· Secure fence with the base buried in the ground to prevent animals burrowing underneath
· A secure door to shut hens in at night
· Space – at least 30 square cm per hen (1 square foot)
· Shelter from wind and extremes of hot and cold
· Nest boxes will result in cleaner eggs and fewer broken ones. These can be build along the walls, preferably in the darkest area, at least 25 cm above the floor, and at least one per 4 hens. Check out the books at the local library for building ideas
· Litter 10cm deep of absorbent material such as straw, wood shavings, or shredded newspaper
Using a commercial diet of layer pellets or meals will give you peace of mind and healthy chooks. You can also supplement with small amounts of kitchen scraps, remembering that too much onion or fruit peel can cause an off-flavour in the eggs. Green feeds such as lucerne and silverbeet are a rich source of vitamins and contain pigments which give the egg yolks that rich golden-yellow colour. Home formulated diets need to include grit (oyster shell, pipi shell or limestone) to aid crop digestion and prevent egg problems. Pullets coming into the lay often drop shell-less eggs initially. This should last no longer than two weeks. If you find several birds laying thin, soft or shell-less eggs, the trouble is likely to be associated with their feed.
Moulting is the shedding and renewal of feathers and occurs about once a year, and takes about seven weeks to complete. It starts at the head and neck, passes to the body and wings and finally reaches the tail.
Mites and lice are best prevented by keeping the hen house as clean as possible and discouraging contact with other flocks of chickens, wild birds and vermin. Preening and dust bathing in dry soil help hens deal with external parasites. Check your hens at least once a month for signs of infestation. Treatment powder is available at the clinic, and should be repeated once a week for three treatments to deal with newly hatched lice.
Good hygiene is also important in controlling internal parasites. Young birds are more likely to be infected with worms than older birds. The treatment is Ivomec oral at a rate of 5 ml per litre of water, as the drinking water for 1-2 days. We recommend not eating the eggs for the next week, so if you treat them during winter or during the moult you will have less need to destroy eggs. This product is not licensed for birds.