For those new to chicken keeping, it can, at first glance seem like an incredibly complicated hobby. In this post I would like to convince you that practically anybody can keep chickens and give you some advice to help you get started.
Chickens are really easy pets to look after. The basic needs of chickens are no different to those of humans or any other animals: Food, water and shelter. And that is all there is to it. My best advice would be to not read into chickens too much, obviously do your homework, but don’t do too much research because you will over complicate things for yourself, this is the most common thing I find of my customers who have never kept hens before. This beginners guide will outline all of the things you will need to get started keeping chickens. So, without further ado I shall get right into it.
Chickens will require a house to live in. Unlike some other poultry species, this is a non-negotiable requirement. The purpose of the house is to provide somewhere safe and secure for your hens to roost at night to protect them from predators such as foxes. The house is also used by the hens as a place to lay eggs and shelter from the elements such as the sun and rain. Chicken houses can be made out many materials, wood and nowadays plastic being the materials of choice. Wood is cheap and readily available, and anybody with limited wood working skills can construct their own chicken house from scratch. Plastic is a much more expensive material but has become the material of choice for modern poultry keepers as it doesn’t rot or warp as wood does and it provides a much more hygienic living space for your hens, plastic can be power washed and is much less accommodating for parasites such as red mite.
If like most people you don’t fancy building your own chicken house or simply don’t have the time, there are lots of chicken houses for sale online which can be delivered to you home. Your chicken house will need the following requirements:
2 square feet of living space per bird – Chickens come in different shapes and sizes, but the average hen will need approximately 2 square feet of living space.
Perches – Chickens are descendants of Red Jungle Fowl who live in forests and perch in the trees at night to stay out of the way of predators. Modern chickens still enjoy perching at night in their coops. A perch is effectively just a bar, raised off the ground which the chickens can wrap their feet around at night. Most chicken houses will have more than one perch and it is vital that all of the perches be raised off the ground at the same level to stop the chickens fighting to roost on the highest perch. Perches should be 2 to 4 inches wide.
Nest boxes – Every chicken house needs nest boxes so that the chickens have somewhere to lay their eggs. Nest boxes usually hang out on the side of the house and are slightly raised off of the ground. Nest boxes will need a door on the outside for human access to collect eggs. Nest boxes should be around 30cm (W) x 30cm (L) x 30cm (H) to make sure there is enough room for the hens to lay their eggs. I would recommend one nest box per two to three hens.
Run – If you intend on keeping your hens free range a run is not a necessity. I you don’t want your hens to free range, a run is essential. The run provides access to the outdoors so that hens can scratch around outside and get access to the sun which they require to regulate their egg laying patterns. I strongly discourage keeping hens indoors permanently once they have reached adulthood. A chicken run is usually made out of wood and chicken wire and should be a minimum of 4 square feet per bird. The run does not require a floor and should be placed on grass or wood chip.
Bedding – The shelter should have bedding on the floor and in the nest boxes. Bedding will prevent chicken droppings going directly onto the floor and will keep eggs cleaner in the nest boxes. Bedding makes cleaning out chickens much easier because the droppings will sit on top of the bedding and can be removed without difficulty. I use straw for bedding in my chicken houses as it is cheap and readily available. I pay £2 for a bale of straw which would keep the average poultry keeper going for several months if hens are cleaned out on a weekly basis. Straw can be extremely expensive if purchased from a pet shop in small quantities. My favourite type of bedding is wood shavings because they absorb the smell of the droppings, however wood shavings are more expensive than straw to use on a large scale. For beginners shavings would be my recommended bedding and can be purchased for £8 per 20kg bale at most country stores. Other bedding choices are available, personally I wouldn’t bother using anything else except straw, wood shavings and possibly paper shavings (although these can be very expensive and unnecessary).
As mentioned earlier chickens are descendants of Red Jungle Fowl. Red Jungle Fowl eat mostly vegetation such as seeds and plants accompanied by a small amount of meat (insects). Chickens are not dissimilar, if allowed to free range chickens will scratch at the earth to uncover seeds, worms, insects, ect and they will explore the hedges and fields looking for anything edible. Even if allowed to free range, chickens will require feeding. Personally, I feed my chickens on Layer’s Pellets which is a complete feed containing everything the chickens need for a healthy diet. Alternatively you can feed your chickens on a mixture of grains but I would strongly recommend feeding Layers’s pellets or Layer’s Mash to ensure they get all the nutrients they need and also to make your life easier, Layer’s Pellets can be purchased from most country stores and is a complete feed.
Layer’s pellets cost around £6-8 per 20kg bag, each hen will eat around 100-150g per day. Chickens should be fed on an ab-lib basis, meaning they have access to feed all day. I would recommend that you buy a feeder that has a lid to stop your feed getting wet when it rains, these can be bought from most country stores for very little. I remove the feeders at night and put them in a dustbin with a lid on to stop rats from getting access to feed at night, this is something I would encourage because rats have an annoying habit of appearing out of nowhere as soon as a constant supply of food becomes available. Providing that you remove food at night you should be able to avoid the attention of these nocturnal pests.
There are many people who feed chickens wheat or mixed corn, whilst I wouldn’t discourage you from doing this, I would like to make you aware that this should be fed as a treat only. Chickens love wheat, but too much of it will make them fat. If you are going to feed your hens wheat, please do it in the afternoon so that they eat their Layer’s pellets first and get the nutrients they require, in simple terms vegetables must be eaten before dessert . Your chickens will go mental as soon as they see you holding some wheat, this can be a great way of getting your chickens to become more friendly because they will come running over and wait enthusiastically at your feet for you to throw down some wheat for them.
This is not going to be a long section! Chickens must have access to water at all times during the day. Water is best served in a drinker, drinkers come in different sizes and are usually made out of plastic or metal. Try and buy a big enough drinker so that your birds have more than enough water for one day. I like to use drinkers that will last several days because it means I don’t have to fill them up as often. Make sure that the water is clean. I keep a small brush in my chicken pen which I use to scrub the drinkers down when they get dirty. I would advise you to keep your drinker outside of the chicken house.
Thank you for reading my post, I hope you found it helpful. Chickens are very easy to look after if you meet the requirements above. If you have any additional questions please get in touch with me and I will be happy to give you some advice.