Chickens - Things to do this Month - April
CHICKENS (Laying Hens):
Continue to do regular health checks on all your birds:
Signs of good health:
- Full, bright and velvety ‘headgear’ (comb & wattles)
- Full, round and bright eyes, not sunken or cloudy
- Dry nostrils
- Good, smooth feathering with a shiny appearance
- Clean, fluffy feathers around the vent
- Neither thin or over-fat
- Steady respiration, no panting or wheezing
- Active, moving freely
- Laying well and producing regular, perfect eggs
Routine & Care
- Hens should be laying well by now, prompted by the lengthening days, so make sure they have adequate nutrition. Layer pellets and ‘mash’ (designed to be dampened before feeding) are specially-formulated to provide all the energy and nutrients they need, but given the choice, most hens will chose to eat corn! So, give hens their ration of layer pellets in the morning (for a ‘utility’ type laying hen, allow approximately ¼ - ⅓ lb (or 130-150gms) per hen per day, and then offer corn in the afternoon.
- Commercial egg producers regularly weigh their hens, and this is a good practise to adopt; loss of weight can indicate ill health, while excess weight can predispose a hen to become ‘egg-bound’.
- Check regularly for eggs, if left too long it may encourage egg pecking or eating – and once the habit is formed it’s very difficult to stop.
- If you find soft-shelled eggs, or eggs with misshapen or rough shells, it may be a sign of nutritional imbalance, disease or stress.
- Add a little Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) to the hen’s water – many people claim that the acidity acts as a ‘tonic’ for the hens and aids digestion. It certainly won’t do them any harm, but always offer untreated water in another container in case any of the hens won’t drink the treated water. Add 2ml of ACV (use a syringe to measure accurately) to 1 litre of water in a plastic drinker (it will corrode metal).
- Be aware of the many parasites that can both irritate the hens, and make them ill – see our guide to Everything you ever wanted to know about itchy-scratchy parasites on chickens … but were afraid to ask!
- If you like ‘natural remedies’, also offer the hens some garlic granules mixed with their layer or corn: garlic can act as a repellent to harmful gut worms, but don’t rely on it totally. Best practice is to carry out regular (4x per year would be about right, but even one test will be useful) ‘faecal egg counts’ (FEC) to determine the parasite burden of your hens – your vet will explain how to collect a sample and will arrange for it to be tested in a laboratory, the result will indicate whether you need to use a worming product on your hens. There is also an excellent postal FEC service available from www.chickenvet.co.uk
- Another herbal favourite of hens is Oregano – sow some seeds on a windowsill or in a propagator, and they’ll have their favourite herb all summer long (and you may get pizza-flavoured eggs!). Interestingly, oregano oil (with an olive oil base) has been used with great success as a substitute for widespread use of antibiotics in commercial-scale organic poultry units.
- RATS and MICE spread diseases, including Salmonella; so continue to be vigilant for any sign that they are visiting your chicken house or run. If you’ve been laying traps but not caught any vermin, try wearing rubber gloves when you set the traps – the smell of humans can linger on the trap and make rodents wary. Clear away all feedstuffs every evening so there’s nothing to attract rodents. Change water at least daily.
- Pick a warm sunny day to Spring clean the hen house. If you switched to a ‘DEEP LITTER’ system to save time during the festive season, set aside some time now to give the house a really good clean as soon as the weather improves. Clear out all muck and old bedding, brush out cobwebs (vacuum if you’re able, especially in nooks where pests may have over-wintered), clean off all perches, and sprinkle a powder disinfectant (such as Stalosan) onto all surfaces. Then put in plenty of fresh bedding and diatomaceous earth to keep red mite at bay.
- Spring is the ideal time to replace or increase your flock, and there are various ways to go about this: from buying ‘POL’ (point-of-lay) hens, to hatching eggs – from your own hens if you have an unrelated cockerel and a broody hen, or buying in fertile eggs to hatch in an incubator.
- For more information on keeping chickens and other poultry, visit our Poultry section HERE
If you’re just starting out with hens and can’t decide which breed will suit you best, have a look at our Guide to Chicken Breeds. If you decide to get a mix of different breeds, it’s best to choose those that are roughly the same size to prevent the smaller ones getting hen-pecked.
For more information on keeping chickens and increasing your flock, visit our Basic Principles of Rearing and Management of Chickens.