Are you considering raising chickens in your own backyard?

Not only can you enjoy fresh eggs every day, but raising chickens also has numerous other pros, as well as cons. We asked our Ambassador Claudia from Bury Green Poultry for her 'eggspert' advice.


The pros and cons of owning chickens 

I’ve been keeping chickens for over 24 years and I can safely say that I could never not have chickens! I’m also incredibly lucky to be so passionate about the work I do.

If you are new to chicken-keeping or thinking about raising a few backyard birds yourself, here are just a few of the pros:

1. Fresh, natural eggs

Having your own fresh eggs is something that you will never tire of, I still get ‘eggcited’ when collecting eggs from the coop, and if timed well, they’ll still be warm having been laid only moments before.

Eggs in the supermarket are at least a week old, usually older - not so fresh…

Commercial caged hens, otherwise known by some as ‘egg laying machines’ are fed a homogenous diet, and as a result, their eggs lack the richness and flavour that you will get from your own garden hens who will most likely have a varied diet with access to grass.

2. It's more ethical

It’s nice, and important, I think, to know where your food comes from and know that the animals are treated well and are happy.

3. They provide natural fertiliser

Chicken faeces are a great organic fertiliser for your garden, especially for soil which is low in nitrogen.

Of all the animal manures, chicken manure is the highest in nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus.

What are the advantages of raising chickens?

4. Garden maintenance

Having chickens is a great way of maintaining your garden (in some areas!). They will remove weeds and can easily turn over your compost heap and your vegetable or herb garden at the end of the growing season.

Being omnivores, they love to eat insects so they can act as a good alternative to using chemical sprays to get rid of the pesky things.

5. They are low-maintenance

Chickens are low-maintenance pets, they don’t require much of your time (unless you have lots like me!), and they keep themselves occupied as long as you have provided them with the essentials (I will list these further down).

6. Entertainment and education for children

Having chickens is a great way to entice children to go outside and have a break from their technological devices. What could be better for them than fresh air and making feathery friends?

Collecting eggs is always an exciting task and educates children on where their food comes from, they will also learn about animal welfare and how to respect animals.

7. Mental and physical health

In the busy world we live in where it’s hard to switch off and relax, chickens can play a huge role in keeping people sane. It’s no wonder they’re a popular therapy animal, they offer significant therapeutic benefits for people and I can safely say that spending time with my flock helps me hugely with my mind.

Keeping chickens will also aid your physical health what with having to clean them out, refresh their water, top up their feed and replenish their dust bath.

8. They are adaptable

Chickens can live happily in urban areas as well as rural ones, as long as they have enough space in their enclosure.

The cons of raising chickens 

The cons that accompany chicken keeping can usually be easily managed.

For example, in the winter, fixed runs can become muddy due to excess rainfall but this can be rectified by putting down hard woodchip - see my Instagram page for info on where I get mine from and discounts.

The disadvantages of raising chickens

1. They're a responsibility

Take into consideration that if you go on holiday you will need someone trustworthy to check on them, neighbours are normally happy to do this in return for some lovely fresh eggs.

2. Potential vermin

Lots of people automatically think you’ll get rats if you have chickens, this is only true if you leave food lying around making it accessible to them.

Remove any food at nighttime and store it in a metal, chew-proof container, or, invest in a vermin-proof feeder to save you carrying the food in and out every day.

3. Low egg production in winter

You won’t get as many eggs, if any, during the winter months; hens need around 16 hours of daylight to stimulate their ovaries to release an egg and therefore the lack of daylight will affect egg production.

You can add artificial lighting into the coop to keep hens laying, however, personally I’m against this because I believe hens need a well-deserved rest so their bodies feel rejuvenated and ready for spring.

4. Early mornings

Getting up early to let the chickens out and worrying about locking them up before predators like foxes get to them can be easily managed by investing in an automatic door.

5. Predators

Everything wants to eat chickens! As long as your flock are kept within a secure enclosure then predators won’t be able to get to them.

6. Red mites

Invest in a plastic chicken coop which has few hiding places for red mite to hide in, a good quality plastic coop can be pressure washed clean in a matter of minutes. 

Claudia is an ambassador for Nestera (save 5% with this link) and Omlet (affiliate link).

What do I need to keep chickens?

Food - naturally, I recommend Verm-X layers pellets. Feeding your hens a high-quality feed will be reflected in their health, egg quality and egg production.

Water - hens drink approximately one pint of water each day, but that can vary depending on their size, environment and season.

Grit - soluble grit (oyster shell) and insoluble grit (small stones like flint) are an essential part of a hen’s diet.

The soluble grit will ensure your hens get enough calcium needed for bone health and strong eggshells, and the insoluble grit aids digestion as it helps break up the food in the chicken’s gizzard - chickens don’t have teeth hence the need for grit.

Offer these in separate containers to your main feeder as the hens will help themselves to it as and when they need it.

Natural supplements for chickens

Supplements - these can really boost the health of your hens, Verm-X have a fantastic choice of natural supplements which aid the health of chickens in various ways.

I also highly recommend apple cider vinegar as part of your flock’s diet, I give mine ACV for one week per month, apart from in hot weather.

Health checks - a thorough checkover of your hens is important to ensure they’re in good, healthy condition, I offer lots of tips on what to look out for on my private Instagram page, please visit my website for more info.

You can order a free New Keeper Poultry Pack which is a wonderful way to try some 'eggcellent' products.

It includes The Hen Sense Guide to Chicken Keeping for Beginners by Libby Syddall as well as samples and discount codes from some of the UK’s best suppliers like Nestera, Westgate Labs, Econourish, Little Feed Co. and of course Verm-X.


What else do I need to keep chickens?

Bedding - a good quality bedding which is dust-free.

A coop - a secure, clean coop with good ventilation (not draughts) and enclosure.

Space - one square foot per chicken inside the coop, 20-25cm of perch space and 1 square metre per chicken in their outside run.

Dust bath - important to enable chickens to clean themselves and keep external parasites like lice and mites at bay.

Shelter from the elements - chickens don’t like wind so a windbreak is important, as well as shelter from the rain/snow and shade from the sun. Chickens fare better in colder weather than hot.

First aid kit - for emergencies and consisting of things such as wound spray.

Boredom busters - ensure your hens have plenty to occupy them to prevent boredom which can result in feather pecking.

See my website for boredom buster ideas.

How many chickens to start with & what breeds? 

From my experience, 3-4 hens is a good number to start with. They’re sociable animals so avoid having a hen on her own and never introduce a single hen to an existing flock as she’ll get bullied.

If you want lots of eggs each year then hybrids are a good option, some will lay 300+ eggs each year depending on what breeds have been crossed to create the hybrid, Lohmann Browns are a favourite.

A highly productive pure breed is the Leghorn which lay lovely, striking white eggs, you can get hybrid Leghorns too.

Docile, friendly large fowl pure breeds which make great pets for children are Orpingtons, Brahmas, Marans and Cochins to name a few. If opting for something smaller then I highly recommend the Pekin bantam, they’re wonderfully tame, but they do tend to go broody in the warmer months!

One thing to note is that hybrids don’t live as long as pure breeds because of their high egg productivity but they are cheaper than pure breeds.

Ex-commercial/rescue hens are inexpensive, as they’re past their most productive laying stage and not in tip-top condition, although they usually have a lot more eggs left to offer.

Do take into consideration that these hens will most likely require some extra TLC. 

    How much do chickens cost to keep?

    Costs will vary largely based on the quality of the products you buy so here’s a rough guide below based on 4 chickens:

    One-off costs:

    • Chickens (£2.50 - £55 each)
    • Coop (£300 - £900)
    • Auto-door (not essential, £90 - £180)
    • Feeders & drinkers (£8 - £40)
    • Enclosure (£100 - £900)
    • Boredom busters (these can be homemade rather than bought, £5 - £50)

    Running costs:

    • Food (£10 - £18 for one 20kg bag which should last about a month, if not longer)
    • Bedding (£5 - £17, higher quality bedding will last for over a month)
    • Supplements & health products (£50 - £100 for 1 year) 

    It’s worth spending more money on the higher quality products because it’ll save you money in the long term.

    E.g. I’ve gone through many wooden coops over the years whereas I know I won’t have to replace my plastic coops for at least another 25 years.

    Where to find more information about chicken keeping? 

    I offer lots of information on my private Instagram page which is suitable for beginners through to experienced chicken keepers. Please visit my website if you’d like to learn more and become a member.

    © Claudia Audley, January 2024

    Other chicken keeping articles that may interest you:

    A Beginner's Guide to Keeping Chickens

    Good Herbs for Chickens

    How to Help Your Chicken Through a Moult

    Recipe: Winter Warmer Poultry Porridge

    February 21, 2024 — Verm-X