Keeping chickens in the garden is fun, rewarding and educational too if you have young children. The fun aspect has got to be collecting fresh eggs as well as watching them scratch around for worms and listening to their gentle clucks. I have spent many an hour watching my hens go about their daily business, they are incredible time wasters. If you are interested in keeping chickens in your garden it’s a good idea to check with your landlord first if you’re renting, homeowners should check their title deeds to make sure poultry is permitted on the property. Once you have made all the necessary preparations you can choose from the many breeds, hybrids and colours available, or like me rehome some ex battery hens instead. Regardless of colour or type you will soon be hooked on chicken keeping forever and wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.
Hens do not need a cockerel to produce eggs, it’s entirely up to you if you would like to keep a cockerel, just keep in mind they can be noisy at unsociable hours so it’s probably best to mention it to your immediate neighbours before getting one. Chickens need a secure coop or converted shed and a large run or aviary to keep them safe from predators, this is particularly useful when you’re not available to keep an eye on them whilst they free range. Contrary to popular belief, a fox will attack a flock of hens during the day if the opportunity arises and can carry out an attack swiftly with devastating results.
Day-to-day care is pretty simple. You will need to let your chickens out of their secure coop early in the morning, make sure food and fresh drinking water are available. Clear away any overnight droppings from the coop, check the nest box for eggs. Hens will use the coop to lay an egg around morning time, the rest of the day will be spent scratching around, feeding, preening and dustbathing which can be quite amusing to watch – a pile of chickens rolling around and flicking soil everywhere! Chickens will retreat to their coop at dusk by themselves (ex battery hens can take a little longer to do this but they soon catch on) so all you need to do is shut them in well before it’s dark, clear away food to avoid attracting rats and remove droppings/dirty bedding from the run floor. Chickens eat layers pellets or mash, offer some mixed corn in the afternoon during colder weather. You can feed them the occasional afternoon treat such as cooked pasta, dried mealworms or vegetable scraps.
Once a week the coop should be cleaned and fresh bedding added, use dust free wood shavings and place straw in the nest box. Don’t forget to compost all the dirty straw and droppings, your soil and veggies will love you for it! Check your flock each morning to make sure they are all healthy by watching each one, pick her up and check her feathers for signs of lice, crops should have emptied overnight and they should have clean bottoms, bright eyes and good colour combs. This should only take a few minutes of your time and makes it easier for you to detect any problems early on. If your chicken(s) ever need treatment I highly recommend registering with an avian vet.
This is all pretty basic information but it gives an insight into what is required to keep chickens happy in a garden setting. I have been keeping chickens for a number of years and still as enthusiastic about them as I was in the very beginning.