The more space you can give your chickens the better, bearing in mind your chickens will spend most of their day outside in the run and only a small amount of time in the nest box to lay their eggs and then at night to sleep on the perch. The rest of the time they are outside in their run or garden.
A chicken needs at least 6-8 inches of perch space each, with the perching being approximately 2 inches in diameter, with no sharp right angled edges. Your chicken house must also have a nest box (the ratio is 1 nest box to 4 birds) in which you put either wood shavings or straw. Hay and sawdust is not recommended as they can contain a lot of dust, which over time will cause your birds respiratory problems. There must be adequate ventilation in your chicken house too.
You must clean your chicken house out every week, and when the heat of the Spring starts until the late Autumn, you must use Red Mite powders/solutions every week to deter red mite that love to live in the cracks and crevices of your chicken coop.
The most important thing of all is to ensure your chicken house is as fox proof as you can possibly make it. Always ensure you shut your chickens away at night by closing the pop hole, and if you let you birds out in the garden always be with them, as Mr Fox is waiting for you to “pop in for a cup of tea”, and will strike quickly and devastate your flock. A strong bolt on the door is a good thing too.
Feed your birds with good quality Layers Pellets or Layers Mash, this has all the vitamins and nutrients for a chicken’s long life and maximum egg production. You can also supplement their diet with vegetable scraps from the kitchen, including apples, apple cores, greens, tomatoes etc. They love warm potato peelings, but they must be cooked (potato peelings with eyes are poisonous). Pasta and rice are also enjoyed plus small amounts of bread. Lettuce in large quantities should be avoided as it is approximately 95% water, with no great nutritional goodness. No meat should be given to your birds. Too many greens will give them diarrhoea.
Ensure you give your birds grit and oystershell, the grit will act as their teeth and grind down the feed that they eat, and the oystershell will dissolve in their gullet and give calcium for their own bodies, as well as to strengthen the eggs shells they produce.
Mixed corn or wheat is adored, a treat you can give them by sprinkling it on the ground (doing your Farmer Giles impression!), or putting it in your hand and offering it to them. They will love you forever…
Access to fresh grass (not grass cuttings) is also advised. Very long grass must be avoided as this can develop into a hard ball inside their crop and your chicken will get impacted crop.
Always remember the ‘goodness you feed to your chickens’ the ‘goodness you get out’. You are the ones going to eat the lovely eggs that you girls produce, so give them good quality feed/produce.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do chickens bite?
No, chickens tentatively peck. Don’t forget the chicken’s beak is like their hand, they use it to hold onto things, and to eat with. They love to peck/explore new things, especially sparkly things like rings and bracelets. Painted toe nails (enter at your peril!). They will gently peck at anything to see what it is, and to see if it is edible. As with any animal, if you treat it with the respect it deserves, they will love you forever.
How much food should I give them?
Fill up your feeder with layers pellets or layers mash, never let the feeder run dry. Chickens will not over eat on layers pellets/mash. Mix a small amount of oystershell and grit in with your pellets/mash. Treats/’sweeties’ such as corn, vegetable scraps etc, should be given in the afternoon, ensuring that the chickens have had a good quantity of their layers pellets/mash before filling them up with the ‘sweeties’ they so adore. Fresh water should always be available during the day.
Do I put food/water in the chicken coop at night?
Chickens do not have a night light that they can turn on and have a midnight feast! Once a chicken has gone to bed, it has literally gone to bed. If there is enough space in the coop, keep the feeder in there permanently, this will reduce the amount of vermin the feed will attract. The water can be kept either inside or outside, again it just depends on the space within the house itself.
How do I introduce new hens to an existing flock?
This is never easy, but if done correctly, the squabbling will soon be over, and once the new pecking order has been established peace, not war, will reign. You must never introduce a single hen to a flock of established birds, unless you have only one original hen.
It is best to introduce your birds at night, once your existing girls have gone to bed, you then introduce your new girls by putting them in between the old girls on the perch, so that they get used to the smell of one another, and then in the morning they need to get used to ‘sharing’ and the looks of the new birds too. Having a temporary feeder and drinker positioned where your new girls feel most secure for a few days, is recommended, just to ensure the new birds get enough food and water until the new pecking order is established.
Or you can put your new hens in a separate run, so that both sets of hens can see one another, and after a few weeks let them roam in your garden together and they will soon become one flock.
The last option is to remove the hen causing the most problems for a week or so. The flock will have established its pecking order, and then you add the original hen back into the main flock, the pecking order will change but settle quite quickly to harmony.
Chickens poo, and its different consistencies/colours
A lovely topic… Moving chickens to a new environment is stressful for them, and the consistency of their poo can change/vary especially at this time. Chicken poo at the best of times varies quite a lot, sometimes it is solid and compact, other times it is runny, smelly or yellow all of this is perfectly normal. However if the poo from the same chicken is constantly out of sorts, I always recommend either Apple Cider Vinegar or Vermex (wormer) is added to their water. Don’t forget too much greenstuff, out of date feed, mouldy feed, stress, etc, will give them the runs too.
The first eggs are small!?!
Generally, within the first few weeks of your chickens laying eggs, the eggs will be small. Over the coming months the eggs will increase in size and depending on the breed of bird will at least increase (assuming they are large fowl), to a medium, large, and possibly extra large egg. Wow, an egg worth fighting over at breakfast!
Do I need a cockerel for the hens to produce lots of eggs?
You only need a cockerel if you wish to have fertile eggs and produce young chicks. Having a cockerel will not make the hens produce more eggs.
What do I take my new hens home in?
A cat carrier or cardboard box is an ideal means of transportation. Just ensure there are ventilation holes in the box, and preferably a little bit of straw for your new girls to snuggle down into on their journey. The box can be about the size of a crisp box, but must be at least 18 inches tall. You do not need an individual box per bird.
Can I mix the breeds/colours?
Yes, but what you must remember is that they must be all the same ‘size’, otherwise bullying will occur.