If you’ve got backyard chickens, you’re likely to have them for one or several reasons. You like taking care of animals, you enjoy the companionship of birds in the backyard or you simply prefer the farm-fresh eggs they produce to the purchased ones. Regardless of your reason to have these birds, you likely take the ultimate care of them, and cannot imagine they would have any stress in their lives.
And, yet chickens do experience stress. It might seem like these feathered friends have a pretty good life. How do they get stressed? There are several ways that chickens can experience stress, and that stress can cause both decreased egg production and sickness in your flock.
Stress is caused any time an outside factor disrupts the normal pattern the chicken is used to. This could be a predator like a dog, cat, raccoon or even a small child. Stress can be caused by an extreme temperature shift of either heat or cold. A new hen or rooster introduced to the flock can disrupt the pecking order and cause stress. Poor ventilation, a dirty coop, a change in diet, too many “scraps” or dehydration are other factors that cause stress on your chickens.
Excessive stress can be detrimental to your chickens. Just like stress on a human can cause a breakdown, the same can be said for our feathered friends. Stress can negatively impact your flock; even leading to death. Underlying sicknesses may surface due to stressful situations since the stress causes reduction in the gut pH, which makes the birds more susceptible to disease. In addition to sickness, overall egg laying is typically reduced during times of stress, which could then lead to stress of the owners.
To keep your chickens in optimum health and producing the goal of one egg per hen per day, it is best to avoid as many stressors as you can. Follow these simple guidelines to keep your henhouse stress free, healthy and full of eggs.
Predator Control: Make sure that unwanted predators can’t get to your birds. Even if your “pets” are tame and sweet, a dog or cat can become a predator around birds, especially if they are not familiar with them. Be sure to keep your chickens cooped up at night and provide a fence to keep them away from predators. Also, think of a small child as a predator. No, that little toddler might not threaten to eat a chicken, but it makes loud, unfamiliar sounds that also cause stress.
Prepare for the Elements: Be sure that your chickens are comfortable in the weather that is present. In the summer, provide shade, fresh, cool water and ventilation. It is important that your chickens don’t get heat stressed. It is just as important to keep your birds warm in the winter. Make sure they have good bedding, ventilation and are warm enough, but not too hot to stay comfortable. Along with staying warm, chickens require light to lay eggs, so if you live in an area that has more darkness than light in the winter, think about adding artificial light. Chickens require 14 to 16 hours of light to lay, so you will likely need to add supplemental lights to their coop.
Making Introductions: If you are introducing new hens or roosters to your already established flock, you will want to do so gradually. Keep the new birds in a fenced area next to your existing birds so they can become acquainted through the fence, but don’t comingle them immediately, which leads to pecking, biting and fighting, causing stress.
Keep in Clean: Making sure the coop is clean, has good ventilation and is free of waste and wet or old feed is important to the chickens’ overall health and their stress. Be sure to keep their area clean as much as you can to help keep their stress level down.
Daily Essentials: Keeping your chickens healthy will help mitigate stress. Good health begins in the digestive system, so we recommend an all-in-one supplement to support poultry gut health and nutritional health like Backyard Boost® Daily Essentials. This pelleted supplement can be mixed in their feed or scattered around their pen. It is fully fortified with vitamins, minerals, organic trace minerals and the precision prebiotic Amaferm®, research-proven to increase digestion of feed and absorption of nutrients to help maximize egg production and quality.
Even when you do take all the steps to prevent stress, it can still happen. If your chickens have a combination of stressors hit, and you notice multiple signs of stress like ruffled feathers, reduced egg production and chickens that appear sick or off feed, you should consider Backyard Boost® Defense in their water. This liquid supplement promotes feed and water intake during times of stress and recovery to help support digestive health and a healthy inflammatory response. In addition to Amaferm, it contains the prebiotic MOS to trap and expel pathogens, limiting their ability to do harm, and electrolytes to support proper hydration
Stressed hens are not ideal. Keep your hens stress-free, happy and laying by implementing these best management practices to keep them healthy and productive, which also keeps you happier. Keep your flock flourishing with Daily Essentials and have the results of a happy hen owner. And when your flock does get stressed, fight back with Backyard Boost Defense.