Backyard Poultry and Fowl Management
SuperUser Account
/ Categories: Poultry

Backyard Poultry and Fowl Management

Environmental, Nutritional and Husbandry Considerations for Backyard Poultry and Fowl

Many people in rural and even suburban communities have found joy in keeping backyard chicken and other fowl. For most, these birds provide a source of nourishment in the form of eggs and meat. Others keep them as pets. Like cats and dogs, poultry and fowl have specific needs that should be met.


Activity level as well as breed size should be considered when housing poultry and other fowl.

According to the Merck Veterinary manual, “laying hens and larger chickens need a minimum of 1.5–2 sq. ft. of space inside, and 8–10 sq. ft. in outside runs. Ducks and geese need much more space, 3–6 sq. ft. inside, and 15–18 sq. ft. in outside runs”. Overcrowding will decrease growth rates and increase illness throughout your flock.

Fenced in runs are recommended to reduce predation, but many owners let their birds out during the day to forage and return them to a coop before dusk. If fencing a run for your chickens, remember to extend the fencing into the ground to prevent digging by predators. Also cover the top of the run to prevent predatory birds from having access to your flock.

For permanent coops, concrete flooring has its benefits. It’s easy to clean and doesn’t allow predators to dig in. Unfortunately, it’s expensive and takes time to maintain properly. Bedding of straw or shavings (pine, rice and nut hulls, and ground corncobs) provide absorbent material that needs to be cleaned regularly to reduce disease. Bare dirt floors can also be hard to keep clean, and often become muddy during the wet months and with water spills.

While many breeds of chickens can survive temperatures in the teens, the ideal temperature range for most chicken breeds is approximately 60-75 °F. While there isn’t any way to control the weather, there are some things you can control concerning cage design and other ways to provide cooling and heat for your feathered friends. Misting and fans will keep your flock cool during the summer while insulation and other heating products will keep them warm during the winter.

Some things to consider during the winter are:

Heat lamps pose a fire hazard. When in use, they should be attached to two points to prevent them from falling. Using flat panel heaters instead of heat lights will also reduce this risk and even use less energy.

Your flock should always have access to clean, fresh water. Submersible water bowl heaters are a great alternative to frozen water bowls that crack and are hard to change in the winter.


A pelleted diet should make up the majority of your flock’s nutrition, with foraging in addition. A good feed is important for your backyard flock and should be stored in a cool dry place to prevent mold. Nutritional deficiencies reduce performance levels of laying hens and decrease growth rates of meat poultry. The breed and life stage of your flock and should be taken into consideration when purchasing feed as well. For example, laying hens need an appropriate amount of calcium to prevent osteoporosis and thin shelled eggs. This diet for a non-laying bird may result in renal damage.

Easy access to clean, fresh water is very import. If chickens do not have enough water, they will not eat feed if an appropriate amount of water is provided. Merck Veterinary Manual recommends “Poultry require 1.5–3.5 parts water for every 1 part of feed consumed (up to 5–6 times for waterfowl) and require more in hot weather.”

Grit is also recommended as a supplement for chickens and fowl, especially when they’re younger. Ingesting small rocks helps with grinding and digestion of their food. Size of the grit is dependent on age of the birds and should be provided in its own bowl for consumption as needed. As they age, they may pick up small rocks on their own from their environment. Providing grit is an easy way to make sure your flock is digesting their food well, especially in winter months where they won’t have access due to snow, or with birds that are not free range. Oyster shell grit is not recommended for non-laying ducks and drakes because it may cause renal damage.


Enrichment should encourage animals to perform natural behaviors, decrease unwanted behaviors, and provide activities to keep them busy. There are rolling feeders, swings, and other items available for purchase online for your backyard flock.

Ideas for homemade enrichment:

Bath – provide a low, large water bowl to allow bathing in the warmer months. Chickens will also use dry dirt areas to roll and dust bath if they have access.

Foraging – provide novel food items (cut up fruits and vegetables, mealworms, and occasional scratch) mixed with a pile of straw, bedding, newspaper, or a chemical free mulch. A raked-up pile of leaves provides great forage material. Some foods to avoid feeding avocado, citrus, onions, garlic, green potatoes, rhubarb, dried beans or rice, salt, sugar, chocolate, caffeine and tobacco. Some ideas:

Run rotation – moving your coop to new areas or changing your outdoor runs to provide fresh grass allows the flock to have new places to forage.

Whole food items – provide a halved squash, pumpkin, zucchini or melon and whole heads of lettuce.

Varied perching – perching in different areas with variation in height or a couple hay/straw bales stacked.


Keeping your coop clean prevents disease in your flock. Bedding should be removed and replaced as it gets dirty. Time frame will be dependent on how many birds are in the coop. A paint scraper is a great way to remove caked on feces. Concrete floors can be scraped and scrubbed with a disinfectant as needed. Birds are sensitive to chemicals so be careful on the products you use. A couple good ones are Rescue and Simple Green.

Water and food bowls should be cleaned regularly.

Common Problems

Bacterial, fungal and viral diseases

Bumblefoot (pododermatitis)


Egg peritonitis



Thin shelled eggs

Weight loss/gain

The following are considered emergent:

Egg retention

Heavy metal exposure

Open mouth breathing (not due to heat)

Traumatic injury


Our Poultry Services


Blood Workups

Fecal Analysis


Source material:

Merck Veterinary Manual:

Previous Article Avian Care
Next Article Veterinary CBD Products