Have you ever fancied keeping chickens, but you’re not sure where to start? Then allow me to pass on some tips.
The art of chicken keeping is becoming ever more popular. I know this because we can now buy our chicken food in Pets at Home, rather than having to trek to a rural pet supplier. We’ve been at it for almost three years now and have never regretted it.
So, here’s my how to guide.
1) Perhaps most importantly, you need to check if you’re actually allowed to keep chickens. People think that the local council might object, but in fact you don’t need to check with them at all. You should, however, check the deeds of your property as sometimes they state that you may not keep chickens or pigs on the land. If this is the case, you can probably get around it anyway.
2) Is your outdoor space suitable? You don’t need a massive garden but obviously it’s not going to work f you only have a balcony. We have a small paved garden and our hens occupy a corner of it. The area also needs to be escape proof (in other words no holes in fences or very low walls). If you’re very precious about your lawn/plants/flowers then bear in mind that chickens love to scratch and dig and can soon turn your lovely grass into a bed of dirt. As I said, we only have paving and container plants, so this is less of an issue for us.
3) If you’ve decided that hen hospitality is for you, then the next stage is to look into housing. Now, there are tonnes of chicken coops on the market today and I guess it comes down to personal preference as to whether you choose a pretty wooden one or a stylish Eglu type. You can even build one yourself if you’re at all handy. We opted for the Eglu from Omlet. Ours is a vibrant green colour and came complete with a run, shade and food and water troughs. It’s plenty large enough for up to four hens (we only have two at the moment but generally have three on the go). A few months in, we decided that a walk-in run would suit our needs more than the one which was supplied with the Eglu. We commissioned a medium sized wood and wire enclosed one and the Eglu sits within it. This means that we don’t have our hens free ranging all of the time. The floor of the run is covered in bark chippings (we usually buy these from B&Q or similar). This is great as the hens can dig and scratch to their hearts content. We also buy something called hemcore which is a little like wood shavings (but not) and this is used in the nesting area.
3) So you’ve chosen your hen home and all you need to do now is source some livestock. This is probably best done locally. Go by word of mouth or look up poultry breeders and then go and check them out. The Omlet website has some good information too (even if you don’t buy an Eglu, this website is invaluable). I’d recommend starting with two or three birds (you can always get more later). We’ve always gone for fairly hardy hybrids which are good layers and pretty docile, but there are lots of options so take your time to read up and work out what’s right for your set up.
4) Once you get your hens home, you’ll need to give them chance to settle in. When we first started we had zero experience of chickens and were very much learning from scratch. I remember bringing them home in the car in a cardboard box. I was a bit afraid of them if the truth be told. We manhandled them out of the box and (after a fashion) into the run. It’s a good idea to confine them to the run for the first few days whilst they acclimatise. You can then begin letting them out for short periods of free ranging. Any group of chickens will develop a natural pecking order with the alpha female ruling the roost. This may or may not cause problems, especially at the beginning. If your hens start to fight or if one of them is being picked on, try and let them get on with it (easier said than done I know). If it gets too much, then you might try separating any feisty birds and thereby bringing them down a peg or two.
5) After a few weeks (depending on the age of the hens you buy), you’ll start getting eggs. You’ll need to collect them daily and freshen up the nest box. You should also give your birds fresh food and water daily and clean the roosting area free of poo (chickens poo A LOT by the way). You can give the coop a more thorough clean about once a week.
Now, I’m not suggesting that this little ‘how to’ is an exhaustive guide to chickeneering, but hopefully it’s given you an idea of what great pets hens can be. I’d love to hear from you if you’re about to take the plunge or indeed if you already have.