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Buying and Starting with Poultry

Poultry keeping is relatively easy when compared to managing some other types of animals. They are less demanding than domestic pets, they fertilise the garden and there is the added benefit of a supply of fresh eggs. Poultry, particularly chickens and hens, are delightful company and they will develop their own personalities. They will rush to greet you and follow you around.

Before buying poultry and particularly if you live in an urban area, you should speak to your neighbours. Cockerels can be noisy - especially early in the morning, and despite the ‘Good Life’ style soundtrack, this may be met with disapproval by your neighbours. If you are keeping chickens for the supply of fresh eggs only, you won’t need a cockerel, as hens will lay regardless of whether they have been fertilised or not. Hens are less vocal and their clucking can be quite soothing on a summer's evening as they root and scratch around.

Also, look at the deeds to your property to see if there are any restrictions to keeping livestock on your land and also check for any smallholder bylaws with your local authority. If you are planning to keep more than 50 birds, you are legally required to register your flock with DEFRA. However, DEFRA is currently recommending all poultry owners to register their birds with them, even if it is only a couple of hens.

Once you have decided what type of poultry to keep and you’ve chosen a breed, colour and variety, you will then have to decide whether to purchase your ‘stock’ as either; hatching eggs, newly-hatched chicks, growing or adult stock.

Poultry organisations and clubs can provide contact details of breeders in your area and you can also find information in Poultry and Smallholder magazines (see our useful contacts section) where advice can be found regarding the type of breed and sources of availability of the breed you want to buy. Hybrid birds can be sourced relatively easily, and can be available to collect on the day of purchase, unlike some rare breed birds - which can take up to several weeks to be delivered.

There are many different types and breeds of poultry to select from and depending on what you are expecting from your Poultry; either egg laying, table poultry or dual purpose, here is a selection:

  • Pure Breeds – bred to a true type such as Rhode Island Red, White Leghorn.
  • Silkie – can be mistaken for a Bantam as it is relatively small in size, but it is actually a large fowl.
  • Bantams – small sized fowl, or a bird that has been bred down from a larger fowl crossed with other Bantams.
  • First Crosses – produced from the mating of two pure breeds such as a Rhode Island Red and a Light Sussex Hen.
  • These breeds are a good smallholder choice because they are sex-linked and male/female birds can be clearly distinguished even as day old chicks.
  • Hybrids & Strain Crosses – ideal if you want a large number of eggs. This breed will have been developed from various breeds and strains and will be more suitable as egg producers.

For more information on rescuing battery hens contact: 01362 822904 or visit www.bhwt.org.uk

The benefits of acquiring registered stock

  • Traceability – if you intend to buy a pure-bred, there is no guarantee that it actually is a pure-bred, unless you can trace it back. Ensure the pig and the breeder are both registered.
  • Financial reward – buying stock that it is registered breeding stock means you can ask for more money when selling the piglets on.
  • Disease exemption – having registered pedigree pigs will allow you to qualify for exemptions should there be a disease outbreak.
  • Conservation – buying a pure-bred will ensure the conservation of traditional breeds - so they do not die out.
  • Meat-marketing schemes – some countries have meat-marketing schemes that are available to producers of registered pure-bred pigs and they enable producers to sell their registered carcases to butchers who have also chosen to be part of the scheme. EG Rare Breeds Survival Trust has a Traditional Meat Marketing Scheme.

Pig buying checklist

Use the internet, agricultural newspapers and publications and specialist smallholder magazines for pig contacts. Here are a few tips when buying pigs;

  • Try to buy in early or late spring.
  • Where possible, buy from a breeder - avoid buying at auction, livestock markets or simply ‘over the telephone’.
  • Try to view litters before too many of the piglets have been sold.
  • Assess the current environment of the pigs / piglets.
  • Check for good health and temperament.
  • Check the pigs’ earmarks, documentation and registration.
  • Go with your initial impression when selecting your pigs.
  • Apply for a Country Parish Holding (CPH) number from the Rural Payments Agency (Click here