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5 top tips for keeping Hens
Remember, if you choose to keep a large number of hens they will smell, clean them out regularly and don't keep them too close to your house.
Top Tip No. 1
Top Tip No.1 - How many birds do you need?
Well...... What are your egg requirements? How many eggs do you want to eat per week?
Do you want to make lots of cakes, omeletes, pancakes? Or just the odd boiled egg for breakfast. Remember that most hens will lay 1 egg per day, most days from February through to November, although keeping one hen on her own would not be advisable as they are social birds and like to live in groups.
We have three hens and almost every day provide us with 1 egg each. On a Friday when I change the bedding straw where they lay, the stroppy hen, Marie will sometimes not lay as I have moved her bedding around and she likes to re-arrange it before laying again.
So, weekly we have between 18-20 eggs per week, and for two adults and one child is plenty.
Remember, don't go mad and buy up all the hens from a battery farm if you don't intend to eat plenty of eggs - you will end up giving them away or making lots of cakes (not great for the waistline girls!)
Top Tip No. 2
Top Tip No. 2 - What type of living quarters?
The answer to this question will depend on your answer to top tip no.1. If you require only a couple of hens I would suggest a small ark type house that can be moved around the garden which included a nesting area, living area and a small run (great if you have foxes in your area).
Hen houses come in all shapes and sized and I would recommend a trawl on the Internet to find a home that will suit your hens needs.
We have a 5ft long x 4ft wide x 5.5ft tall children's playhouse, as you can see from the picture it has a stable door which is great for the wet weather when I can keep the bottom door only slightly open to keep the rain out or open both doors in the summer to let in the air and cool it down.
We had to put in our own perches both low and high, we just used some scraps of wood we had in the cellar. Cockerels like high perches and hens generally will perch lower to the ground, this is his way of telling the hens "I am in charge" Although our cockerel and three hens all perch at night on the top bar together, they are like a little family unit.
In your hen house, provide a corner with straw for the girls to lay their eggs, I provide straw inside the doorway too to ensure dry feet if the weather is wet outside.
I also provide a dust bath inside the house, this is not essential as they will dust themselves outside when it's dry. We have a log burner so use the ash from the fire and they love it.
If you intend to have a large family of hens eg. more than 12 or 15, I would recommend locating them away from your house as they can smell unless you are prepared to clean them out every day to get rid of all the poo.
Remember hens will scratch the grass and soil so don't locate them anywhere near your flowers or borders unless you want them bug free. If you have a freshly dug vegetable patch put your hens on it as they will hoover up all of the snails, slugs, flies and well, almost anything actually.
We have our hen house located in the corner of our back garden close to the house and you cannot smell them at all.
Remember, cockerels continue to crow throughout the day not just at dawn and they are very loud.
Top Tip No. 3
Top Tip No. 3 - Should I buy a cockerel?
Will your neighbours mind hearing a cockerel cock-a-doodle-dooing from 4am in the morning? We live in a small village in France so everyone has cockerels and no-one cares about the noise.
Do you have double glazed windows? you will need them if your cockerel will be located close to your house.
Do you intend to breed chicks? If the answer is yes then you will need a cockerel to fertilise the eggs, if you only want eggs to eat yourself then no, you do not need a cockerel.
We have a cockerel, he was given to us by our neighbours as a moving in gift. We did not intend to have a cockerel but hey, what a gift! He is a gold brahma with feathered legs and he is beautiful. He is fantastic at looking after the hens, he protects them against potential predators, he feeds them all the best grubs he can find and is fantastic with children.
They are easy to train and our cockerel will eat happily out of your hand and allow you to pick him up (when he feels like it).
You will only need one cockerel, if you try to introduce more than one cockerel they will fight aggressively. One cockerel will happily look after up to 7/8 hens, he will sow his oats every day with all the hens if they let him. An added bonus for looking after them i suppose.
Add a large spoonful of cider vinegar to your birds water each time you clean it our and refill - this helps to kill any gut parasites.
Also add a tablespoon full of cod liver oil to the birds food and stir in well, this helps them to shed their old feathers easily, grow through the new feathers and helps the eggs slip our without difficulty.
Top Tip No. 4
Top Tip No. 4 - What do I feed my hens?
They will need a complete meal in a pellet, check that it contains all the vitamins and minerals that they need. They love corn, so make sure it includes some in the pellets. You will find in a complete meal it will also contain grit, which is needed to help provide a good hard shell on the eggs.
Hens will eat almost anything, with the exception of fish and meat they are greedy greedy greedy. I have found with our lot they particularly like grated cheese, sweet corn, cooked rice and cooked pasta, these are favourites. They will peck greedily from my hand for these.
Any left over greens from dinner also go down well like, cabbage, carrot, beetroot, peas and potato peelings.
Remember to pick up any left over treats at the end of the day to discourage any vermin over night.
Make sure they have an area to roam as their natural instinct is to peck and scratch the ground looking for bugs and insects, they will also eat grass and dandelion leaves.
Watching hens chasing flies is a sight, flapping wings and running in all directions trying not to be seen. We have hours of fun watching our hens.
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Top Tip No. 5
Top Tip No. 5 - Who is the boss?
Technically, you should be! If you have a cockerel he will come next and then a heirarchy within the hens below. Even if you have not got a cockerel there will still be an obvious leader hen, but you still need to be in charge.
Try and spend some time everyday in the hen area feeding by hand (feed the hens before you give any to the cockerel, this strengthens your authority). If there is any fighting between hens you must step in and take charge, saying loudly "no" and chasing the troublemaker, in your absence the cockerel will do this.
You will need to do this if you are introducing new hens to an existing group as there will be a degree of argey bargey whilst they fight for positions. We introduced a new hen to our existing two hens a couple of months ago, and she was chased and pecked for two days, I spent my time in and out of the run chasing Marie round shouting "no" at the top of my voice. Any of my neighbours who saw or heard me must think I am as mad as a hatter.
If you have a cockerel it is good for the hens to see you pick him up occasionally, again this strengthens your authority as leader.
Well I hope these top tips help you in deciding whether hens and cockerels are for you.
I can recommend a good web site with a forum especially for chicken lovers (see below) they will be able to offer additional information should you need it.