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Animal agenda: RSPCA tips on responsible ownership of backyard chickens

RSPCA WAMidwest Times
Hanging veggies and chicken swings are easy forms of enrichment for chooks.
Camera IconHanging veggies and chicken swings are easy forms of enrichment for chooks. Credit: RSPCA WA

WA is experiencing a surge in demand for backyard chickens which sellers say can be linked to a shortage of eggs on supermarket shelves.

“Pandemic poultry” was a trend in WA when COVID first hit back in 2020 and now it seems the humble chook is experiencing another jump in popularity.

Chickens and roosters can make wonderful pets, but they need a substantial amount of care to keep them happy and healthy.

Unfortunately, it seems some people who got on board the backyard hen trend are simply not providing proper care for their feathered friends.

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In 2020-21, RSPCA WA received 382 cruelty reports regarding fowl, an increase of 16 per cent on the previous year.

Many of these cases came out of regional areas, where chickens, roosters and ducks are routinely abandoned, or found living in sub-standard conditions.

In light of this, RSPCA WA is offering five must-know tips for anyone considering welcoming backyard chickens to their flock:

  • Hens need access to clean, comfortable and secure housing that protects them from weather and predators. Your hen house should have plenty of space and both an inside and outside area.
  • Layer hens are omnivores and can enjoy seeds, grains, leaves, fruit, vegetables and insects. To make sure your chickens get all the nutrients they need, use a good-quality feed as the main part of their diet, with treats of fresh fruit and veggies.
  • Layer hens are very social animals and enjoy the company of other hens. For this reason, it is best to have at least three chickens. For hens to produce eggs, they do not need a rooster.
  • Your hens should be wormed regularly and checked daily for changes like wounds, feather loss, scaly legs or parasites. In the unfortunate event that one of your hens gets sick or injured, vet care is essential.
  • Without proper enrichment, hens can develop behavioural problems like feather pecking or bullying. Simple activities like cleaning their house, providing food treats or fruit and vegetables, handling them, or letting them roam in the garden will help keep them happy and entertained.

For more advice on keeping backyard hens visit kg.rspca.org.au

Message from RSPCA WA inspector manager Kylie Green:

In the Mid West, chickens are often found on larger properties where lots of other animals are being kept. Intentional cruelty is rare, but a lack of food and water, and dirty, cramped conditions are key concerns. I’d urge anyone considering getting chooks to really consider the time, space and effort involved. Chickens kept in a backyard setting can live up to 10 years, so it’s not a fleeting commitment. But if you’re willing to put in the work, delicious poached eggs on a Sunday morning is a pretty nice reward. Don’t forget to check with your council about rules in relation to the number and type of birds you can keep on your property, including whether a permit is required.

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