Keeping Chickens -
General Care & Advice
- Chickens are pretty omnivorous, I’ve even
heard of one that specialised in catching mice, but it is very
important for the chickens health to have a balanced diet. Unless
you are very expert, the best way to achieve this is to base your
chickens’ diet on one of the propriety pelleted feeds. This can be
fed in conjunction with suitable grain such as corn or wheat, the
consensus of opinion being to feed the pellets in the morning via a
protected feeder (it’s important to keep the food dry), then the
grain in the afternoon as a scatter food.
- It is important for the health of your chickens
health to provide fresh, clean water which must be available during
the daylight hours. This is best achieved by one of the propriety
drinking fountains which keep a reserve of clean water which fills
up a small trough, making it harder for the water to be fouled. If
you lock your birds in at night, it is not necessary to make water
- Hens need (flint) grit to grind food in their crop.
Some will be included in a good quality food, but its a good idea to
supply some in a suitable container.
- The chicken house will need to be cleaned
regularly, exactly how often depending on the density of birds and
the time of year, but ideally once a week. The floor of the chicken
house should be covered with sawdust, though this is a misnomer: it
is very important that it should be dust-free wood shavings as
chickens have delicate respiratory systems.
- Hens don’t need a cockerel with them to lay eggs, only
for fertile eggs. The rate of lay will depend on nutrition,
contentment, age of the bird, day length and breed. 14 hours of
daylight is the optimum day length, and commercial producers may use
lights to provide a false dawn. Dusk should be gradual on welfare
grounds, to allow chickens time to roost.
General well being
- Contented, busy chickens are much more
likely to thrive and lay well. Chickens feed mainly by scratching
the ground, then pecking (though it’s pretty amusing to watch them
chase flies) so having an earth floor to the run, or a few inches of
bark chippings or similar, will keep them occupied and happy.
Another simple measure is to provide their greens hung up in a
string bag or on a hook so they have to reach up to get at it. If
possible, let them free range. With care, especially during the high
summer through winter, a small number of chickens will not do much
damage in a garden. On the contrary, they will eat up a lot of pests
– they love slugs – spread some very fine manure, and be a pleasure
to have around.
Keep an eye on your flock’s behaviour, droppings, food consumption:
any bird that ‘goes quiet’, has a messy tail or loses feathers
should be investigated.
Take the time to watch your birds, just for the fun of it.