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Got Spring Chickens?

By Lauren Stanley Montgomery County ANR/4-H UGA Extension Agent

With spring comes new life, new growth, and often times, new plants and animals. Many people flock to home & garden stores to buy new ornamental & vegetable plants, supplies for outdoor projects, and of course, new fluffy or feathered friends.

Backyard poultry flocks have been on the rise for the past several years- many people enjoy tending to their own flocks and collecting fresh eggs. Before buying your flock, you should do some research and make preparations to welcome your new feathered friends. Your birds will need adequate living space. Make sure the space is clean and all equipment is in good condition. Ensure they have plenty of floor space, and consider fencing or protecting the area in some way- chickens are easy prey for many animals. You should allot at least .75 square feet for smaller bird breeds and 3-4 square feet for larger breeds, like turkeys. According to the University of Georgia, a good rule of thumb is to provide 3-3.5 square feet of floor space for each bird you intend to keep for egg production. Put down bedding/litter materials in their spacerecommended materials include pine shavings, rice hulls, peanut shells, or ground corn cobs. New chicks should be kept close to a heating source for the first several weeks of their life, but have enough room in their enclosure to move away from the heat source so that they do not overheat. The temperature should not drop below 70°F. The temperature should be kept at 90°F at chick-level for the first week. After that, drop the temperature 5° each week until the chicks reach 5 weeks of age, and maintain them at 70°F. During normal weather, heat lamps placed 1-1.5 ft above the chicks will provide sufficient heat. Raise their height each week to adjust the temperature.

So, what about their diet? Let’s start with water. Your chickens should have access to clean drinking water, and plenty of it, at all times. They require one inch of drinking space. Water consumption will increase when temperatures rise. Twenty hens can drink up to one gallon per day, so make sure the water supply is constant. The other component of their diet is feed. Feed requirements will change with the chickens’ age and purpose. They should always be fed a balanced ration. Check the label on your chosen brand of feed for ration details and the amount to be fed based on age/ weight/purpose. Outdoor birds will supplement their feed with insects and greens- they can also be offered fresh grass cuttings (if not treated with any chemicals) and fresh table scraps (stale bread, leafy vegetables, peelings). Lim-STUDENTS it scraps to what they can consume in 10-20 minutes so their diet remains balanced.

Just like us, birds are also prone to disease. Prevention is the best control method- keep your birds’ area clean. Keep an eye on your flock and note any odd behaviors, like heavy breathing, ruffled feathers, lethargy, or bloody droppings. Replace soiled bedding materials, regularly clean feeders and waterers, and vaccinate if necessary. If you notice any sick birds, consult a veterinarian or diagnostic laboratory to determine the cause and most effective treatment.

Raising backyard chickens can be a fun, educational experience if done correctly. Following these guidelines and doing your own research will help yield the best results.

Want to learn more on this topic? Join Montgomery County Extension on Monday, May 6, at 6 PM at the Montgomery County Government Annex (formerly the adult literacy center) for Foundations of a Successful Backyard Flock. Dr. Casey Ritz of the University of Georgia poultry science department will be sharing more detailed information about poultry production.

The cost is $10 and a meal will be provided. Register by May 3 at 5 PM. Register and pay through the Montgomery County Extension Office by calling (912) 583-2240 or emailing lauren.stanley(5)

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