SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Providing a good environment for backyard chickens

In order to keep your chickens as happy and healthy as they deserve, they need a lot of dedicated care.

It is not enough to simply provide resources to enable the chickens to survive. An animal’s welfare refers to what it experiences, and like all animals, chickens need positive experiences as well.

Your chickens need a safe and enriching environment to live in, away from other animals that may harm them (e.g. cats, dogs and birds of prey).

This can be provided by a well set up coop, that is the biggest and best you can afford. The coop should have an indoor area where the birds can shelter, sleep, roost and lay their eggs in clean nest boxes. The coop needs to protect the birds from the sun, rain and wind, and needs to be well ventilated.

Your chickens should also have access to a safe outdoor area where they can exercise, enjoy the sunshine and fresh air, and express normal behaviours, such as scratching, foraging and dust bathing. The outdoor ranging area should have good overhead cover to protect the chickens from predators (this can be bush, shrub or tree cover). Remember that other species of birds may bully chickens (e.g. ducks and turkeys).

It is also important that you check for poisonous plants and weeds in the area the chickens have access to and keep the grass short to avoid grass impaction from eating long grass, as well as preventing rodents from making homes close to your hen’s coop.

Chickens have innate behaviours they should be able to express, such as perching, nesting and dust bathing, and if this is prevented it can cause your hens frustration.

The coop should provide:

  • Adequate roosts (perches) at different heights, so that all your chickens can perch at the same time. The perches should not be positioned directly over other perches, or areas where food and water is provided.
  • Nest boxes with appropriate bedding, such as straw or wood shavings. Nest boxes should be secluded, warm, clean and safe and there should be enough for all of your hens (at least one nest box for every 3 – 4 hens). Nest boxes should be cleaned regularly to minimise problems with parasites, such as red mite. Some food grade diatomaceous earth can be added to the bedding in the nest boxes to help with parasite control.
  • A dust bathing area. Dust bathing is an important normal behaviour for chickens. You can fill a tire or paddle pool with dirt, sand, or peat for your hens. You can also add a small amount of food grade diatomaceous earth, which can help with parasite control.
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