This is a guide to keeping chickens for beginners and while I am not an expert on chickens or fowl we did keep some on our home farm when I was a child and I have some friends that have some small numbers today. While you won’t in reality make any fortune keeping a few hens in the back garden I feel it is a nice hobby and they do add a bit of character to the place Your reward will be your own home produced free-range eggs every day as well as having some rather unique pets for the children to interact with during time off from school.
Before you rush out to buy your laying hens you need to first have a place ready to keep them. I would recommend just buying a chicken coop online or at a hardware store etc. If you had time and wanted to you could of course build your own but personally for the price they can be purchased for compared to the time it would take to buy materials and build your own I would rather just to buy one.
(Click image for price)
The chicken coop should be mobile so that it can be moved around and ideally kept in a sheltered spot away from any drafts like wind or rain. It should also be secure meaning you can lock it at night and have mesh small enough that a mink can’t squeeze in and a door you can close to keep any foxes out.
Hens need to roost at night so the will need a perch at least 8 inches off the ground. Chickens would have historically roosted in trees close together before man realized it was safer to keep them inside at night. However, if a fox manages to get into the hen house then you won’t have any left as the usually tend to kill everything if given the opportuinty
The house will also need nest boxes where the hens can lay their eggs, the laying boxes should have some straw inside to keep the eggs clean and be comfortable for the hens to lay in there. They should also be private as hens like some privacy when laying eggs which is usually first thing in the morning just in time for breakfast.
Chickens will also do half of their droppings at night so having old newspaper of wood shavings under their perch will help with the clean up which should be done the least once a week depending on how many chickens you keep. It is important to keep good hygiene in the chicken coop and not let too many droppings or germs to build up.
Bags of wood shavings for horses can be got a most horse and pony stores and are good value compared to smaller bags on offer at pet stores. If you do any gardening the compost from cleaning out the chicken coop is high in nitrogen and is an excellent fertilizer for growing plants of vegetables.
Chickens will like to roam around during the day so if you’re living in an urban or sub urban area and don’t want them roaming too far you might want to fence in an area for them to run about in the garden. This can be done with a roll of chicken wire or similar wire with small holes. For people living in the countryside chickens will usually stay close enough to their food source and sleeping area anyway and will be happy to roam around a large garden or small field area.
The main danger of this if you are away for the day would be an attack from a dog or a fox so if nobody is around to watch over them maybe building an outside run might not be a bad idea long term. Again the size will depend on how many you plan to keep.
With new chickens you should keep them in an enclosed area for 3 or 4 days so they become homed to their new surroundings before leaving them fully free range. When leaving out free range chickens for the first time it might be a good idea to leave them out late in the evening as they tend to want to stay close to their roost in the evening.
Feed and drinker
Chickens will also need a feeder and drinker they should be fed daily with some layer pellets which is specially formulated for laying hens but while outside they will forage for other food like seeds bugs, worms and any other treats they can find. Buying a proper chicken feeder will help with having food wasted or unwanted rodents and worth the price in my opinion as there not that expensive.
Likewise a proper drinker is cheap enough too and help keep the water clean and fresh where an adult chicken will drink around a half a liter of water per day. Up to 75% of their eggs are made up of water so a good clean supply of water is vital for laying hens.
For their health they should receive treatment for mites which is given as a simple powder sprinkled under their wings or tail feathers and a wormer which is just added to their food. This should be done at least every few months. There are many natural products available for treatment and its an easy job to do
Freerange chickens will find their own grit while foraging outside but if you are going to be keeping them inside full time you could give them oyster shell grit which will help them digest food and with the development of their own egg shells
While there are many breeds to choose from but I think hybrid hens are a good choice for beginners as they are quiet and easy to keep and good layers and will give you eggs all year round. Hens are cheap enough to buy from as little as 5 euros and you could have a complete set including the house or coop feeders drinkers feed and fencing for less than a few hundred euros which will give you eggs and entertainment for years to come.
If you would like your own bacon to go with your eggs then read about keeping pigs Here