Basic chicken care: how to breed and feed

This article examines how to breed and feed chickens properly, as well as how to maintain good hygiene in order to keep the birds healthy and productive.

A hen should have a warm, dry, protected area or nest box in which to lay her eggs. As she will spend long periods in the nest, put food and water within reach.
Photo: Adina Voicu

The first step is to ensure that each hen has a warm, dry, protected area or nest box in which to lay her eggs. This should be near or on the ground to enable the chicks to get in and out safely.

Place some grass in the nest box to keep the eggs clean and warm and prevent cracking.
The hen will spend almost all of her time on the eggs; it is therefore a good idea to leave food and water nearby, where she can reach it.

A chick takes approximately 21 days to hatch. The hen will be highly protective of her chicks, so keep them separate from the other chickens until they have grown big and strong.

Ensure that the chicks always have water and food, and do not keep too many in a cage. They should all have space to move around freely, and stretch their wings.

Keep chickens in small groups of about 20. This will help prevent fighting and competition, even among the hens. Do not keep roosters together in the same cage as they may fight.

Keep approximately one rooster for every 10 hens. If you keep more roosters than hens, the roosters may injure the hens by mating with them too often. For the same reason, the roosters should be about the same size as the hens. If they are much larger, they may injure the hens during mating.

Feed
Chickens need a proper, mixed diet to stay healthy. They can eat a mixture of leftover food such as mealie-pap, bread, vegetables and mealies. Commercial chicken food is highly nutritious.

Some food (hard pumpkin, for example) must be cut into 2small pieces or cooked to soften it for the chickens to eat.

To produce strong, healthy eggs and chicks, hens must have enough calcium. If you do not feed them commercial layer rations, supply them with limestone grit, oyster shells or small, regular quantities of bonemeal.

If there are more than 10 chickens in the cage, split the food into two containers, so that every bird can have a share.

Hygiene
Ensure that there is always a bowl of feed in the cage. Raise the food bowl, or hang it from the roof to prevent the chickens from walking in the food.

Keep the food dry and protected from rain, and clean the containers regularly, removing old food.

Dirty cages can lead to poor health and disease. To ensure proper hygiene, pay particular attention to the following:

  • Clean the floor of the cage at least once a week;
  • Put grass on the floor to absorb the chickens’ droppings, especially under the sleeping perches. Replace it weekly, along with the grass or bedding in the nest boxes;
  • Keep the cage floor clean, as chickens like to roll in the sand (a dust bath), which helps clean their feathers and control parasites such as mites and lice;
  • Make sure the floor of the cage is sloped so that excess water runs off and the cage stays dry;
  • If water does collect in the cage, dig a drainage furrow or ditch leading out of it, allowing the floor to dry.

Source: ‘Chicken care’. 2000. Directorate of Communication, National Department of Agriculture.