Chickens are not hard to care for – just make sure they have plenty of room to scratch around in, a steady supply of food and a comfortable place to roost and lay eggs. They are friendly and sociable creatures; each having their own personalities, and you can even buy rescue chickens from battery farms.
Taking on chickens is a big responsibility. They can live for up to 10 years and will need feeding and caring for as much as any pet. For the first three years of her life, a chicken will produce an egg every one-two days, however this will decrease with age.
The Chicken Coop
If you build your own coop, ensure it is made with strong materials, to protect your hens from predators, such as foxes. The coop needs to be comfortable as the chickens will spend each night there and lay their eggs, but accessible to you to clean and retrieve the eggs. There are many designs you can choose from, or you could be creative and design your own. You can use any materials to make your coop, including plastic, metal and wood.
Your coop should be well ventilated to provide the chickens with plenty of fresh air. It should have places for them to perch, including different levels where they can climb up and explore. It should also have areas where they can seek shelter from the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter.
Bury chicken wire 20cm under the surface of the soil to protect against rats and mice, which may try to burrow under the coop to get to the eggs. Chickens are curious birds, so ensure there are no potential hazards in the coop, such as nails and staples sticking out where the hens can injure themselves.
Cleaning Your Coop
Clean out the coop once a week, wiping down the perches and nesting areas, and scrubbing the feeders. Replace the straw ever week to prevent a build up of pests and diseases.
Outside the Coop
You will need to decide whether your chickens will have a free range of your garden (where they will eat many garden pests), or remain in a caged area around the coop. Whatever your choice, they will need to have plenty of room to scratch around and establish a pecking order. If you do let them roam free in your garden, it is unlikely they will stray far from the coop.
Feeding Your Chickens
Chickens thrive when fed with a pelleted poultry feed or crumble (you will have the choice of feeding them with organic feed). Chickens also love kitchen scraps and weeds and insects from the garden (if you allow them to roam and pick food from the garden, make sure there are no slug pellets around and avoid using pesticides, which can poison them). Replace the feed regularly to prevent it from going stale, and ensure the hens always have a supply of water to drink.
Chickens are fabulous creatures to keep. They are friendly and sociable, and will reward you with delicious fresh eggs every 1-2 days. Keep them safe and comfortable, and you will have healthy, happy birds for many years to come.