Most of us hopefully observe high standards of care and welfare when it comes to looking after our chickens. But there are exceptions. Grant Brereton investigates

As with many other things in life, chicken keeping is only viable if there is a commitment time, money and energy. Nothing can thrive if it is neglected.

Cleaning out

Cleaning out your hen house isn’t the most attractive of jobs, but people make it much harder than it needs to be by using the wrong bedding or housing, meaning that it is less likely to be carried out regularly. The task can, in fact, be very satisfying – you will feel much better seeing your flock in their new bedding, knowing you have got rid of all the bacteria-infested dirt that can cause no end of diseases and problems. The job can, of course, be a lot more time consuming if you are a breeder with multiple pens; you just have to factor these few hours into your schedule.


Many people underestimate the countless causes of stress to poultry. For example, some don’t think twice about allowing their birds to drink murky, muddy water. Can you imagine what it would be like for you to drink water like this?

Are your birds squelching around in mud or able to roam free, even in a small run, on fresh grass? Chickens like routine, fresh bedding, good food, clean water and access to grass. They really don’t need much to thrive, but many people underestimate their sensitivity to their environment and don’t fully appreciate their daily needs. You have to imagine that you were living in that coop. As a chicken, what would make you happy?

Health and welfare

Whether you are suited to the role of poultry keeper comes down to your innate ability to sense when something is wrong with one of your flock. Is one of the females walking gingerly? Is she not quite on form? Why is the cockerel unusually quiet today? Why does that pullet look a bit miserable?

So it’s all about observation. But a miserable-looking bird should be one of the easiest things to spot. It always amazes me how many people – particularly backyard keepers – don’t handle their birds and check for problems. And to make things worse, they don’t even attempt to fix the obvious issues, such as scaly leg mite. We’ve all suffered at some point at the hands of this parasite – there won’t be many poultry keepers who have managed to avoid it. But it needs addressing as soon as possible. It can eventually end up in paralysis, but it will look and smell horrendous well before that stage. It does come on quickly though, and it can spread from one bird to the others very quickly.

There are many different methods of treatment, but my preferred one is petroleum jelly. I like to make sure it gets beneath all of the scales so that it suffocates all the mites. It does take a while for the scales to recover though.


You need to treat your chickens like your children. And I don’t mean going as far as naming them (which is optional), but their needs come first. They like routine, so your weekend lie-in, for example, should come second to them being let out at the usual time. You need to ensure that they have a safe and happy environment, and you need to keep a close eye on them. We all know deep down whether we’re doing a good job. And your chickens will certainly reward you for good in the form of plenty of fresh eggs!

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