Lisa Mancell, National Coordinator from Farmgate Feeds, gives her expert advice on how to get started keeping chickens.
Like me, has this lockdown got you thinking about how you can make the most from your home and space? For those of us who keep chickens, we have never felt so privileged to care for them and enjoy the simple luxury of collecting eggs in the morning. As we’re spending so much time at home with the same people, our animals help maintain a daily structure and all-important headspace. After many years of weighing up the pros and cons, prospective hen owners may be feeling like they are ready to pluck up the courage. If that’s the case, then here are the first steps you should consider helping you on your way to becoming a happy hen owner.
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.
Buying a cutesy hutch can be tempting but make sure you have the space for them to roam free too. A space of 10m2 is ideal for a flock of five. Perches should be removable for easy cleaning and ventilation holes must be provided (well above the height of roosting chickens).
Foxes are very cunning and make it their mission to outwit us! The best defence is keeping to a regular bedtime for your chickens and make sure that they are all safely roosting before you lock the hutch.
Don’t rely on chicken wire – it’s great for keeping chickens in but not so good at keeping predators out. Hardware mesh buried at least two feet deep will stop predators from digging their way into your chicken run. You can also try increasing visibility and cutting down any long grass or areas of cover around your chicken enclosure, this will make those less-confident predators vulnerable to being spotted.
If you are keeping hens for eggs, then investing in the best quality feed is really important. With laying hens, a layer pellet or mash should be fed from up to four weeks before the onset of laying. Make sure the balance is right between protein and fibre – which is important to keep your hens full and provide good bacteria in the gut. Also consider the size of your chickens, as smaller hens and bantams will require a short-cut pellet to aid their digestion.
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 oystershell or limestone grit – unless you wish to give a little occasionally to satisfy their curiosity and instinct.
We also have Farmgate Super Omega Mash, a uniquely manufactured product containing LINTEC – an extruded linseed product rich in omega 3 oil. All our diets are fully balanced and contain the same optimum levels of calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D3 that are required for shell quality, bone strength, consistent yolk colouring along with ‘egg’cellent egg production and size!
There is nothing more rewarding than seeing your flock running towards you as you carry their nutritious breakfast.
Chickens do take a lot of work so make sure that you will have the time for them once life gets back on track too. They need daily feeding and water, a clean coop, protection from predators and lots of general care like all our animals.
Once you are all set up and enjoying being a new hen-keeper, you will quickly reap the rewards and fall in love with your chickens. Creating a home for your new chickens will be something you can continue to enjoy with your family and holding a freshly laid egg, still warm from its bed of straw really is nature’s perfect takeaway.