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Vet's Voice: Backyard chickens can make great pets

Vet's Voice: Backyard chickens can make great pets

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Call it survival instincts, call it a longing for agrarian roots, call it a fad. It might just be bird-brained! Chickens are becoming popular pets. Even in the city, many municipalities will allow a few female poultry in even the most respectable neighborhoods.

Vet's Voice

The thought of farm-fresh eggs every morning whets many appetites for backyard chickens. Some even go as far as to develop a colorful egg basket, selecting varieties of birds that will lay different colored eggs. There is no evidence that different colored eggs taste differently. Once you crack through that hard calcified shell, an egg is an egg, though many can pick up the nuances of flavor that comes from backyard and free-range chickens. There is also something satisfying to know you had a part in raising the food you eat, though the chicken may debate the extent of your involvement.

Chickens have interesting personalities, and they can be trained to do some tasks. Some may be friendly and follow their people around, while others may be more timid or stand-offish. Others may be more aggressive, leading to stories that have scarred many a farm kid’s childhood.

The coop can be of just about any design so long as it protects the chickens from the environment and predators. Bedding the floor with pine shavings helps absorb some of the waste and keep the pen clean. Plenty of water and good quality chicken feed should be provided. Also giving the chickens the opportunity to scratch for grain allows them to practice their natural behaviors and maintain a healthy gut. Perches and nesting boxes give birds the chance to roost and a place to lay their eggs in comfort.

Birds may be vaccinated at the hatchery the day they hatch against Marek’s disease, a viral infection that can cause tumors and paralysis. Generally speaking, other vaccinations are not warranted unless there has been a previous problem in the flock or geographic area.

Other disease problems may be related to nutrition. Provide a good diet with additional scratch grains, grit and possibly oyster shell. Scratch grains help chickens practice their foraging behaviors. Grit helps them grind up their food. Some free-ranging birds may pick up enough grit from their environment, but it is always beneficial to have some available. Oyster shell, especially with younger birds, provides calcium to help with bone and shell development.

Birds may also become “egg-bound.” This is a condition in which they cannot pass their eggs. While there are at-home remedies, a veterinarian can help differentiate this from injury and other diseases.

Backyard chickens can make great pets and are relatively easy to take care of.

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