How to Keep Chickens – A Beginner’s Guide
Chickens can bring a source of amusement and be a pleasure to keep, as well as having an endless supply of fresh eggs. However, as with keeping any animal, you will have many things to consider to make sure that they are safe and in the best possible health.
If it’s your first-time keeping chickens, or it’s something you’re considering, this will serve as a guide to help you understand what is required to keep chickens. This includes: choosing the right breed, where to keep your chickens, what you need to keep in stock and how to keep them happy and healthy.
Breeds of Chicken
There are hundreds of chicken breeds to choose from, all of which have slightly different needs. Some breeds are Large Fowl only, whereas there are others which are smaller, but look the same as Large Fowl, such as Bantams.
However, Bantams are more prone to taking flight compared to larger fowl, which can’t fly more than a couple of inches. If you want to prevent your feathered friends from taking flight, you can clip one of their wings (only one- not both). Chickens which have feathered feet don’t scratch too much, and Bantams can jump a six-foot fence, so make sure once you’ve chosen the breed of chicken, you can accommodate them.
Also, you need to decide whether you are keeping chickens for their eggs. Certain hens lay more eggs than others- for instance, hens bred for exhibition don’t tend to lay eggs like their utility counterparts. Also, the smaller the hen, usually the smaller the egg, which also might have a varied taste.
Chickens in your garden
You’ll probably be keeping the chickens securely in your garden. Before we go into more details about the best way to secure chickens, there’s a few things you’ll need to know about chicken behaviour in gardens and their habits.
When chickens live on grass, they tend to scratch at the ground, leave dirt in their midst, roll around in dry soil, and destroy plants. If you think your garden will remain in tact with chickens there, think again! There are ways to avoid some of these issues though.
By putting plants in pots, the plants will be much less appealing to chickens who might be tempted otherwise to pull plants out the soil. Also, keeping precious plants in a fenced off part of the garden that chickens can’t get to is also a way to limit damage.
When keeping chickens in your garden, you’ve got to be careful of predators. Most people think foxes are the only predators for chickens, and whilst they are opportunistic and regularly visit your garden (especially when they know your chickens are there!), there’s a few other predators to watch out for:
Badgers – They are surprisingly strong, and if they’re hungry, they can tear panels off chicken houses that might not be secure.
Cats – You don’t need to worry about cats with fully grown chickens (usually), but they can be interested in the chicks. Some people have problems with cats and smaller chickens, so make sure you have them well secured.
Mice and rats – These pests are problems as they spread diseases, munch on feedstock, gnaw at wooden panels, wires, and maybe even the chicken’s feet and legs!
The best way to avoid this is to make sure you buy the best and most secure equipment for your chickens.
There’s lots of predators around which would kill your chickens if they had the chance, so it’s important to make sure that they are kept secure, but also making sure they have enough space to roam around will give you happier and healthier hens.
The chicken run will probably be the most important thing you’ll buy, alongside chicken houses. This is also where the weak link is regarding predator protection. You run will really serve two purposes: to contain them and protect them from predators like foxes.
When picking a chicken run, you need to ask yourself a few questions to determine what the best run would be for you:
- How many chickens do I want to own? Do I want to grow the number of chickens and add to them over time?
- How much space do they need? How much of my garden do I want to cordon off for them? Will they have enough space to run around, scratch, eat, drink, have their own space? If you’re really unsure, the usual accepted size is two square meters per bird. However, we would recommend marking the area out where you think you want to keep the birds, look at it, and decide if that’s big enough.
We specialise in steel framed walk in chicken runs which vary in widths of 2,3,4 or 6m spans, and the depth of the frame can be almost any size.
Chicken houses, also known as chicken coops, come in many different shapes, sizes, and materials- so you need to pick the one that’s best for you. Here’s a summary of a couple of different types:
Plastic– these are popular with many keepers. They’re easy to move around, and some are very eco-friendly. They’re also robust, and easy to clean and get into the corners. This does depend on the brand though, as the quality and cost will differ a great deal.
Wooden– These can be relatively sturdy, and some of them are also quite cheap. However, remember that these might be more prone to the likes of badgers and rats and mice gnawing through the panels. Again, these will vary in price and quality.
Lots to think about
There’s lots of different things to think about when considering buying chickens. We have a big variety of walk-in chicken runs at Garden Life so please do check them out and also take a look at our FAQ page where we try to answer the most common questions we get/