Folks, meet my family’s chickens.
They have been living in our garden for almost a year now, and have slowly destroyed everything in it. But they have supplied some delicious eggs and some rather hilarious entertainment over the last 9 months. So allow me to welcome you into:
A Very Brief Guide to Keeping Chickens in Your Garden
This chicken-y garden will not be the blog entry of your Instagram or pinterest dreams, this is about getting down and messy and back to the earth with your feathery pals. And feathery pals are what they’ll be! As soon as they learn to associate you with food, you’ll be their favourite human.
Procuring your Feathery Friends
It’s always recommended to keep chickens in at least pairs, chickens are social creatures and used to living in a flock. 2-3 chickens is a good number to start at, but if you have a large amount of space and are craving that eggy goodness then 4-5 is certainly acceptable.
So you’ve decided the number, but where can you get these chickens? The local pet shop sure doesn’t sell them, so let’s review our options:
- Local farmers may be selling fertilised eggs, fancy growing your brood from scratch?
- Time to google, local selling sites may be advertising hens who are already laying
- The highly recommended: Adopt hens that are due to be slaughtered
All of these are viable methods, and in my house it was a close toss-up between raising our own chickens, or sourcing hens that were already laying. Luckily we found a farmer who was part of a hen-rescue team who was expecting a shipment of chickens, and so we travelled to an eccentric farm and I bashed my head on a beam trying to grab the chicken my Mum specifically wanted. (It was Ginger, she’s been wary of me ever since.) 5 chickens for £20 was a pretty good deal, and I got to fuss the farm dogs and grumpy horse while I was there.
Our sweet chickies were due to be slaughtered because they stop laying at optimal numbers after 18 months of life, and it’s more cost effective for farmers to get rid of them and bring younger ones in. But ex-battery/barn hens will still produce 1 egg every day-and-a-half-ish. They may be fragile to begin with, as most of them won’t have seen the sun before, but time is a healer, and those feathers will grow back.
If you’re interested in adopting, I’d recommend checking out the British Hen Welfare Trust, which operates around the UK.
Coops and Runs
Our chickens are living in the proverbial lap of luxury when it comes to housing, they have a converted shed and 2 large runs that used to house rabbits. But you don’t need a custom built enclosure for your chooks to be happy. A quick google will show you the vast sea of options for keeping your chickens housed. Although one thing to remember is the number they give for the upper limit of hens is probably going to be too tight, so if they advertise that a coop will fit up to 5 hens, don’t shove more than 4 in there. Make sure the coop is well ventilated, has perches that are comfortable for your hens to rest on, and has an adequate nesting area. Check out this page for more information.
If you’re handy with hammer and nail you can look into building your own run for your chooks. It will certainly take time, but you’ll save money in the process. Our structures have been holding for years now, lovingly crafted from left over timber and a whole lot of chicken wire.
Make sure your chickens have enough space to run around during the day, and that that space is protected from predators if you’re leaving them out when no one is around to keep an eye on them.
Your hens should also be fed pellets or meal to keep them in tippy-top condition, and it should always be available to them to snack on. You can also supplement it with grain or corn, but it’s recommended not to mix this with the pellets, as they’ll just pick it out and fill themselves up on it. Basically they’re like feathery toddlers, picking the little chocolate chunks out of their favourite cereal then complaining they’re hungry an hour later.
Chickens gain about a quarter of the protein they need in a day by foraging for grass and insects, you can also feed them kitchen scraps to add variety to their diet. No meat, but leftover cooked rice and pasta as well as vegetables and fruit can be given as treats. But be warned that family members might start to claim leftovers for the chickens without telling you. (I’m looking at you, Mum, who fed the chickens that leftover rice I had eyed up for lunch.)
Water is very important for the production of your hens eggs, those delicious ovals are made up of 65% water! So remember to top up water daily, and keep an eye out for how dirty the water gets. Chickens care not for where they foul or where they tread, and as soon as the water gets dirty, they won’t drink it. This can be remedied by elevating the waterer off the ground, hang it up or put a sturdy plant pot underneath to get it off the floor. During the coldest months make sure to break any ice on top that might stop your hens from having a drink.
Our chickens also get a bowl of porridge on cold winter mornings because every animal in our house is spoilt beyond compare. You certainly don’t need to do this, but seeing them throw porridge around is a hilarious way to start your morning.
If you want to read more on proper diet for your hens, check out this link.
Routine and Care
Your tiny raptor buddies shouldn’t take up much of your time if your care routine is sensible. At the very least they need letting out of their coop in the morning into the run, with any eggs collected, and then putting away in the evening. Although after settling in they should put themselves away when it gets dark. Obviously, with any animal, the longer you spend in their company and get to know them, the more relaxed they will become around you. Food helps accelerate this, and certainly helped our flock to become comfortable around us at the beginning.
They will also need cleaning out, of course. It’s recommended to clean under the perches every few days, as they do a whole lot of pooping overnight, and then clean their coop every week.
Or, here’s a fun new method that requires a whole lot less cleaning, it’s called the Deep Litter Method, and works like treating the floor of your chicken coop as a big ol’ composter. You lay down a good layer of pine shavings, and then cover over with straw or hay. A couple of times a week turn it all over to check the condition of the composting, and adjust accordingly, adding more hay or straw as you go to build up layers. Your chicks will help if you throw some food down, encouraging them to scratch and turn over the compost. Read up more on this method here.
And that’s a very brief guide on keeping chickens! If it piqued your interest, I highly recommend following through on the links littered throughout. They go into much more detail on each area. I’m sure I’ll be back soon with more chicken related posts, even if it’s just to show off my feathery ladies.
Charlotte is a Copy Writer at Primrose, writing product descriptions and about anything else that comes her way. She owns 2 rabbits and 5 chickens that she loves very much. (Her garden is most certainly not tidy).
When not at her desk you can find her attempting to find her way back to Japan again, or drawing.