How To Keep Chickens
By: Katie Bourne
Keeping chickens is a fun and rewarding activity for the whole family. Simply making sure that they are fed every day, their eggs are regularly collected and that the chicken house is kept clean, will ensure that you get a great deal from your chickens.
It is important to make sure that the housing you have is right for the number of chickens you want to keep and how 'free range' you want them to be. A chicken house measuring 1.2m x 1.8m should be sufficient for six hens, providing they have ample outside space too.
Chicken arks and coops vary in size, so remember that the chickens need to have enough space in which to run around and peck, with protection from the elements, predators, injury and theft. When you are first starting out, a small but moveable wooden structure is usually best. Ideally houses should be moved regularly to prevent disease and to keep the grass fresh. Visit your local Mole Valley Farmers to see the range of houses on offer.
Housing must be water proof, rat proof and fox proof, yet still provide good ventilation. Your chickens should have enough space for all of them to access the food and water. It must be practical for you to reach all parts of the house for cleaning and you should provide at least 20cm of perch space per bird. Make sure that feed and nest boxes are not placed under perches or they will soon become soiled. Water should be placed outside the house.
The bedding for the houses should either be straw, sawdust or wood chippings and this should be changed regularly. Provide a nest box lined with shavings or straw with one box for every four birds. Boxes should placed somewhere dark and secluded, to give the hens some privacy to lay. Nest boxes that are easy to open (preferably from the outside of the hen house) will make life easier for you and at the same time keep your birds as calm as possible.
The coop needs to be cleaned and disinfected regularly to prevent infection. When considering where to site your chickens, remember to check the drainage situation.
Hens really enjoy exploring green places and foraging for natural treats (they may well damage garden plants and vegetable patches, so remember to fence these areas off). Their house and run should be fenced off from predators and an electric fence is ideal, as it is an effective deterrent and easy to move at regular intervals. Mole Valley Farmers has a range of electric fencing equipment and knowledgeable staff to advise about your particular set up. Bear in mind that electric fencing alone will not stop determined predators and for this reason, the hens will need to be shut in the house at night.