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Bernardsville Animal Hospital is a small animal veterinary hospital in Bernardsville, New Jersey. Our mission is to provide top-notch medical, surgical, and dental care to our patients.



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How To Start Your Backyard Chicken Flock: A Veterinarian's Perspective

Lynn Alexy

By Nicholas Oakley, BSc, DVM

Why should I start a flock?

The practice of raising chickens for both eggs and meat has a long history, both commercially and recreationally. Today, large numbers of flocks are being established in backyards across the United States, and even greater numbers of Americans are seeing the value in raising these interesting creatures. Whether you are searching for a unique companion for your farm, or hoping to have fresh eggs and meat for your family, backyard chickens can make a great addition to your property.

How To Get Started:

  • Zoning Regulations/Bylaws

To get started, you should first identify any zoning regulations and bylaws governing the ownership and/or use of land for chickens. This initial step is very important, as the rules and regulations will vary by community and this may stop your dream of chicken ownership from ever taking flight.

  • Housing

A well designed and properly constructed coop is essential for the health, safety and comfort of your chickens. If you are interested in housing chickens, it is crucial that their new home is appropriately designed. Online resources are invaluable when seeking design plans for coops, or even more simply, a fully designed coop can be purchased from a company that specializes in chicken coop construction.

  • Space Requirements

Chicken coops are available in a wide variety of shapes and sizes to accommodate any size backyard. There are a variety of guidelines that outline the amount of space chickens require within a coop, and it is recommended to check with your local veterinarian if your yard is less than spacious.

  • Predator Control

Keeping your chickens within a properly designed coop is essential for their safety, and a secure coop will also help to keep predators out. Chickens are the prey for a large number of predators and the fencing should specifically prevent entry of cats, eagles and snakes. By preventing the entry of these smaller animals, many other larger species will be unable to enter. Essentially, there should be very small openings between the links of the coop fence, as well as a cover to protect from other birds in the area.

  • Getting Chicks/Eggs

The next step (and the most exciting) is purchasing some chicks or eggs. For the beginner, it is recommended to start with baby chicks or pullets (a young hen under 1 year of age). Pullets provide the opportunity to skip raising baby chicks and start with the easier part of management. If you are interested in baby chicks, you can look to your local feed store or order directly from a poultry hatchery. If you do decide to visit your local feed store, you should remember that you won’t be able to tell the sex of your baby chicks. This will mean that you will most likely end up with a rooster or two. If you seek out eggs to hatch yourself, you will require an incubator to ensure that the eggs stay warm. You must also assume the responsibility of mother hen, and need to rotate your newly acquired eggs daily for the 21 days until they hatch.

  • Feeding Your Chickens

Your local feed store can provide your flock with balanced feed, and the options available can vary based upon the age of your chickens. To reduce the amount of feed spoilage, it is recommended to buy only enough food for a 30 day window. You will also need to pick up specialized, rodent-proof dishes for feeding and waterers that can be changed daily. All of these products are available at your local feed or co-op store.

What Comes Next?

When you ensure that your flock is healthy, you help guarantee that your flock is producing high quality eggs and meat. Utilize your veterinarian to access a wealth of information about chicken ownership and work with them to keep your flock healthy for the years to come. If you have questions about starting your own backyard flock, or you already have established a flock and need some advice, please feel free to contact me at

The Perils Of Dr. Google

Lynn Alexy

By James Baxter, DVM

  Have Siri and Dr. Google become your new family Doctor?  While we like our clients to be well informed, leaving medical decisions up to the internet can be risky at best.  With the world’s information just a click away, it’s natural to turn to a search engine to troll for answers to even your medical questions. But beware.

  The reality is not so simple.  For example, a recent search for a common condition announced “this condition may be minor and benign, but can be more serious and life-threatening.”  How can you tell? If you want it to be minor, the answer is right there in the first line.  You can and will find any answer you are looking for.  But you should be careful: How up-to-date is the information, and is it from a recognized authority? How do you know which is fact and which is opinion? Much of the information on the internet is a single person account or anecdotal, and most of the time many years old.  Your veterinarian receives continuing education every year and has the newest and most relevant medical knowledge.   

 Your doctor also has the experience that a chat room or community blog can’t readily draw upon.  Your pet can’t talk, so she needs the experience of a veterinarian who can look, touch, listen and examine her in person.  So much of our diagnoses come from getting a detailed history before the exam.  Knowing the right question is often the only way to reach the right answer.  Neither the internet nor the phone can adequately substitute for these three elements that synergistically combine during an actual appointment to offer the best route for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

By and large, we love the internet.  We use email reminders, and our website has great information for you and your pet.  But if a health issue is significant enough to pick up a smart phone for advice, call the live doctor instead of the virtual one.

 Speaking of live doctors: We are proud to introduce Dr. Nick Oakley to our practice.  He recently moved to the Somerset Hills from Prince Edward Island, Canada, and will join us this June.  Dr. Oakley brings a fresh perspective and an interest in exotic pet medicine.  Owners of birds and guinea pigs, rabbits or reptiles will now have a wonderful doctor close by.  Dr. Oakley was president of his veterinary class all four years and brings his enthusiasm and sharp medical mind to our well-rounded team.  Help us Welcome Dr. Nick! 

 I will finish with some interesting facts: Cats can make over 100 sounds, while dogs can make only about 10.  What’s the most popular dog breed in the USA? The Labrador Retriever.  How do I know? I googled it.

Prepping For A Puppy: The Road To Success

Lynn Alexy

By Vedrana Gjivoje, DVM

I’ve been a veterinarian for 22 years, a wife for 20 and a mother for almost 18. In that time span I’ve raised 8 dogs and over 15 cats of my own and have ‘medically ministered’ to well over 5000 dogs, lots from puppyhood. Over these years, I’ve been able to look back, like a Monday morning QB, to observe and assess the good and the bad of getting a new puppy. As such, I’ve come up with a short list of do’s and don’ts to enhance your experience and maximize your success in a short and concise fashion. I’ve drawn on my experiences as a medical practitioner as well as an ‘in the trenches’ dog owner and member of a bustling household. I share it with you now, in January, to give you ample time to cogitate and prep for the upcoming spring. 

1. First and most importantly, figure out what kind of dog breed might best suit your personal or family profile BEFORE committing to a specific puppy: not all dogs or all breeds are suitable for all people or all families. Numerous websites exist to help you maneuver a match, including Also, please consider the mixed-breed puppies offered through shelters and rescue groups, as they abound. 

2. If you have young children, consider waiting until the youngest is at least 7-8 so he/she can reliably follow instructions, offer some assistance, and contribute less to overall chaos. 

3. If you have kids under 10, plan extra training time into your life schedule, as you will need to train both the puppy AND your children, daily, to ensure the smoothest path with the greatest success. 

4. For purebred puppies, ask any prospective breeder for 3 references (one being their veterinarian) BEFORE you commit to the puppy. Try to select a breeder near enough so you can physically go meet the litter and select the puppy yourself rather than choosing from a photo or letting the breeder chose for you. Do your homework upfront. 

5. Choosing temperament: within a litter of puppies, best to pass on the shyest and the most exuberant. Choose a socially outgoing pup with medium exuberance. 

6. Best time of year to get the puppy is in the spring and early summer: this gives you longer days and warmer temps to aid in the toilet training and exercise process. It’s much easier taking your puppy out at 5 am in balmy June than in frigid or snowy January. 

7. Use a crate: It will stream-line toilet training, give your pup a cubby hole, and provide safety for your furry bundle and your house/belongings.

8. Exercise your puppy every day and until he is spent. A tired puppy is a good puppy and will be less destructive and more compliant to your training.

9. Plan to attend a local offering of Puppy Kindergarten ASAP,  a unique and developmentally time sensitive puppy class offering a triple benefit: basic obedience, interaction and socialization with other puppy ‘peers’ through which your pup will learn how to be a well-adjusted dog, and socialization to other humans (the various puppy owners)

10.  Be consistent: all family/household members have to be on the same page about all aspects of the pup’s training and assimilation, otherwise the pup may receive conflicting info and become confused and harder to train.  

Once you pick your puppy, similarly pick a quality veterinary team to partner up with to see you through all your puppy’s pediatric health needs. 

There is so much more to this subject, but this is a great place to start. Enjoy and have fun!