Hen keeping is becoming more and more popular and it is easy to see why – looking after the birds isn’t expensive or time consuming and they provide a versatile, protein-rich, perfectly packaged daily gift. What’s not to like?
Ex-commercial hens in particular, as re-homed by the British Hen Welfare Trust, are the ideal starter hen for novice keepers.
The charity, founded in 2005, has so far re-homed more than 670,000 hens through 40 regional pop-up sites and continues to educate the public about egg production, including hidden eggs within food products.
It does this through its small team at Hen Central in Devon, plus a network of 800+ volunteers who give up their time every four to six weeks to make sure the hens go off to loving homes.
The birds are becoming ever more popular with around 750,000 people in the UK now keeping poultry, proving their reputation as endearing, amusing, productive pets is on the rise.
Looking after them is relatively easy once their initial needs are catered for.
Firstly, hens will need their own coop. This can be a purpose-built house or a converted shed, outbuilding or even a child’s Wendy house. However the coop must contain nest box facilities, perching provision and a pop-hole as essentials. Both wooden and plastic coop houses make perfect homes, though the latter is often easier to clean.
Every coop needs a run and that can take the form of a large enclosure with fencing or an aviary style boundary. Generally speaking, the more there is for the hens to see and do, the happier they will be. A storm shelter or covered area should be provided for wet and windy days. It can also be used for feeding outside in wet weather and doubles up as a sunshade and/or dust bath for the birds.
Minimal cleaning out is required on a daily basis – just don some rubber gloves and remove droppings and any wet patches. A more thorough clean can be carried out once every two weeks, or every week if you’re really keen. This should include sweeping out bedding, using a paint scraper to remove debris, and putting down a fresh layer of bedding.
Feed and water can be fed ad lib, generally birds will eat 100-120g daily, and using a sturdy feeder will prevent it being knocked over. Food should not be allowed to go stale or damp so control the amount in the feeder and tailor it to the number of hens you have in your flock.
Whilst in the past feeding kitchen scraps was a way of life, it is now illegal to feed your birds scraps unless they are from a vegan household. In any case, chickens thrive on a well-balanced diet and should therefore only be given nutritional treats specifically designed for them; this will help maintain good egg production too.
Other than that, chickens really do look after themselves – yes it takes a certain amount of commitment, but the rewards far outweigh any inconvenience. Ask anyone who has enjoyed a simple omelette made with fresh-from-the-garden eggs; it becomes extra special when made with eggs from your own flock.