A beginner's guide to keeping chickens

Families unable to find eggs in the shops are adding to their brood instead, and turning to chicken keeping. What, after all, could be more delicious than free range eggs from happy hens? And a welcome distraction, with the care and attention they need, from everything else going on in the world right now.

 

I hope this sudden surge of interest helps change our nation’s attitude to chickens,”  says Jane Howorth MBE of The British Hen Welfare Trust. “People may buy a few hens because they want eggs, but they soon realise how therapeutic the birds can be. They make you go outside, they connect you to the natural world and they all have their distinctive personalities. Just that gentle clucking around your feet can be incredibly soothing in times of stress."

 

If you're adding to your flock, don't forget the basics of chicken care, starting with good gut health.

Holistic vet Nick Thompson MRCVS explains:

 

You'll need to ensure that you keep on top of any worms that all birds pick up. Whichever regime you use, it is wise to do faecal egg counts periodically (every 3-6 months) to assess how 'wormy' your birds actually are. It is usually impossible to tell from the outside what's happening in this department, so use a laboratory like Wormcount or Westgate Laboratories to help you simply and cheaply manage this side of things. 

By connecting with where your food is coming from, it’s an opportunity to cut out any unnecessary chemicals. By using a natural supplement, you can still eat the eggs from hens fed on a diet of Verm-X. No nasties means nothing to worry about. 

 

You’ll also need to think about their shelter and nutrition.

 

Shelter

The best hen house is one that is big enough for all your birds (approximately one well bedded box per three hens) with adequate perch space (allow 25cm per bird, unless bantams) for all. If you cut corners here, you can induce stress disease e.g. feather pecking, egg eating and cannibalism. 

A hen house that's easy to clean is a godsend to the busy chicken owner, but will also reduce the chance of mites living in the cracks in wooden houses. Plastic hen houses, although potentially expensive initially have the major advantage of being easy to clean thoroughly, reducing the chance of mites infesting the building or persistent bacteria contaminating hard-to-get-at corners. I've seen some made from recycled plastic on eBay and the famous Eglu is apparently such a novel design that it's part of a permanent collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It's worth looking around for something that suits you and your wallet. Beware, second hand houses may come with unwanted guests such as mites or coccidia infection. 

Housing should be cleaned out regularly, including feeders and drinkers to reduce the prevalence of bacteria, coccidiosis, viruses and moulds. They should periodically be disinfected (Interkokask or Rhodasept are recommended) and sprayed for red mites, especially all the nooks and crannies between slats in wooden houses. 

To clean a hen house, remove all litter and soak with a detergent. Wash well and rinse and allow to dry thoroughly. Disinfect when dry. Allow to dry and then replace bedding. I recommend shavings. 

It is very important to keep the run as mud free as possible to reduce coccidiosis risk. Moving the run, if possible, really helps me here. It should be as big as you can spare the hens; bigger the better to reduce stocking density, stress and increase exposure to fresh greens, worms and insects in the environment and will help reduce mud build up in winter. 

 

Nutrition

Rations for hens should be the best you can afford. If you economise here, you run the risk of inviting nutritional disease later, not to mention reducing the chance of lots of lovely eggs. Personally I would always opt for organic food, but the important thing is that it is well formulated by a reputable company, not just corn. Once you find a food that works for you and the hens, stick with it, don't shop for the bargain of the month as change in diet can upset digestion. 

All feeds must be stored away from vermin. Watch out for spilled feed as this, too, will encourage mice and rats. Ensure stores are used up and replenished frequently to avoid mould and rot.

Your hen's ration should suit their age and purpose. Your supplier can usually help you here, if not your vet will be a useful contact. Grit is essential for good crop function and good digestion. Oyster shell should be part of the grit blend you use for calcium. 

Also, remember that chickens are foragers, so you can broaden their diet and reduce stress by allowing them to roam, safely, as much as possible. Clean, fresh drinking water, from clean drinkers and/or water sources is obviously essential, especially in hot weather.  

Feeding and the act of foraging and pecking around is incredibly important to hens. If you have housed birds, then supplementing with greens is important, as it is with birds with good access to grass and soil. All hens like treats, so give these to relieve boredom, although do not feed kitchen scraps. 

Hens in lay need more nutrients and calories than those not, so bear this in mind; the more eggs they're producing, the more feed they'll need, but by the same token, as they go off, you must reduce feeding levels to avoid obesity (all too common in backyard hens, I'm afraid) which can stop hens laying and render males infertile. 

 

Verm-X for Poultry, Ducks and Fowl

 

Available to feed in two forms, either a liquid or a pellet.

Our liquid formulation is easily added to drinking water or can be soaked into bread and fed directly.

If your birds are kept free-range their drinking water can be hard to monitor. The pellets offer a great alternative as they can easily be mixed into feed, or fed directly.

Verm-X for Poultry has the added advantage that you are able to eat your hens’ eggs whilst using the product.

Approved for use in organic systems following assessment by Organic Farmers and Growers Ltd.

For exacting amounts, please read our feeding guide.

Award-winning nutritional supplements - browse the range.

 

 

Keep Well

A natural tonic for poultry, ducks and fowl.

It is a non-GM pelleted formulation for improving and maintaining general health in all poultry and fowl, containing an effective blend of six herbs including Ginseng and Echinacea, plus calcium, sunflower oil and seaweed meal.

With no artificial chemicals, you can eat the eggs whilst feeding Keep Well. 

For exact amounts, please read our feeding guide.

Award-winning nutritional supplements - browse the range.

 

 Poultry Zest

 

For improving all round condition and performance.

Poultry Zest acts as a nutritional supplement that helps your birds recover quickly after moulting. Invaluable for rearing poultry, ducks, geese, turkeys, game birds and pigeons.

Enriched with Tumeric, Ginger Root, Fenugreek and Aniseed, and easy to feed as a pellet. Every pack comes with a measuring scoop to ensure Verm-X is easy to use.

For exact amounts, please read our feeding guide.

Award-winning nutritional supplements - browse the range.

 

If you've done all of the above, you've covered most aspects of keeping chickens happy and healthy. All that's left is to have fun and enjoy your chooks.

 

Interested to learn more? 

Why we need to rethink our approach to fleas, ticks and worms - read the article.

Taking care of animal health, naturally. Browse the range.

March 27, 2020

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If you have any questions about Verm-X, chat to Cheryl, E-SQP. She’s here to give you all the advice you need.

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