Chickens are naturally curious animals and they love to stick their beak into things!
This curiosity can get them into trouble so as the flock keeper it is your responsibility to keep them as safe as you can.
While none of us would intentionally harm our hens, ignorance can cause lots of accidents and mishaps. Nobody knows everything when they start out with a new hobby and chicken keeping is no different.
Comparing it to raising children is somewhat appropriate since you will be their “mother” and try to keep them out of trouble.
If your chickens are kept in a run then life will be a bit easier.
But if they free range you will find yourself checking on them frequently to make sure they have not run into any trouble. Remember, there is always that one chicken who seems to be on a suicide mission and will challenge you to keep her safe!
Keep reading to learn the 15 most common ways to accidentally kill your chickens…
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Poison and Chemicals
If you keep your flock in a barn then perhaps you are keeping things like motor oil, gasoline, antifreeze and other noxious chemicals in there too.
Stuff like anti-freeze is lethal even in tiny doses.
As we all know, chickens are very curious and like to sample anything they can stick their beak into!
You need a cupboard or secure place where you can keep these items safely tucked away from not only your chickens, but cats, dogs and children too.
Coop fires remain the greatest killer of poultry during the winter.
Unfortunately it is not limited to just winter months either. Spring and chick rearing season is a close runner-up.
Feathers, dust, chickens and a heat source are a lethal combination at times. Folks have not only lost their flock but sometimes their house too.
If you are raising chicks then you should consider moving from heat lamps to an electric hen. There are infinitely safer and maintain a constant heat and the cost is not that huge anymore.
With grown chickens if you feel that the coop needs heating over the winter then please try to use a safe source such as an oil filled radiator or specially made coop heaters rather than an open light bulb.
Cats and Dogs
Dogs and cats love to play with soft fluffy things that move!
So it should come as no surprise if your new puppy mauls a chicken or the cat attacks some chicks.
Cats will generally avoid larger chickens, unless they are feral cats in which case they may kill an adult chicken. In general though they prefer the smaller chicks and will play with them if they can get them away from momma.
If you are planning to get a puppy you need to work on the assumption that they will be interested in the chickens and may try to play with them. It may be hard to believe that your faithful companion could kill one of your flock but it does happen with depressing frequency.
Gun dogs such as pointers or even retrievers are instinctive birds hunters. However with training your dogs will ignore chickens – it just takes time and patience and a lot repetition!
Failure to provide the right nutrition can lead to problems further down the road. Things like curly toes, tremors, weakness, failure to thrive, emaciation and paralysis can all be signs of poor nutrition.
Deficiencies can also lead to things like rickets and cage layer fatigue which can severely affect the health of a chicken long term.
Poor nutrition in adults can also lead to reproductive and egg laying problems.
You should give your chickens specially formulated commercial chicken feed. If you prefer to mix your own feed you need to be quite sure you are including all the elements that your birds need.
You have spent a lot of time and money to get your chickens, so it makes sense to keep them safe and secure.
Good security costs a bit more but it is so worth it in the long run.
Every predator loves chicken for dinner so you need to be prepared.
Foxes, dogs and others are diggers. So you will need to laying down wire mesh that extends at least a couple of feet from the coop. The bottom three feet of your pen should be made from ½ inch wire mesh to prevent raccoons from reaching through to your chickens.
If you are building a coop from scratch then think about attaching wire mesh to the underside of the floor.
All windows should have a wire mesh covering securely attached to the frame and doors should have a sturdy lock.
Aerial predators can be kept at bay with aviary (or deer) netting over the run. If your chickens free range then try to provide areas where they can take cover if necessary. Read 21 Common Chicken Predators And How To Stop Them for more.
You need to make sure that any hardware is kept out of the run and coop.
Staples, small nuts, bolts, screws, wire and other small metallic or plastic items can cause havoc and lead to obstructions, perforations and even death.
Always pick up after yourself and put discarded items in the trash where the hens cannot get at them.
No-one knows why a hen would feel compelled to eat a staple or screw, but some do and usually suffer for it. This is a case of curiosity killed the chicken.
Water is the essence of life and without it all living things die.
Although chickens do not drink much in one sitting, they sip throughout the day and will eventually drink about a pint of water every day.
During the hot summer months they will drink even more so having lots of fresh cool water available is essential.
Decreased water intake can lead to dehydration and eventually death.
Waterers should be cleaned frequently to prevent the build-up of algae and biofilm (if the inside of your waterer feels slimy then it needs cleaning). Dirty contaminated water can lead to diarrhea which in turn can lead to death too.
Read The Complete Guide To Chickens And Water to learn more.
Buckets, tubs and swimming pools can all be deadly for chickens.
Although they can swim they are not strong swimmers – they have been known to fall into buckets full of water and drown!
If you have a swimming pool and a chicken that likes to float around in it, then never leave that bird alone in the pool.
You should also keep tubs and buckets stowed away when not in use.
This is something to think about when buying chicks.
If you really want some exotic type of chicken that prefers a hot climate and you live in the snow belt then you have some planning to do.
The vast majority of chickens can survive cold climates but there are a few that do not adjust well and require extra attention.
Excessive heat is bad for most chickens.
Signs of heat distress include panting and standing with wings away from the body. This can rapidly progress to lethargy, confusion, seizures and death.
They have a limited ability to keep cool so they will need your help.
Cool water, lots of shade and cold snacks (such as watermelon) are ideal. Sometimes standing them in cool water can help them to cool down too.
Chickens and moving vehicles really do not mix well.
If you have a tractor, riding mower or other motorized vehicle that the hens can access then always check underneath for sleeping chickens.
Mine love to sit outside under the tractor (because it is cool and safe). I always tell them to move and check underneath before I move anywhere. Usually firing up the engine will move most birds but there is always one that won’t move!
Snacks and Obesity
We all enjoy giving our hens treats.
However snacks and treats should be given in moderation as they can lead to obesity – which brings a whole host of problems with it.
An obese hen can have difficulty laying eggs. They are also prone to problems such as egg binding and vent prolapse. It can also cause fatty liver disease which can be fatal.
Healthy treats (mealworms, sunflower seeds, bird seed and greens) can all be given to your flock in moderation. Try to keep the treats to 10% of their daily ration.
A chicken’s respiratory system can be badly affected by dust.
Hens that are free range or have access to outside fresh air are unlikely to suffer greatly from excessive dust in the atmosphere. But if they spend their lives inside a barn or a similar indoor facility then they can have a wide range of respiratory issues.
Once the respiratory system is compromised they are also more likely to be susceptible to a wide range of bacterial and viral problems.
These respiratory infections can also lead to decreased egg production, failure to thrive and death.
Garden Plants and Weeds
Plants such as Foxglove, Monkshood, Lilies of the Valley all look beautiful in the garden.
But their beauty hides a deadly secret – they are poisonous!
While chickens are fairly savvy about what not to eat, they do sample things they are not sure of so you should keep these lovely blooms well away from your flock.
A list of plants that are poisonous would be extensive, but some of the more popular ones are:
- Castor Oil Plant
- Morning Glories
- Rhubarb Leaves
- Curly Dock
It is sad to say but some people do not take adequate care of their animals.
For some reason they feel that an animal should be able to find its own food and water and perhaps shelter too.
Chickens have become a familiar sight to animal welfare officers even in urban settings.
One of the most common excuses for neglect seems to be “I did not realize how much work they are”.
You need to make sure that their bedding straw is kept fresh.
Moldy bedding is usually responsible for brooder pneumonia and it kills a lot of chicks every year. It can also kill adult chickens too.
You should also store your fresh unused bedding in an elevated and dry area.
Caring for your chickens properly may seem time consuming but really when you break it down, all of their needs can be met fairly quickly and easily.
You should read and learn as much as you can about them!
Being prepared for things like hot weather and broodiness helps a lot.
Many of the problems that are mentioned in here are easily dealt with in advance.
By understanding that they do not comprehend moving vehicles, or that falling into a bucket of water could drown them helps you minimize dangers for them. Looking at their surroundings with a critical eye can save you a lot of heartache in the long run and perhaps save the life of one of your flock.
Let us know in the comments section below the biggest lesson you have learnt while raising backyard chickens…