Why have chickens?
- Eggs! Or meat if you’d prefer. Fresh eggs are much tastier than store bought and chickens will produce about one egg each per day throughout the warmer months, on average 240 eggs per year.
- Leftover eaters – while you can’t feed only scraps if your chickens are laying, they are omnivores and will eat most leftover food you offer.
Good for your lawn/garden- chickens will eat pests and grass, and produce nitrogen rich fertiliser. Adding egg shells and faeces to your compost will give it a huge boost.
- Chickens have huge personalities and will soon learn to come when called, and can even be taught tricks (search chicken clicker training on youtube…)
- Chickens are beautiful! They come in all shapes and sizes. ‘Bantam’ breeds are smaller if that is an advantage, do some research to decide which is best for you.
- They are low maintenance. Pick up eggs daily, feed and water them every other day and clean out their bedding monthly.
What do I need to know?
Chickens need a coop to nest in, and a run if not free range. Seven chickens /m₂ is the smallest area they should have access to (not including a run). There should be one nest box per 4 hens and rounded perches with enough space for them all to fit on at once.
A free range hen will eat grass, scraps, insects, and will need supplementing with grains or pellets, which contain grains, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. Calcium in the form of limestone flour needs to make up 4-5% of a layers diet as they put a lot of calcium into egg shells. Avocado, green potatoes, rhubarb leaves, parsnip, parsley and celery are all poisonous to chickens so shouldn’t be fed.
Sick chickens can be picked out from healthy chickens by one or more of these symptoms: Fluffed feathers, separation from the flock, soiled feathers or diarrhoea, lameness, breathing with an open beak, red skin and feather loss, (though chickens do moult yearly in autumn), swelling of legs or of the wattle.
Talk to your vet if you are concerned at all about the health of your flock.
Lastly a note on ex-battery hens- hens that are bred to lay are usually only kept till 16 months old and then are replaced, but often still have many eggs and years left in them. While these birds take a while to adjust to being backyard chooks they can be very rewarding. Give them time, food, warmth and some general tender loving care and they will soon be great pets.