As Dr Stacey discovered this week, re-homing chickens can be a wonderful experience. But there are some things you need to know before taking on this rewarding responsibility.
- Find out your council's regulations first as some have very specific rules about the size of the flock you can keep and the minimum space they require.
- It's a good idea to tell your neighbours that you plan to get chickens to keep them on side.
Housing Your Chooks
Coops must include:
- Perches where your chickens can roost.
- Dark nesting boxes (they don't need one each. Chooks like to sleep close together, so you can find three hens sharing one nest box. Their instinct is to lay the eggs together in a clutch.)
- Line their nesting box with clean hay and under the perches to collect the droppings you can put newspaper (which you can add to your compost) or wood shavings.
- A 'bedroom' where they can shelter from sun, rain and wind. This must be enclosed and not open on one side.
- Ensure the coop is off the ground so there's nowhere for rats to hide.
- As well as their coop, chickens need a run (fenced) where they can roam, scratch and have dust baths.
Alternatively, you can let them free range over your garden, but be prepared for them to do their business, dig and eat. If you've planted things you want to keep, make sure you wire between the chickens and the garden.
Starting Your Flock
- You'll need at least 3 chickens to start with, as they're highly social animals.
- The number of chickens you have is determined by the size of their 'bedroom' - they all have to fit in there comfortably on a wet cold winter's night, they won't survive if they're left outside in the elements.
- Some breeds don't lay much at all, so if getting an egg a day is your priority, then investigate breeds first.
Feeding Your Chickens
- For great eggs, your chickens need food with a wide range of nutrients (you can buy it or make your own).
- Chickens can eat your vegetable scraps -- but some foods, such as avocado, are poisonous and must be avoided. Iceberg lettuce gives them diarrhoea.
- They need a lot of calcium to ensure the egg shells are strong. Ground up oyster shells are a good grit that they can help themselves to.
- Chooks need plenty of fresh drinking water in a clean container, away from perches so none of the chickens do their business in it.
Worm and Mite Treatment
Worms and mites can stop a chicken from laying, making them a potential big problem for chooks. Just like cats and dogs need to be given flea-treatments, chicken need to be treated for mites and de-wormed.
Bullying does happen - the pecking order is absolutely natural. If you already have hens and are introducing new ones, you have to do it carefully and safely as they are naturally territorial.
Chickens have personalities and are really interactive and smart, meaning they need plenty of stimulation. Turn a log over every few days so they can hunt for the bugs and worms that go scurrying.