Spring into hen keeping

Lisa Mancell, National Coordinator from Farmgate Feeds, gives her advice on how to get started with hens

As we finally reach spring, is this the year that you make your hen keeping dream a reality? If you have always imagined yourself with a little flock in your back garden but have been scared to take the leap, then here are some top tips to get you started.

Like caring for any animal, hen keeping is a commitment, but you can make it far easier by doing your research beforehand. Then you can focus on the ‘hen zen’ experience that comes with collecting eggs for your brekkie once your flock have settled.

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Smallholder Poultry
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Choosing your feathered friends

Before you set out to buy your hens, make sure you decide the best breed for you. Consider your priorities, whether it’s the look of the hen (for showing potential), the size, laying reliability or temperament then a hen breeder will be able to advise you.

In peak laying periods, hens will produce anything from four to five eggs a week up to seven for a top performer! You can quickly have a surplus of eggs if your flock size is too large for the number of eggs you require.

Flock size and space

Hens are very social creatures so think about your numbers but try not to run before you can walk! Three is a good number to start with and then build up your flock gradually. Always introduce two new hens together as one will get bullied on its own.

Chickens like to dig and scratch around to scavenge for food so it's usually best to designate a defined ‘chicken area’ that you don’t mind them free ranging in. The hen house itself needs to be at least 1 sq. ft per bird but bear in mind the more space you can give them the better. Exercise space for your birds has no set rules, but a minimum run of about 20 sq. ft is plenty for 4 hens.

Make sure that the hen house has sufficient clean comfortable nesting boxes (3 per hen is generous to avoid any queuing) so that eggs are laid inside the house to be collected freshly each day and not laid under hedges and bushes.

A balanced diet

Select a nutritious feed to keep your hens healthy, especially if you are hoping for prime layers. Just as we would love a healthy nutritious egg for our breakfast, our hens need well-balanced diets to provide them with all the nutrients they need to support their egg production.

Most laying birds will only require a 16% protein diet, whether it be in a pellet or mash form. Feed should be fed to birds inside as if left out it can get wet, damp and develop mould.

Farmgate Layers Pellets and Mash are our two flagship diets within the Farmgate range, both containing all the calcium they need, so there is no additional requirement for ingredients such as oyster shell or limestone grit – unless you wish to give a little occasionally to satisfy their curiosity and instinct.

The daily routine

Before you take the plunge and buy your new hens, consider what they need from you every day – they are low maintenance animals, but they need your commitment to be properly cared for.

You will need to let your hens out every morning, provide a supply of fresh food and water then check for eggs. This is also a good time to give each one a quick once-over, looking bright eyed, red comb and wattles, steady gait, and shiny feathers—all signs of a healthy hen. In the afternoon, you can check again if you would like. At sunset lock the hens back inside to protect them from predators. You will also need to clean the coop once a week, replace the bedding and scrub their feed and water dishes.

Once you are all set up, you will quickly reap the rewards and fall in love with hen keeping. Creating a home for your new chickens will be something you can enjoy with your family and holding a freshly laid egg, still warm from its bed of straw really is nature’s perfect takeaway.

Get in touch with our Farmgate specialists

Contact our team for advice or find your local stockist.

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