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Starting chicken keeping

What variety of chicken should I start with ?

If you are looking for a regular supply of eggs and a hardy bird which is family friendly, a hen from the commercial hybrid range is ideal.  A commercial hybrid or layer will produce 300 eggs or more in their first couple of years laying, after which it decreases. The birds are availlable in different varieties so you can put together your own mixed flock.

If you are looking for something a little different, there are numerous pure breeds that thrive well in the garden, each with their own characteristics and temperaments. Pure breeds are seasonal layers, giving nearer 200 eggs a year, depending on the breed. Egg production from pure breeds gradually decreases as they age and the brids can easily live 6 or 7 years. Many pure breeds are available in bantam size, smaller than your traditional hen, making them easy to handle, and producing eggs half to two thirds the size of an average hen egg.

For ornamental pure breed chickens that won’t have the same impact on your grass, consider the booted bantams with their feathered feet, which inhibits their ability to dig up your lawn.  Seasonal layers, 150 to 200 eggs a year and smaller easy to handle birds. Breeds such as silkies and those with feathered legs are easier to manage in a run with a good degree of cover, or free draining floor covering such as wood chips to assist in keeping those foot feathers free of mud. Birds with feathered legs benefit from the occasional footbath, especially after prolonged wet weather, and preventative applications against scaly leg mite, to which they are more prone.

There are numerous books available with illustrations and details about the different chicken breeds, including their care, and information available from the web.

Once you’ve decided on your hybrid or pure breed, full size or or bantam, your next big decision is how many to keep. Hens need company, they are very social despite their bickering, so you would need two, perhaps more depending on the space available. If its a regular supply of eggs you’re after, you could spread your purchases over a couple of years, so when your older bird’s egg production starts to decrease, you have younger birds coming into lay. Hens are addictive and you'll be tempted to buy more as you learn more, so leave some space in your flock for future additions. When adding to your flock it's a good idea to add a couple of birds at a time, to cope with the settling in period.

 

What are the essentials for a chicken coop ?

A hybrid ‘layer’ may live for three to five years or more, whereas a pure breed variety could live much longer, so it’s important to have good strong coop that will last.  There are lots of different types of housing to choose from, so once you've checked out the essentials, its down to personal preference and budget.  Whether you decide on plastic moulded, recycled or wooden coops, there are some basic considerations, and cleaning is a major one. Most coops require cleaning on a weekly basis, so it’s important that cleaning is easy to manage and not too time consuming. Check if you can access all areas inside the house, and remove both the nest boxes and perches, which will make your job of cleaning and controling mites, much easier.  Is the base of the coop at a comfortable height, or will you have to kneel on the floor or do a lot of bending to access it. A removable cover on the coop base, whether it be a washable mat or metal tray is also important for thorough cleaning. 

The coop should be waterproof with adequate ventilation, which is particularly important as chickens create moisture through breathing and can suffer from a variety of respiratory deseases.  As we seem to be experiencing more extreme weather conditions, you'll want to make sure your birds are keeping snug in winter, so if its plastic does it have a double skin wall, and if its wood, is it sturdy or wafer thin.  For wood, a little word of caution about felt roofs, if you get a red mite, and you most probably will at some stage, the felt may have to be stripped off to eradicate them.  The run is important too, is the mesh welded for greater protection, and is the woodwork strong enough to withstand a fox or badger attack. Is there a covered area of run for the feeder, and to give your hens some protection from the sun and rain.

A large access door is useful and easy access to the under cover area for replenishing feed. The design of some coops will limit where they can be placed in your garden, and a dry area with the pop hole facing away from the prevailing wind is preferred. if you need to access to all sides of the coop, for example if the nest box, pop hole operation and cleaning trays are on different sides tucking them in a corner or close to a fence or wall won't be an option.

If you are fortunate to have a large garden you could a choose a coop and run which is easily moved, but in practice this may have to be a weekly task if you don’t want to kill all your grass, so bear this in mind.  For a static coop and run the flooring is really important, especially in poor weather conditions.  Unless you have a very large run, placing your coop on soil or grass may mean digging it out every month or two and replacing with fresh soil, to keep it smelling sweet and avoid a build up of parasites. Alternatively remove the top 4 inches of soil and replace with woodchips, which can be hosed down, and should only need changing about every 6 months.  Anti-fox precautions would be required to prevent a fox from digging under the run.

Alternatively set your coop and run on a solid base which would make it easier to clean and give extra protection against foxes.  If you choose a solid base, such as paving slabs, cover the floor with wood chips (not bark) or pea gravel, you may even use shavings in a fully covered run, but these would need to be replaced more frequently.

For the coop bedding, use dust extracted shavings or ‘Easichick’, which we have found to stay in better condition for longer and less prone to being consumed by the chickens.

We hope this information is helpful to you, please call if you would like any further advice.

hensforpets.co.uk