Chickens aren't difficult to look after, all they require is a constant supply of water and regular food. As Martyn Loach explains, you should keep an eye open for any ailments, and they'll need to be cleaned out once a week.
Self-sufficiency and the 'good life' might be a pipe dream for most people who live in towns and cities, but keeping chickens is becoming increasingly popular.
If you like to go to work on an egg, what better than collecting it from your own chickens, knowing that they have been well fed and looked after.
They'll need a hen house to live in, protected from predators and bad weather. If your garden isn't secure, a run is necessary, preferably attached to the hen house which should be moveable when the ground gets worn out.
Where Do I Buy Chickens From?
It’s a good idea to buy ex-battery hens to save them from slaughter. Although not commercially viable any longer, they will be perfectly happy to supply a family with eggs for a few more years. They are also bred to be docile, so make good pets.
The British Hen Welfare Trust is a charity that re-homes battery hens and has regular collection points all over the country. No charge is made but a donation of £5 per hen is gratefully received. All you have to do is book a time and then turn up with a suitable box to carry them home.
What Do Hens Eat?
Specially designed food to help battery hens recover is on the market and going forward all chickens need a formulated diet that will encourage laying. They will supplement this food by foraging protein packed bugs, insects and worms. A specially designed hopper is the best method to dispense it and a container full of fresh water also needs to be readily accessible.
So that they have plenty of calcium, providing oyster shells is another good idea and grit is essential for their digestion, both are available from pet shops.
Mixed corn (wheat and maize) is useful to fatten poultry in readiness for cold winter weather and after moulting. Cooked scraps and left overs from the kitchen are now banned but cauliflower and salad leaves will be appreciated as a dietary supplement.
What Illnesses Do Chickens Suffer From?
If you do buy ex-battery hens, cosmetically they might not look good with missing feathers and other reminders of their previous less than comfortable existence but they should be healthy and inoculated. Over the first few weeks they will recover and acclimatise to their new surroundings.
Caring for the hens shouldn’t take long each day. Make sure they have enough fresh food and water, collect any eggs, clear away detritus and trouble shoot any problems.
When they are settled in, hens should be wormed twice a year with an approved treatment. Also look out for red mites, northern mites, scaly leg mites and lice, and various other ailments including Avian Influenza and Mycoplasma.
What Size Chicken Coop Should I Buy?
Buy a coop larger than your present needs. Once the poultry bug has bitten you, you’ll probably want space for a few more hens.
The floor space for each hen should be about 4 sq ft and perches 6 – 12 inches per hen, rounded and if possible at different heights. There should be a minimum of two nest boxes filled with straw.
When buying a coop, buy the best quality you can afford, a solid coop made from pressure treated 12mm timber should last a very long time.
Make sure that the inside of the coop is dry and draught free. A ‘pop door’ for the hens to come in and out will keep the coop cosy in cold weather. There does however need to be good ventilation particularly to rid the coop of ammonia which can affect the hens' respiration.
Last but not least, ensure that the coop is easy to clean. Disease and pests revel in dirty conditions especially in warm weather, so look out for accessibility and removable floors, perches, nest boxes etc.
What Chicken Coops Do You Recommend?
There is an impressive range of chicken coops, the largest, and tallest, is the Annie Hen House from The Hutch Company with a walk-in run and an external nest box. Similar coops are the same company's Starter Chicken Coop which is a sturdy best seller and Zest's Boston Chicken House.
Smaller coops but still with a run include the Rita Chicken Ark which has built-in handles for easy moving and the New England Chicken House.
If you choose a coop such as the Rowlinson Large Chicken Coop, Zest Starter Coop, or the Hutch Company's Sally Hen House, which do not have a secure run, you must protect your hens from predators notably foxes. This can take the form of a high fence that is submerged about 12ins below ground or an electrified fence.