Lisa Mancell is the face of Farmgate Feeds, having spent the past 18 years working for ForFarmers and joining the Farmgate team as National Sales Coordinator back in 2008. Here she provides her top tips on how to create the best environment for hens.
Since starting out in a temporary admin role 18 years ago, I have always loved my job – no two days are the same and I’m lucky enough to work with many different types of customers from small to large setups and of course, happy hens.
Like in many industries it’s a challenging time for the sector, with the price of raw materials affecting feed prices and understandably making hen owners look at how they can save money. Feed is one of the largest outlays and can sometimes be cutback for a cheaper option, but high-quality feed plays such a key role in ensuring healthy hens keep consistently laying and producing high quality eggs. You really do get out what you put in!
Just like in our own diets, a well-balanced feeding programme will provide your flock with the energy to support a healthy life and healthy egg-laying. A good feeding regime is imperative to provide your hens with the correct amount of good quality protein, vitamins and minerals. A lack of certain nutrients can affect egg production, shell quality and even the bird's health. The feed should also have the right balance between protein and fibre which is important to keep your hens full and provide good bacteria in the gut.
Feed product development has come a long way in 18 years, but I’ve learnt that high-quality nutrition only supports our hens when it’s complemented by the best environment. Where possible give your hens plenty of space; you should allow a minimum of 1 sq. ft/bird inside the coup, but bear in mind the more space you can give them the better, as they do spend a lot of time inside when sheltering from wind and rain. Exercise space for your birds has no set rules, but a minimum run of about 20 sq. ft is plenty for 4 hens.
Chickens also need a lot of stimulation to keep them busy – they love a dust bath and will often dig one themselves. They will spend hours lying in the soil and flapping their wings, allowing dust through their feathers which can help to control parasites. You can also add items of interest in their natural environment, such as logs at different levels and hanging greens for them to peck. And don’t underestimate the value of human interaction, hens enjoy being spoken to and will often make a lovely sound back.
The best piece of advice I can give to a new hen keeper is make sure you do your homework first and have the time and space to look after your flock. Whilst chickens are relatively low maintenance, they do require daily care and attention. Also do your research on breed selection, if you’re looking for good layers; Rhode Island Red, Leghorn, Sussex, Plymouth Rocks, Ancona, Barnevelder and Marans make a great choice. Whereas if you are looking for smaller birds and are interested in entering shows then Silkies, Sebright or Lavender Pekins might be good choices. These breeds all tend to have a good temperament and a soft nature making them easy to handle (when supported by quality nutrition and a healthy environment).