Chickens and chicks

The idea of keeping chickens at home has been making a comeback in recent years, with an increasing number of people looking to keep hens in the garden as a source of fresh eggs.

You control what your chickens eat – so you can ensure the quality of their eggs. Ask anyone who keeps chickens if they prefer the taste of their own chickens’ eggs, and they’ll answer a very firm yes!

Chickens - Feeding

Chickens require a balanced diet with pelleted feeds and mixed corn with additional fresh vegetables and greens. Using a poultry feeder for pelleted feed saves waste. Scatter mixed corn on the ground for them to scratch about and stay amused.

Free range chickens have the advantage of picking at grass and they love to eat slugs and snails

Grit is essential in chickens’ diets for them to store in their crops and to help them to digest their food. It can be mixed with their food in the feeder or on the ground. Oyster shell in the grit helps with egg production.

Fresh clean water must be available at all times. A poultry drinker helps keep the water clean.
Grit is essential in chicken’s diets for them to store in their crops & to help them to digest their food. It can be mixed with their food in the feeder or on the ground. Oyster shell in the grit helps with egg production.

Fresh clean water must be available at all times. A poultry drinker helps keep the water clean

Chickens - Housing

Make sure you buy the correct chicken house to fit the number of birds you have. The house should be warm, dry and be able to be secured a night to prevent predators attacking your birds. It also needs to contain a nest box and have suitable perching for the birds to roost upon.

As long as there is suitable ventilation sheds, stables and outhouses can be adapted for keeping chickens in.

Chicken houses must be cleaned out at least once a week.

If you have lots of birds this may need to be done more often. If droppings are allowed to build up they will create ammonia, which can cause health problems and attract flies.

Put a layer of shavings on the floor of your chicken house and use straw, not hay, for the nest boxes. The mixed straw and droppings are excellent for the garden but must be composted for some time before you put them on plants. When cleaning the chicken house be sure to get into all the nooks and crannies - keep an eye out for fleas and red mites which will feed on your chickens.

Chickens - Eggs

Hens do not need a cockerel with them for them to lay eggs. He is only needed if you want to rear chicks from your hens. And before you purchase a cockerel, it’s worth remembering that during the summer they can start crowing as early as 4am in the morning, which may not be very popular with your neighbours.

Collect your eggs every day to prevent your birds from sitting on them and to stop them falling prey to magpies and other egg loving birds.

When you collect the eggs mark them with a date in pencil so you know which to use first.

Chickens - Moulting

Once a year your chickens will lose their feathers and grow new ones. When this happens they will go off colour and will go off laying. This is stressful for them so to ensure they are in tip top condition, give them a tonic as a boost.

Chickens - General

and water and allow them to settle. If your house has a run allow them to explore it the following day. For free range chickens you need to allow time to educate your chickens as to where their home is so they automatically come in each night to roost. Attach a run to your chicken house, shed or whatever so the chickens can come out and explore, let them do this for 2 weeks so they learn where the night time door is. After a couple of weeks you can remove the run and allow them free range in their new surroundings.

During the summer they will stay out much later than in the colder winter months.

Remember to shut them in each night to stop them being taken by foxes because you can be sure the one night you forget will mean an empty hen house in the morning.

When you let them out in the morning check the birds and make sure they are all eating, there are no signs of bullying and that their feathers are clean especially around their bottoms.

Check they have clean feet with no balls of mud collecting around the toes, if they have gently pick it off or they risk loosing their toes and toenails.

Above all enjoy your chickens and remember the quantity and quality of the eggs they produce is dependant on the quality of life you give them. Contented busy chickens will lay well and provide you with many eggs and you will certainly notice the difference in taste and colour of the yolks compared to Supermarket eggs.

Chicks - Housing and Equipment

In the late spring and early summer when the weather is warmer housing requirements and equipment for rearing young chicks can be quite minimal. While they still require heat day old chicks can be kept in good sized cardboard boxes or even large rabbit cages or if you have a garage or shed with electricity for heating your chicks will be fine there. In the colder months you will need a heat lamp as the chicks will succumb to cold even indoors. Hang the light above the chicks by a chain or some extra wire never by its flex! Always make sure you have a spare bulb in case the current one blows. As the weeks go on you can gradually raise the heat lamp so they are getting less heat and eventually turn the lamp off all together and allow them to acclimatise; remember if there is a cold snap you may need to provide heat again. If chicks are cold they will huddle together directly under the lamp and if they are too hot they will lie on the outskirts of the box, so adjust the lamp accordingly.

Line your box or cage with newspaper and some shavings, do not use news paper alone because it is slippery and your chicks could end up splay legged. As your chicks grow and you move them into their new quarters you can bed them on shavings and straw.

It is best to use small poultry feeders and drinkers rather than dishes because young chicks can easily drown in a dish of water. Hygiene is vital so ensure everything is kept clean and feeders and drinkers are washed on a regular basis. Boxes and cages must be changed or cleaned weekly depending on the amount of birds housed. Always watch your chicks for a few minutes after feeding to make sure they are all feeding and drinking and none are being bullied away from the food.

When your chicks are ready move them to their poultry house making sure it is the right size for the amount of birds you are keeping. The house should be warm, dry and be able to be secured a night to prevent predators attacking your birds. It also needs to contain a nest box and have suitable perching for the birds to roost upon.
As long as there is suitable ventilation, sheds, stables and outhouses can be adapted for keeping chickens in.

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