Keeping Chickens In the Garden
More and more people are keeping a few chickens in their gardens and it is recognised as one of the fastest growing hobbies. If you are thinking about having some chickens in the garden there are several things to consider before you start.
Begin by checking that there are no local restrictions preventing you keeping chickens in your area, your Local Authority, or their equivalent outside of the UK, should be able to advise you. The next step is to have a chat with your neighbours, mentioning to them that you are having chickens but will keep them out of their garden will go a long way to peaceful relations, as will offering the occasional fresh eggs! If you decide to have a cockerel (rooster) remember they are quite noisy and not just early in the mornings, but you don’t need cockerel to produce eggs from your birds, they will lay anyway.
It may be a good idea to buy a basic book or e-book on keeping chickens at home. Most of these cover the majority of care issues including wing clipping (chickens can fly!) minor ailments and first aid. There also plenty of pages on Facebook and forums on the internet.
The chickens will need somewhere safe to sleep at night so a fox and vermin proof house is a priority. There are many chicken coops available commercially or you may decide to build your own. If you decide on DIY option take a look at some of the available houses and runs to give you some ideas, but whichever option you choose, the basic requirements are the same:
1. Sufficient space for the number of birds and perches for them to roost on
2. Security from vermin and predators
3. Adequate ventilation
4. An outdoor run – if your coop is to have a fixed run it may be a good idea to sink the mesh into the ground to discourage vermin from digging underneath. Mobile houses and runs are also a good idea – the birds can be moved to fresh grass regularly which means much less wear and tear on your lawn, chickens do love to dig!
When your housing is installed dust the inside with red mite powder or diatomaceous earth (from agricultural suppliers or the internet) and repeat each time you clean the coop. Red mites are blood sucking parasites that hide in the house and bedding during the day and bite the chickens at night so prevention is better than cure. Left untreated, red mites can make the birds very ill and they may die.
Straw or wood shavings are best for bedding, hay contains spores that can be harmful to the chickens breathing.
Once you have decided on your housing requirements you will need to consider feeders and drinkers. There are many available at agricultural suppliers or the internet, E-bay can be a good place to look. If they can be suspended a little above ground level it reduces the risk of the chickens soiling the food and water and throwing mud into it. If your feeders are going to be outside it may be worth buying the type that have a rain cover. This will stop the food getting wet and spoiling but you can, if you prefer, scatter the feed on the ground twice a day. This encourages the natural feeding habits of chickens, they love scratching about on the ground and spend their day doing just that in between dust and sun batheing.
There are many feeds available for poultry, depending on their age, young point of lay birds, or ones that are already laying, they should do well on layers pellets and poultry corn. Your local agricultural or feed supplier will be happy to advise you. If you are contemplating buying chicks, their initial care and feed is quite different, again depending on how young they are.
Now you have your housing built, your feeders, drinkers and food ready the time has come to buy your birds. If you have bought a book on the subject you may have already chosen a breed but hybrids are noted for their egg production, so don’t rule them out. You might also like to consider giving a good home to some ex-battery hens, there is a re-homing programme in the UK or you could visit a local chicken farm to see if they have any available. Another option are Bantams, a true bantam is a small chicken that doesn’t have a larger version of it’s breed, but miniature versions of other breeds are also known as bantams. They are quite small compared to usual chickens and obviously their eggs are smaller, but they taste just as good.
When you go to collect your birds check that they are bright and lively, with clear eyes and nostrils and no obvious signs of parasites. Avoid birds with raised scales on their legs as they are likely to have scaley leg mites. This can be dealt with fairly easily but you should try to start out with as healthy a bird as possible. You will need a sturdy cardboard box with a lid and ventilation holes cut in it, or a cat carrier or something similar, to bring your new pets home.
Once you get them home, release them quietly into their new home and let them settle in. They may need a little persuading to go into their house at bedtime but they will quickly learn the routine, just don’t rush and stress them while they are getting the hang of it.
Enjoy your new pets!