Keeping chickens has become one of the most popular forms of livestock ownership in Britain. Not only do you get fresh eggs but you also get pets that are absorbing, friendly and full of character. Chickens are relatively inexpensive to keep but do need a basic level of care and attention in order to keep them happy and productive.
Before You Begin
There are some general considerations you need to make before leaping straight into keeping chickens of your own. Firstly, you need to check with your local authority in case there are restrictions of keeping poultry at your property. This is really important but is often overlooked and can lead to problems and heartache further down the line. The next point to decide upon is how many birds you want and do you have space for them to live. The best advice is to start small as two to six hens will give enough fresh eggs for the average family.
The most important part of looking after your new birds will be to provide them with a safe, comfortable house. For two to six hens a house of 4ft x 6ft will suffice as long as there is room for them to run outside as they will just use the housing to sleep in and shelter from bad weather.
If you intend to buy a hen house then this can be expensive but if you aren't the best at DIY this might be the best option. Either way, choose one that is easy to access and maintain as both you and the chickens will need to get inside it. The house needs to provide shelter from rain and protection from predators such as foxes, but also needs good ventilation. Perches and nest boxes should be secure but also easy for the keeper to get to so they can collect the eggs.
Food and Water
For good laying and healthy eggs the birds will require a balanced diet. This should consist of either Layer Pellets or Mash as this contains all the nutrients the birds need. However, supplementing their diet with extra vitamins and minerals and letting the hens roam free will allow them to find their own food such as slugs and snails which will also benefit your garden.
The birds will require access to fresh, clean water which should be changed daily. It is best to place the water outside the hen house to reduce problems with damp and the health issues this can cause, but under cover so that wild bird droppings don’t contaminate it.
There are many breeds of chicken which come in a variety of shapes and sizes. However, if you are going purely for birds that provide a regular supply of eggs then breeds such as Black Rocks, Bluebells, Isa Brown, Lomans and White Star, which will all lay an average of 300 eggs per year. They make excellent starter birds and offer a good compromise of laying ability versus ease of husbandry.
Like all pets, chickens do need looking after. Their house will need cleaning out regularly, to prevent the build up of mites and fleas. Use good quality, dry, dust-free wood shavings for the bedding. Shavings are much better than straw which gets damp quickly and then goes mouldy, thus running the risk of respiratory issues for your birds. The hen house should be moved around the garden to stop the hens running on soiled ground and to give them fresh areas to dig and forage in.
Some of this may sound a little daunting, but the reality is that chickens are no more difficult to look after than the family dog. They will provide you with endless fascination as you watch them and get to know their individual personalities with the added benefit of a supply of fresh and tasty eggs. So go on give it a go, you’ll never make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.