them to seek shelter by making slow, predictable movements. When you need to do a full clean of their enclosure, move your chickens into a different area or allow them to free range in a safe area, so you don’t stress them too much.
Chickens are particularly sensitive to chemicals, so always check that your family has a pet friendly disinfectant that is safe to use in your chickens’ living areas. It’s best to use just water and a scrubbing brush for daily cleaning, and only use pet safe disinfectants when they are definitely needed (e.g. when doing a full clean of the chicken coop). A high-powered hose can be good for blasting any droppings that have hardened.
Once or twice a year, the whole chicken coop should be cleaned thoroughly. This is a big job and you will most certainly need the help of an adult or two. Here are a few of the things that should be done during the full clean:
If your family are going away, try to find someone to care for and meet your chickens’ welfare needs within their familiar home.
If your chickens have to move to a different place, try to ease the move by keeping them in the same enclosure or together with their friends.
Make sure you provide your chickens’ carer with the phone number of your chickens’ vet, in case of an emergency.