Introduction to keeping chickens: 7 basic steps
- By: Ashley Saunders
- May 2021
Many dream of keeping chickens in our back gardens. For some, it’s a way to become more self sufficient, just like growing vegetables. To others, hens are their ideal pet, thanks to their fun and inquisitive personalities! In this introduction to keeping chickens, we’ll cover all you need to know.
#1 The law surrounding keeping chickens and cockerels
Sorry to bore you from the outset, but understanding the law around keeping chickens is important, especially if you aim to be a good neighbour.
Firstly, you don’t need a licence from your local council to keep a few chickens at a residential property. However, you should discuss your plans with your neighbours before buying them.
Ideally, you’d locate your chickens away from the neighbours to reduce noise and smells, allowing those living close to you to carry on undisturbed. If you plan to keep cockerels, you should try to darken the hutch to keep them from crowing.
Animal welfare must be of primary concern. As with any pet, looking after chickens does take some time and effort. You’ll need to regularly clean and dispose of any waste. You will need enough outside space for a chicken coop or shed and exercise space.
#2 How to choose your coop
Any introduction to keeping chickens would be useless without a section on where to house your girls. Sadly, there’s a bewildering range of chick coops to choose from yet as long as your girls are safe, cosy and comfortable, they’ll be happy!
As you’re just starting, try to think simply and ensure the basics are covered. Over time, you can upgrade your coop and experiment with different features.
There are a few things you should consider when choosing a chicken coop to ensure you provide the best possible home for your girls.
Use what you have
Firstly, an old shed or outbuilding can be easily converted to provide decent housing. You don’t need to spend a large amount on buying a purpose-built hen house. If you don’t have a suitable structure then you should be able to build a simple and affordable DIY hen house.
You want to ensure your hen house has a nest box facility and perching to allow your girls to live in comfort!
Vikkie Lee has an excellent step by step DIY guide to building a chicken coop. She recently appeared on ITV to build something similar for Alan Titchmarsh.
Buy a slightly larger coup
It’s worth buying or building a house that can accommodate more birds than you intend to get. If you want to keep three hens, for example, buy a house that can accommodate at least four to give them plenty of space.
You could instead, invest a smaller house by pair it will a run or a larger aviary-type enclosure as this will provide enough for your girls to be happy.
Finding the best coop location
Ideally, you should position the hen house so that the hens have protection from prevailing winds and shelter from the sun.
Keep the ground dry
As you’ll want to keep the ground dry, it’s worth spreading a layer of wood chipping around the hen house entrance.
Use a plastic coop
While the classic coop is made from wood, it’s better to use a plastic coop as it can be easier to clean and may reduce the likelihood of red mites.
Stop those foxes from getting a tasty meal
As foxes are extremely cunning and effective predators, you’ll need to take steps to fox-proof and vermin-proof the housing. Despite popular belief, foxes can strike at any time of the day or night. So you must be prepared!
Here are the top 5 things you can do to deter foxes:
- Use scent repellents as they target a fox’s keen sense of smell. One of the most popular scent-based deterrents in the UK is called Scoot Fox Repellent.
- Spend time building a fox-proof enclosure complete with heavy-duty chicken wire and cat repellent spikes along flat edges.
- Fox-proof your garden by blocking old fox holes and ensuring animals can’t get under sheds or decking to build dens.
- Secure your coop with removable nesting box floors and pull out trays. Both make it harder for foxes to gain entry.
- Invest in electric fencing as it’s highly effective at keeping foxes out.
#3 How to properly clean the coop
One thing most would-be or first-time chicken owners forget is cleaning. To keep your girls happy, you need to spend time cleaning the coop daily, weekly and monthly.
Each day, you should remove droppings and wet patches. Every two to four weeks, depending on flock size, you should thoroughly clean the coop. You can use this deeper cleaning to disinfect and or treat for red mite.
If you use wood chipping, bark or Auboise (horse bedding made of hemp) in the hen house and run, then ideally, you should change it once a month.
#4 Ensuring your chickens are well Fed
As the average adult hen needs 100-120g of feed per day, you’ll need to ensure you have plenty of food and top it up regularly. There’s plenty of options available, but we recommend Allen & Page Layers Crumble and Allen & Page Mixed Corn.
You should provide fresh food daily as this reduces the risk of it getting stale or damp. Also, you’ll want to control the amount of feed and tailor it to the number of hens in your flock to ensure they are well fed but don’t enough to overfed.
If you’re planning to feed your hens outside, then it’s best to a sturdy feeder to prevent it from being knocked over and clear up any spillage to avoid attracting vermin.
#5 Treats to keep your hens happy
Even hens enjoy the occasional treat! However, there are certain rules to be aware of. First, unless you’re a vegan household, it is illegal to feed your hens kitchen scraps.
Like all pets, hens thrive on a well-balanced diet. So you should only ever give them nutritional treats specifically designed for hens. The British Hen Welfare Trust has plenty of options available on their online shop.
We hate to be the bearer of bad news but too many treats can disrupt egg production and affect shell quality. Plus, too many treats will means your hens gain weight quickly, which is something best avoided.
If you want to give your girls the occasional treat, then a special dispenser such as Feathers and Beaky Peck it Dispenser.
#6 Ensuring a good daily routine
Hens need daily care. You can’t leave them for a couple of days unattended like you can with other pets. They like routine, so you should try to establish this from day one. Thankfully this is easy and only involves a few things.
Firstly, stick to the same feed times and avoid sudden changes to their environment. Like us human, chicken’s brains anticipate food and having to wait can cause confusion, which can lead to other issues.
As hens like staying out until late dusk, make sure you’re there to shut them in. Also, be there in the morning to check for new eggs and let the girls out.
#7 Keeping your girls healthy
As a proactive owner, you’ll be regularly handling your hens. You’ll be able to quickly identify any health issues or abnormalities and ensure that hen receives the right care.
You’ll need to worm your hens around three or four times a year using a licensed product. Doing so will ensure they are in good health.
There are a few things you need to look out for as they’re tale-tell signs of illness. Your hens should be active and alert, not huddled with fluffed up feathers or eyes closed. Their droppings should be firm and dark brown with a white urate cap.
It’s worth reading the British Hen Welfare Trust’s Hen Examination Guidelines for more information and guidance.
Useful information to consider
It’s worth regardless of your flock’s size, that you register it with Defra. This will give you valuable information on what to do in the unlikely event that there is an outbreak of a notifiable disease.
If you’re unsure where your nearest Hen Friendly Vet is then use the British Hen Welfare Trust’s interactive map as it include veterinary practices in every corner of the UK.
Introduction to keeping chicken at home
After reading this introduction to keeping chicken, you should have enough to get started. We’ve covered the basics including where and what you can use as a chicken coop, how to ensure your hens are well fed and looked after. We’ve also talked about cleaning and health.
Another benefit of owning chickens is endless poultry manure! As a non-chemical fertiliser, poultry manure is a useful source of nitrogen, helping plants to grow. It also contains smaller amounts of other important nutrients.
Remember if you’re considering keeping chickens, that they use require daily care and attention as well as plenty of room to roam. Not all chickens produce eggs and those that do might only lay for a short period. Eggs and meat are bonuses.
That said, chickens are superb pets who have interesting personalities and are a great way to education your children on where food comes from!