Chickens are great birds to have in your back garden, they are full of personality, are relatively easy to keep and will provide you with a fresh supply of yummy tasting eggs!
Whilst being low maintenance, chickens need certain things to keep them happy and healthy.
Below is a basic guide to help you get started with keeping chickens.
Being a Clucky Mama
- Chickens are great pets to keep if you are looking for something that will help you to be self sufficient, as well as being huge entertainment and great for family life. If you let them out to ‘free-range’ in your garden, they will scratch for food and even help you with the weeding!
- Depending on the breed of hen, she will lay an egg every 24 – 56 hours (this is a rough guide!) so you will have a near constant supply of tasty, fresh eggs. (Once you’ve had fresh eggs, you’ll never go back to the supermarket!) On average a family of four will get enough eggs to last a week from four chickens.
- You could be entrepreneurial and sell any excess eggs to colleagues and friends. This way the chickens will pay for their own keep!
- Your girls will need letting out of their coop into a run every morning and locking up safely again at night. This is something to think about if you are going on holiday. Here at Warwickshire Chicken Coop, we can offer a hen boarding service.
- Chickens are very sociable and once they have got used to you, will enjoy your company. Make sure you approach them calmly and handle them regularly.
Healthy, Happy Hens
- Chickens are fairly resilient birds, but there are some common plights you must watch out for, the most common being the dreaded RED MITE!! These little critters are red in colour (from blood they have sucked) or grey when they haven’t been fed. They live off the birds blood and hide in the nooks and crannies of the hen house (not actually on the birds). A good husbandry regime will help prevent them appearing, but if they do (and 99% of poultry owners have had them) a thorough disinfect of the hen house and application of barrier control, which must be repeated every 3 days for two weeks, to break the cycle, should be done. We sell a number of products to help with the battle against red mite
- Other mites and lice – chickens can suffer from other mites and lice living on them, again this isn’t unusual. Try to make sure you dust your chickens regularly with preventative powder and give them a thorough checking over every month.
- Scaly leg – another common plight, where lice live under the scales of chickens legs. There are numerous lotions available for prevention and cure. Try smearing Vaseline onto their legs to prevent lice from getting there in the first place! TIP – Vaseline is also great for putting on their wattles and combs during the winter to prevent frostbite!
- Coughs and colds – just like us, hens get runny noses and sneezes too. Help cure these by giving them additional vitamins and nutrients in their diets.
- Worming – Make sure your chickens are wormed every 4 – 6 months
These are the most common chicken complaints, there are a few more serious and very serious conditions chickens can suffer from, so if you are unsure, do not hesitate to contact us or speak with your local poultry vet.
Golden Egg Rules…
- Chickens are flock animals – they should not be kept in isolation as they enjoy each others company. As such, we will not sell single birds
- Chickens need space to live, sleep, lay eggs and scratch for food.
- They need to have a safe, dry coop to sleep in with a suitable nest box for laying eggs. The coop needs perches for them to roost on and must be fox proof. Here at Warwickshire Chicken Coop we supply a range of wooden houses.
- They need a constant supply of fresh water and either mash or pellets. Additional handfuls of corn and fresh garden scraps should be fed to them to add interest and improve their diet.
Those are the most basic of chicken keeping rules. Here is a little more detail about each aspect of owning and caring for chickens.
Husbandry, Safe and Dry
- The litter of the coop should be dry and absorbent. Popular choices include; straw, newspaper shreddings and our preferred choice; dust free sawdust or shavings.
- Make sure your chicken coop has a nest box for your girls to lay their eggs in. The nest box should be dry and comfortable. Use extra soft bedding such as straw or aubiose shavings.
- An everyday basic clean out is recommended, followed by a weekly thorough clean out. Try to disinfect your coop completely every 6 – 8 weeks in addition to this.
- The coop must have perches for your girls to roost on at night
- The coop must be fox and rat proof
- Chickens need space to run around in – their run must be secure from predators and egg stealers!
- The litter for their run can be natural grass or woodchips. If you are going for a natural grass run, make sure they have plenty of room, or if the run is moveable, move it round your garden every few days to a fresh supply. Woodchip should be regularly turned over and totally replaced every 6 months. We recommend it is kept dry under a roof and only use chip not bark.
- Chickens like to be entertained so give them items of interest such as CDs hanging up to peck at, peck blocks and things to jump on and off like benches and upturned flower pots
- Chickens will clean and cool themselves down in a dust bath. Make sure they have access to a space where they can dust themselves off in dry dirt, preferably undercover.
Feeding and Drinking
- Hens have an easy diet to maintain. Once they reach point-of-lay (POL) between 16-24 weeks old, they need a constant supply of layers mash or pellets. From 8-16 weeks, they should be fed ‘growers pellets’ and prior to this – chick crumbs. All are available to purchase from us. TIP – do not leave feed out overnight as it will encourage rats!
- In addition to this, each chicken can be given an egg cupful of corn every couple of days as a treat, to keep them warm and keep their nutrient levels up. Do not overfeed them with corn as they will get fat and their egg production will decrease
- Greenstuff and some store cupboard foods have a high level of vitamins and minerals and are great to feed your girls. Make sure their overall diet contains no more than 20% of this though. Ideal foods are; cabbage (try hanging them up for the girls to peck at – hours of fun!), tomatoes, sunflower seeds, boiled potatoes (skin off!!), porridge (for those cold mornings!), and cereal scraps. PLEASE be AWARE according to DEFRA it is illegal to feed your chickens anything that has come from your kitchen, cooked or otherwise. We of course agree with the guidelines DEFRA have laid out, but would encourage you to give the above products to your hens, as long as they haven't been through your kitchen first.
- Make sure your chickens have access to grit (oyster shell is recommended) from a hopper as this will help with their digestion and producing a hard egg shell.
- Drinking water should be lifted off the ground and not kept next to their feed. It should be fresh daily. Make sure your girls have plenty in the summer as they drink much more than the winter months. TIP – water will freeze in the cold winter, so either bring the water in at night or purchase a water heater
- Add additional supplements to their drinking water such as apple cider vinegar, or vitamin products such as Lifeguard, which will give them a boost. A fun idea we use is adding some Lifeguard to a rabbit water bottle, mixed with water for them to drink from and play with – they’ll love it!
- There are plenty of natural supplements and vitamins, such as garlic granules and seaweed available. Have a look in our shop for some more ideas.
We are happy to chat to you in detail about caring for your chickens when you come to see us, but in the meantime and for lots of other tips on keeping poultry, visit poultrykeeper.com