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First time poultry keeping

If someone had told me 12 months ago I’d be keeping chickens in my garden (and enjoying every minute), I’d have fallen over laughing.

 I’m still not quite sure why I decided to keep hens, but back in November that’s what I decided to do and soon after, I welcomed Christine, Michelle and Stephanie into the Diston fold.

My three ‘girls’, as they’re fondly known to anyone who will listen to my hen tales, not only keep my garden free of weeds- they lay between 2 – 3 eggs daily.  And nothing beats a fresh poached egg in the morning.

Christine (Hybrid) is just as much at home in the kitchen as she is scratching in the garden and always calls in for an exclusive breakfast of either toast or a crumpet.  Michelle (Plymouth Barred) follows the crowd, where as Stephanie (Sussex Cross) has a lot to say for herself and likes her independence.

If, like me, poultry keeping is new to you there are a few things you must consider. Firstly, there’s the coop and run - do you have somewhere large enough to keep it?

You should also consider whether you want your ‘girls’ to wander your perfectly manicured lawns at will. I suggest, if you’re a keen gardener, you invest in a decent sized run and limit the amount of garden time you allow your girls. As great as they are at keeping weeds at bay they do like to scratch and they will make a mess.

During the winter months I was quite happy for them to wander freely around the garden. However, as spring is now approaching I’ve decided to limit this to a few hours a day (from late afternoon).  

I purchased my coop and run from a local poultry keeper who was happy to advise and answer what he must have thought were quite random questions about poultry keeping.

Being a complete poultry novice I did also invest in two ‘keeping chicken’ books because although the girls are not high maintenance there is more to poultry keeping than wonderful fresh eggs.

 

You will need:

·      A coop and run suitable for the number of poultry you want to keep.

Make sure it’s rodent proof too. Rats find their way through the smallest of gaps and not only will they thrive on poultry feed, they will also attack the poultry.

·      Grit

Chickens don’t have teeth and so they digest their good by grinding it in their gizzards using small stones that they pick up. Leave a container of grit in the run so they can take what they need.

·      Layers pellets or Layers Mash

For free range kept hens, Layers Pellets (a mixture of wheat, barley, oats and maize) are easy for them to eat. For run-kept hens, Layers Mash is better because they will enjoy foraging for this as it is more interesting.  Again, make sure you have a rodent proof feed store.

·      Water drinker

An ample supply of fresh clean water is a must. Refill every day because on a hot day a chicken can drink around 500ml of water.

·      Feeder

You will need a suitable feeder they can easily feed from.

·      Bedding

Chopped straw and/or wood shavings.

I often give my girls extras of pasta, rice and vegetables. In the morning, Christine enjoys toast or crumpets in the kitchen whilst Michelle and Stephanie prefer to eat outdoors. During the extreme cold weather this winter I would boil and mash veg and serve it warm in the morning.

 
 
 

Here Come the Girls

As with any other pet, it’s always best to see the hen yourself in their surroundings. A healthy hen will be active, they will have bright eyes and glossy feathers.  Avoid hens with watery eyes and a dirty vent area as these are signs the bird isn’t 100% fit.

You should always ask the age of the hens. A hen that has not yet started to lay is called a pullet. A point of lay bird means it is about to start laying but it doesn’t always mean it’s the first time it’s laid an egg.

Don’t have great expectations on when they’ll start to lay. I was fortunate because my ‘girls’ soon settled and Christine was laying within 48 hours. But I do have a friend, who three months later, is still eagerly waiting for the day they collect that first egg.

Once you get the girls home it’s adviseable to keep them inside the run for the first few days so they can settle into their new surroundings. It also allows them to sort out the pecking order. Unless one is seriously getting picked on, leave them to sort out the pecking order for themselves. Before allowing them the run of the garden, you will need to clip their wings to stop them escaping.

A dust bath is also a must. It allows hens to remove any scales or dirt from their skin and it helps them to rid themselves of lice.  An old flower pot filled with fine dry soil or compost makes a great dust bath.

Hens also like routine so like it or not you too will have to get into a routine.

Like it or not I no longer need an alarm to get me out of bed because I woken up by Stephanie crowing as loud as she can until I let her out. 

 
 

Daily routine:

·      Make sure there’s an ample supply of fresh clean water

·      Check the feeder is full and clean

·      Make sure the girls have enough grit

·      Check the girls are all right and are not showing any signs of ill health

·      Collect the eggs and remove any soiled bedding and replace with clean

When it’s time to put them to bed you should again check the egg boxes. You should collect the eggs daily, otherwise your hens can become broody.

Make sure they’re in their henhouse and safely shut inside.

This might sound silly, but take time to talk to them as they love human contact and they do become very friendly and quite often a bit cheeky too.

Weekly routine:

Once a week I clean and brush out the henhouse (do not allow hens access to the compost heap) and check for mites.

I also tidy the run and quite often put hay or straw down for them to forage through.

Monthly routine:

·      Worming is important and you can add a worming solution to their food or water

·      Make sure the henhouse is waterproof (chickens don’t like to get wet) and the run is secure

·      Disinfect the henhouse and use mite powder on the interior

·      I also treat the girls for mites and lice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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