Raising happy chickens – a beginners guide
I think my most precious childhood memory was at my friend’s farm and putting my hand into their large chicken house to feel the excitement of a warm freshly laid egg. I vowed I would have my own flock. So if you are thinking of getting some chickens here is my beginners guide.
I have to say there are wonderful times such as hatching your own chicks like the lovely images from The Rock Inn but also absolute tragedies normally relating to the visit of the fox. I think that is probably all part of the learning curve but definitely heartbreaking.
You are allowed to keep up to 50 chickens on your land without registering with DEFRA. It’s a wonderful hobby and the taste and the colour of the eggs is totally different to a shop bought egg.
Choose your chicken house
There are plenty available on Ebay new and used. I would say always go for quality as many of the assemble at home types really aren’t fit for purpose. A great option is the plastic type coops with runs or convert a stable at home. If you are going to keep them in a run make sure it is as big as possible. Even 2 chickens in a 2 metre run will soon turn the ground to mud. Or keep them in smallish run but make sure you let them out for a few hours each day.
Predator proof run
Make sure your run is either dug into the ground, or is a wire enclosure covering the ground. Another option is to ring fence them with an electric fence. The foxes are very frightened of the noise and won’t come near.
Choosing your chickens
You can source and save local battery chickens (commercial brown hen) which is a cheap and good option and they will lay well. If you’re looking for a more fancy chicken make sure you buy point of lay birds in the spring and then you will get eggs. Some of the best layers are Orpingtons, Rhode Island Red, Maran, Light Sussex and Nera.
Letting chickens out in the garden
When you first get your chickens leave them in their coop and run for a week or so just so they get used to where home is. if you have a nice garden that you don’t want spoiled, it might be a sensible idea to limit the area that the chickens can forage in. Chickens scratch the ground to make dust baths with the dry soil. They also tend to destroy young green plants.
Keeping a cockerel
We have loved keeping a cockerel as it has meant we can breed. With my buff orpingtons our cockerel was the sweetest character and the children would wander endlessly round the garden with him in their arms. However, they can be quite noisy and wake you - and your neighbours - up at the first hint of daylight….
We feed our chickens layers pellets in laying season and corn out of it. We use all our grass cuttings, outside leaves from cabbages, cauliflowers etc. Try hanging the leaves a little higher than the height of the chicken in the pen – they will need to jump to get them and it will be a useful gym class! Be careful extra food lying about can attract rats.
Cleaning the coop
It's very important to clean your coop properly to avoid red mite etc. It should be a weekly job. Make sure you use a disinfectant and provide lots of clean straw or shredded newspaper.
Introducing a new hen
This can be a difficult time and your existing hens can give the new one a hard time. Don’t worry it will all settle down and the pecking order will be re-established. A newcomer should be kept in their own run for a week or so amongst the chickens so they all get used to each other. The new hen should then be introduced at night into the house – when dark. They won’t fight in the dark. If they do fight, remove the hen for another week and then try again or try and remove the trouble making hen and see if the new one settles without her! They will settle.