I absolutely adore my hens, they are named, spoiled and loved like pets! As a result I’ve got two friendly and tame chickens that each lay an egg a day which is great for breakfast (Or Gin and Lemon Drizzle Cake!)
Keeping hens needn’t be tricky, nor do you have to live in the middle of the countryside to keep them! In fact lots of people living in urban areas successfully keep chickens as they don’t need lots of space, are generally quiet (unless you have a cockerel…) and as a rule are quite low maintenance.
So you’ve decided to welcome some chickens into your home (or garden)…. what now? Firstly I would chose what breed you would like – there are around 90 different pure breed chickens as well as hybrids (pure bred crosses) which range in size, temperament and egg laying capabilities!
We have had numerous breeds of hens over the past few years and currently have two hybrid birds – an ISA Brown which is a cross originating from France – Ours is about 20 weeks old and already laying eggs daily! On average an ISA brown can lay up-to 300 eggs a year! They are usually VERY friendly, enjoy human interaction and enjoy a fuss! These attributes make them a egg-cellent (pun definitely intended) first time owners breed! Our other laying lady is another hybrid known as a Speckledy – she is a cross between a Maran and a Rhode Island Red – another prolific laying breed who are equally as docile and friendly.
Both these birds are a larger size both around the size of a small cat – if you would prefer a few more birds to keep you may be better looking at Bantams – basically miniature versions of their larger counter parts. Depending on the breed, bantams still lay eggs frequently, but will be smaller in size. However you could keep 2-3 bantams in the same space as a larger bird.
Do your research when choosing a breed – some will only lay eggs ever 3-4 days so may not be the best choice if you want a daily stream of eggs – some breeds are also much more nervous and harder to tame – we had a Leghorn a few years ago (think the giant white cartoon chicken!) who could jump VERY high, escape constantly and would run away at the first sight of you. She did lay big, beautiful white eggs but was such a pity that we could never convince her to be hand fed treats like her companions did.
Once you have decided on your breed/s and how many chooks you want to bring home (please never keep one hen on its own! It will become sad and lonely no matter how much human attention it has) you need to decide where they will be kept and what type of housing you chose. Will they be free range in your garden or will you keep them in a house with a run attached?
We have a section of our garden fenced off and a secure area to lock them away in each night. For roosting we have a plastic house that can be pressure washed and disinfected which reduced the risk of red mite. Wooden houses look pretty but can easily harbour these horrid little bugs which are very hard to get rid of! We use shavings for their bedding and are greeted with a couple of eggs a day which are so much tastier, yellower inside and sometimes double yolkers when compared to supermarket eggs!
They are super easy to look after once the above has been decided – they just need a constant supply of fresh water that can’t be spilled or bathed in and ad lib layers pellets for their food. Most places will have rats around so its worth investing in a rat proof feeder as rats can jump, so even suspending a feeder won’t work, as to make it high enough to be rat proof it makes it too high for the hens!
Enjoy your new friends! I’d love to hear how you get on!