Basic Chicken Care in Temporary Shelters
DIET: Young birds need a constant supply of formulated starter or grower feed.
Adults should eat a formulated layer or maintenance crumble or pellet, but are often fed a grain and corn mix called scratch; mix new food with old to gradually change diet.
Adults need 3 to 4 pounds of food per day for 10 average size birds.
Do not give medicated feed unless recommended by a veterinarian.
Give 1 to 2 gallons water per 10 adult birds per day. Use shallow dishes for chicks.
Use feeders and waterers similar to what they are used to if possible.
HOUSING: Minimum temperature 60 degrees, maximum 85 degrees F.
Chickens do not tolerate wide temperature fluctuations unless they are used to it, provide shade or shelter.
Chicks need a heat lamp over part of brooder so they can move to either the warm or cool side; 90 degrees first week, drop 5 degrees per week. Do not exceed 95 degrees.
Easily upset by change in routine or cage mates; may become aggressive or smother each other when panicked, starved, or overcrowded. Use multiple food and water dishes, low lighting, and quiet environment. Remove aggressive birds.
Use pine shavings, sawdust, rice hulls, peanut shells, ground corn or pulverized paper 3 to 4 inches deep. Can use pine straw, chopped wheat straw, chopped leaves.
Move dishes around to help prevent wet areas. Remove and replace wet litter.
Minimum 1 square foot floor space per adult bird, preferably 3 to 5 sq ft each.
RESTRAINT: Beware of sharp spurs on males, and keep beak away from your eyes.
Cover the head with a sock or towel to calm a struggling bird.
Restrain the legs with one hand and support the abdomen on your arm, with the other arm wrapped over the body to restrain the wings. Avoid pressure on the chest.
Some chickens are used to being carried upside down by both legs.
Use nets or long hooked sticks to capture birds.
Trim feathers on one or both wings to prevent escape if necessary.
COMMON MEDICAL PROBLEMS: Cleanliness and good nutrition prevent most disease outbreaks.
Diarrhea: Coccidia is commonly present; some birds may be on medicated feed to control; secondary bacterial infections often follow severe coccidia infections.
Respiratory: may be viral, bacterial, Mycoplasma, or a result of poor air quality in coops. Usually treated with tetracycline or sulfonamides in the food or water.
A thick red patch of skin on the abdomen may be normal in egg laying birds.
OTHER: Vaccinations are rarely used in small flocks, and are usually packaged in vials with thousands of doses for use in large flocks.
Sick or injured birds will be picked on and killed by cage mates. Remove immediately and cage alone.
Do not mix birds from different cages together as this encourages aggression.
Compiled by Julie Burge, DVM, Burge Bird Services, August 2010
1. American Veterinary Medical Association, Emergency Preparedness and Response, http://www.avma.org/products/disaster/responseguide.asp (August 13, 2010).
2. Butcher, GD, 2006, Management of Galliformes, in Harrison G and Lightfoot T, eds, Clinical Avian Medicine, Spix Publishing, Palm Beach, FL, p. 861-877.
3. Johnson-Delaney, CA, 2008, What Veterinarians Need To Know About Pet Chickens, Exotic DVM, v. 10:1, p. 38-44.
4. University of Missouri Extension Office, Small Flock Series: Managing a Family Chicken Flock, http://extension.missouri.edu/publications/DisplayPub.aspx?P=G8350 (August 13, 2010).