point-of-lay pullets). avoid buying roosters if living in a suburban area, as ... registered poultry dust. Stick fast fleas – These appear as small, shiny black dots.


Small landholder series NW 54 2012

Keeping backyard chickens

Chickens can be a great asset to any small landholding. They provide eggs, control insects and weeds, fertilise orchards, eat kitchen scraps and loosen soil while scratching. But there are a few things you need to know when keeping chickens, and eating and selling the eggs they produce.

By law chickens must be provided with appropriate food, water and protection.

When first starting out, it is best to purchase vaccinated birds from a reliable commercial source. Do not get birds from a variety of sources as this can increase the risk of introducing pest and diseases. A good starter flock to provide eggs for a household would consist of four or five 16-24 week old birds (described as point-of-lay pullets). Avoid buying roosters if living in a suburban area, as many councils prohibit them because of their crowing. Laws regarding keeping poultry are determined by each state or territory. In some cases, local councils have created bylaws which amend the state laws. Contact your local council for the most accurate and up-to-date regulations.

Chicken coop It is important to have a fox-proof chicken house which is still easily accessible and adequately ventilated. The chicken house should be fully enclosed and chickens locked away at night.


Locate the chicken house facing east so the back is towards the strong westerly, rain-bearing winter winds.

Before constructing any form of housing for your chickens, be sure to get approval from your local council. It may regulate the building position and the number of birds you keep.

A belt of vegetation to the east will provide protection against the wind but ensure it still lets in the morning sun.

Existing housing

Cover the floor with sawdust (at least 8 cm) so it mixes with the poultry droppings to form ‘deep litter’.

Thoroughly clean old housing as it could contain mites, fleas or ticks. Wooden structures may need to be removed and the soil surrounding old housing should be tested to ensure it is free from chemicals.

After nine months, the litter can be removed, composted and used in the garden. Many councils have banned the use and storage of chicken litter unless composted, as it provides a breeding medium for stable flies. Check with your council regarding its regulations.

Key points

The chicken house should contain a perch (no more than 60 cm high) for roosting and nesting boxes which can be accessed from the outside.

• Before keeping chickens, check with your council regarding any approvals they may require.

Chicken run The chicken run should be bordered by 1.8 m high chicken mesh and enclosed to discourage foxes from killing the chickens and wild birds from eating the chicken food and possibly introducing diseases.

• Learn what is normal for your birds so you are able to tell when they are unwell. • Before selling eggs, check the standards and regulations which apply to you.

To deter foxes from digging under the fence, dig the netting into the soil to a depth of 50 cm or continue the netting outwards at the base of the fence.

Department of Agriculture and Food


noteworthy Keeping backyard chickens


Egg peritonitis – This is when an egg ruptures inside the bird. Affected birds become depressed, cease eating and usually die. The most common cause of egg peritonitis is perches set too high.

By law chickens must be provided with appropriate food, water and protection. The quality of food and water is also important as the wrong balance of nutrients and quantities of feed can lead to poor egg production and bird health.

Lice – These are small parasites which can cause severe irritation and stress. Birds often stop laying. Treat with a registered poultry dust.

Commercial layer pellets provide the best, balanced source of nutrients for chickens.

Stick fast fleas – These appear as small, shiny black dots on the combs, wattles and around the eyes. They have very little movement. Larvae need deep soil to complete their development so an impervious floor under the roosting area can assist control. Treat individual birds with a registered treatment. Pet cats and dogs can also be affected.

For specific requirements consult the Code of Practice for Poultry in Western Australia (2003) which can be found on the DAFWA website or the Poultry Cooperative Research Centre’s Poultry Hub.

Mites and ticks – Blood-sucking parasites can cause severe irritation, loss of blood and body weight. These pests also lead to a decrease in egg production and then death. Mites and ticks can spend considerable time off the host, therefore it is essential to remove and destroy rubbish in the henhouse so it can be properly cleaned and sprayed with an insecticide registered for the purpose. The most common mites in WA poultry are the scaly leg mite and the red mite.

Common problems A healthy bird should be alert, active, eat often, have clean eyes and nostrils and its breathing should be silent and unnoticeable. Sick birds may have drooping wings and tail, discharge from the nostrils and eyes, weakness or paralysis of one or both legs or wings, be lethargic or experience a loss of appetite. Sometimes birds are just found dead.

Chicken Facts

Observing the flock every day, and learning what is normal for your birds, can help you identify when a bird is sick. Egg-bound hens – Caused when an egg matures inside the bird, but is not laid. Euthanasia is the most appropriate treatment.

Males – roosters Birds prior to laying eggs – point of lay pullets Laying birds – hens Juveniles – chicks

Department of Agriculture and Food


noteworthy Keeping backyard chickens

Viral and bacterial diseases Viral There is no adequate treatment for viral diseases in chickens. Some viral diseases can be included in the vaccination regime when you buy fully vaccinated point-of-lay pullets. Vaccination of chickens is a specialised task and should be discussed with your hatchery, pullet supplier or veterinarian. The two exotic poultry diseases most feared in Australia are avian influenza and Newcastle disease. If your flock appears to be suffering any signs of these two diseases, contact the Exotic Animal Disease Emergency line on 1800 675 888.

Restricted animal material

• Avian influenza - Widespread in wild water birds throughout the world but not present in Australia. It is contagious and causes decreased egg production, depression, diarrhoea and blue combs.

When keeping chickens it is vital you prevent feed and litter being fed to ruminants (e.g. cattle, sheep and goats). This is to ensure Australia can continue to demonstrate freedom from Bovine Spongioform Encephalitis (BSE – mad cow disease), and for the protection of crucial export markets.

• Newcastle disease – This can cause a range of symptoms from a mild respiratory disease to severe depression, drop in egg production, increased respiration and profuse diarrhoea. In WA vaccination of commercial flocks (over 1000 birds and not including meat chickens) is compulsory. It is optional for smaller flocks.

Producing and selling eggs Egg producers do not need to obtain a licence, however if you are going to sell eggs you must comply with egg labelling guidelines and regulations.

• Marek’s disease – It causes tumours, paralysis and death in young birds. The vaccine must be administered in the first 24 hours of life to be effective.

Egg labelling In most cases, egg labelling is required for eggs and egg products for retail sale or catering purposes. The label should include all the relevant information required by the Food Standards Code, such as food name, lot identification, name and business address, date marking, directions for use and storage, etc.

• Infectious laryngotracheitis and infectious bronchitis – These cause respiratory diseases and are evident by reduced egg production, coughing, mouth breathing and possibly death. A vaccine is available. • Egg drop syndrome and avian encephalomyelitis – Both of these diseases can be transmitted through the egg and spread from bird to bird. They cause little illness but egg production is severely affected for several weeks. Avian encephalomyelitis may cause a severe brain disease and death in young chickens.

Producers do not have to comply with labelling standards when: 1. eggs are sold individually without any form of packaging (e.g. in a tray or carton) 2. eggs are picked from a tray by the consumer and placed in a container by the shopkeeper.

• Fowl pox – Spread by mosquitoes, it results in birds developing wart-like growths on the face and vent. Some strains of pox are severe and result in lesions in the oesophagus and often death. Other strains are milder and resolve naturally.

Egg washing Salmonella is the main microorganism of concern associated with eggs and egg products which can cause harm to humans. Major factors impacting on the potential transfer of Salmonella from feed, water and the laying environment include the presence and amount of faecal matter on the egg surface and the condition of the shell (e.g. cracks) and cuticle. Therefore it is vital the egg remain clean where possible.

Photo: Ben White

Bacterial diseases • Fowl cholera – This causes reduced egg production and increased mortality. Birds appear depressed and lose appetite for a few days prior to death. Antibiotics can be used to treat this disease.

When washing soiled eggs, first scrape off the dirt/faecal matter covering the egg using clean, warm water and detergent. It is important the water temperature is higher than the egg temperature (around 15°C higher but not greater than 50°C).

• Mycoplasmosis – A common disease in poultry kept in the metropolitan area, it causes reduced egg production and a mild respiratory disease. It is difficult to control in mixed age flocks.

Department of Agriculture and Food


noteworthy Keeping backyard chickens

Organochlorines in eggs


Chicken houses and other old structures built before 1984 could have been treated with organochlorines (e.g. dieldrin and DDT) to control termites.

Code of Practice for Poultry in Western Australia (2003) Poultry Cooperative Research Centre’s Education website – Poultry Hub

These chemicals can be harmful to humans if ingested in high concentrations.

Guideline Food Safety Management Statements

As birds eat soil to help digest their food, any organochlorines still left in the soil can contaminate their meat and eggs.

Australian Egg Corporation Limited (AECL)

If you are unsure about the condition of your soil, before selling your eggs or passing them on to friends or family, it is best to get it tested. This can be done at private analytical laboratories.

Australian Egg Corporation Limited’s Egg Labelling Guide Guide to Australian Laws, Regulations and Standards for Egg Producers (2012)

The FSANZ Egg Standard The Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) Primary Production and Processing (PPP) Standard for Eggs and Egg Products (Standard 4.2.5) is part of a series of national food safety standards and was gazetted in May 2011. PPP Standards (which only apply in Australia) aim to strengthen food safety and traceability from paddock to plate. FSANZ developed the new standard as a result of the increase in the number of food-borne illnesses suspected of being linked to eggs or egg products, particularly cracked and dirty eggs which have been a key cause of contamination. The new standard: • requires egg producers and processors to identify and control safety hazards, such as ensuring feed is not contaminated • prohibits the sale of cracked and dirty eggs unless they are sold to a processor for pasteurisation

FOR more information

• requires individual eggs to be stamped with the producers’ unique identification so they can be traced.

The Small Landholder Information Service and Kondinin Group have developed a series of Noteworthy factsheets.

An implementation package for this standard has been developed by the Implementation Sub Committee and can be found at

For copies or more information go to or contact the Small Landholder Information Service on 9733 7777.

Quality assurance programs The Egg Corp Assured (ECA) program has been developed by the Australian Egg Corporation Limited, to cover business practices including pullet rearing, egg production and egg grading/packing. The program addresses food safety, biosecurity, animal welfare and egg labelling and reassures customers and members of the public your eggs are safe for human consumption.

Kondinin Group - Small Landholder Information

Important Disclaimer The Chief Executive Officer of the Department of Agriculture and Food and the State of Western Australia and Kondinin Group accept no liability whatsoever by reason of negligence or otherwise arising from the use or release of this information or any part of it. © Western Australian Agriculture Authority, 2012.

Department of Agriculture and Food


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