Chickens 101: Chicken Care (& How Kids Can Help)

Once your chicks are big enough to go outdoors, care for them gets easier. (For information on caring for chicks, click here. For information on preparing the hen house and run, click here.) I think you'll find caring for chickens isn't much trouble - perhaps easier than caring for a dog and about as easy as caring for an indoor cat - and that it can be a real family operation.

Kid-Friendly Every Day Care:

* Check the water. There should be plenty of it, and it should be relatively clean. You don't need to make the waterer spotless every day - it will get dirty again almost immediately. But you should remove any dirt, grass, etc. that's in the waterer. (If it's particularly hot, you'll want to check water levels several times a day.)

* Check the feed. Unless your chickens tend to get too plump, it's fine to leave feed out all the time. Once or twice a day, check to be sure there's plenty in their feeder.

* Check for eggs. Once the hens begin laying, check once or twice a day for eggs. Morning is usually when hens lay, so checking in the early afternoon makes sense.

I also recommend holding at least one chicken every day. This keeps the birds friendly.

Other Regular Care:

* Clean waterers. To prevent a build up of algae and other nasties, completely empty and refill the waterers once a week or so. If build up occurs, wash the waterers in soap and water before rinsing and refilling. All except the youngest kids can help with this chore.

* Replace the bedding. The bedding used in the nesting boxes and on the bottom of the hen house should be changed when it becomes soiled. This definitely is not a daily chore. Most chicken owners do it every week or two. The nesting boxes can stay as is as long as there is enough straw in them to keep the eggs from breaking and not enough manure to soil the eggs. The floor should be cleaned if the hen house gets smelly or is well covered with manure.

Older kids can definitely help clean up the bedding; it isn't difficult. Use a tool (I like a hoe, but a shovel works, too) to scrape the bedding out of one of the access doors. Then shovel the bedding and manure into a compost pile or bin. This makes wonderful stuff for the garden, as long as it isn't over-applied and is allowed to age before applying in large doses. You will likely have much more than you need for your garden, however, so you will need to either throw away some or sell or give it to other gardeners.

* Let the chickens roam. I also recommend letting chickens free range or go to a different part of the yard in a movable fence at least a few times a week. This keeps the chickens healthier and happier, cleans up bugs in the yard, and offers light fertilizer to the soil. Unless you have tweens or teens, I recommend this be an adult-supervised task, less the chickens escape accidentally.

* Offer supplemental food. I do this daily; plan on doing it at least a few times a week. Appropriate food includes weeds (roots and all), grass clippings, and table scraps. Chickens are carnivores, so don't be afraid to give them meat scraps (including meat fat). They absolutely love it, and it gives them a boost of protein. Backyard Chickens has a helpful list of things chickens can eat. My kids have a grand time feeding the chickens - but I've had to instill a rule that if they don't finish their fruits or veggies, the chickens don't get them, either. (My 5 year old was not eating all her food so she could feed it to the hens!)

And that's all there is to it!


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