Poultry husbandry: key management points

01 July 2012
9 mins read
Volume 3 · Issue 6


The resurgence of growing your own vegetables and interest in local food has also given rise to poultry keeping within the UK. Poultry keeping knowledge however tends to be limited and correct husbandry practices are often overlooked. Veterinary practitioners are seeing increasing numbers of poultry, especially chickens, in their surgeries and in the main would like to have a deeper knowledge of their care in order to give correct advice to their clients. Veterinary nurses can benefit from knowing the key points of poultry husbandry in order to have a sound understanding when investigating a case or giving advice. As with any animal, clients can become emotionally attached to chickens and treat them as one of the family, so they are expecting veterinary practices to partake in their case with confidence.

The domestic chicken originated from the jungle fowl (Gallus gallus) found in south east Asia. Nomads captured these birds and travelled with them using their eggs and meat as a food source. Over time breeding in captivity with colour and phenotypes selection has produced the array of pure breeds we have today. The Victorians in particular enjoyed exploration and collected breeds from their travels around the world. Poultry keeping became incredibly popular for ornamental value, as they were impressive and collectable, often costing hundreds of pounds. Breed standards were developed and written to ensure that breeds are true to type, this continues with the strong following of poultry fanciers breeding for show purposes. The most successful way of keeping chickens is to have a preventative approach to bird health with a structured management plan, no matter what the flock size.

All breeds of chickens need to be able to display their unique behavioural traits easily and freely; if they cannot do this, soon they become depressed and develop health and disease problems. Fundamentally they will require an environment that enables perching, dust-bathing, nesting, broodiness, preening and living in a flock with a pecking order (Figure 1). These behaviours relate back to the jungle fowl and survival. As with any animal, it is important to provide them with their specific needs so they thrive; housing especially must meet these needs. The chicken naturally perches when it roosts at night to get away from predators, so the perch must be of a suitable strength, diameter and height to suit the breed. Narrow perches can cause foot problems, as can rough ones. The perch height is relevant as heavy breeds can damage their breast bone if they jump down from a great height. Perches need to be slightly higher than the nest, otherwise birds will roost in the nest boxes making them dirty. Dust bathing serves many purposes to keep birds in good condition. The dust bathing ritual involves scratching a shallow pit in the ground and fluffing up the feathers so the soil or litter penetrates the feathers to the skin. This cools the bird down, is a social event and also assists in removing ectoparasites, excess oil and dirt from the feathers. If birds are not able to dust bath feathers will become brittle and out of condition, boredom can set in and feather pulling or pecking may result, which can lead to cannibalism (Wood-Gush, 2002).

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