How to Keep Hens in your Garden!
Chickens are Fun!
Until I kept chickens, I had no idea how much fun they are. They are easy to care for, and will pay for themselves by the eggs for provide.
I have two ISA Warren hens - and would love more! Be warned, this is a very addictive hobby!
On this page you will find plenty of information on how to properly house, look after and feed chickens, and see some cute photos of my little flock foraging around my garden. And do watch the video, too!
A video of my two ISA Warren hens pottering around in their coop and in the garden.
Hens love foraging and will happily devour most garden pests.
Life in the Chicken Coop
The word "hen" indicates an adult, while "chicken" implies a young bird, however both words tend to be used interchangeably.
The male cockerel's cry can be noisy, and while I enjoy hearing their piercing cock-a-doodledoo your neighbours probably won't be so forgiving. Therefore, in a suburban setting only female hens tend to be kept. Doing otherwise might infringe local bylaws, so you'd have to check on that. But not to worry, hens will readily lay eggs without the need for male birds.
Hens need somewhere warm, dry and safe from predators where they can roost at night and lay their eggs undisturbed.
There are many designs of chicken house, or coop. These are usually purchased as a flat-pack which you have to assemble yourself. The designs vary, some being more ornamental than practical. Prices vary widely too, from the economical and hen soaring upwards to silly levels. If you are handy with wood, you could save yourself a lot of money by making your own coop and wire-fenced run.
An enclosed run, which allows the hens to walk around outside of the coop but also affords them some protection, is very useful though not entirely essential. If you want part of your garden to remain pristine, then I would recommend fencing off this area as hens will have a peck at everything. If a plant is to their taste they'll soon demolish it. The good news is that they also love eating most weeds.
Before buying or making your coop, though, give some thought to how many chickens you intend to keep. The size of the coop will limit the number of chickens you can humanely house - and once you've discovered how easy chickens are to keep (and how much fun they are!) you can be sure you'll want more.
Inside the coop, you'll need to place clean, dry straw and/or hay for the birds to nest in. They love re-arranging the inside of the coop, no matter how tidily you set it out. Digging and rooting is in their nature. Mine drag straw out of the coop and into the run to build outdoor nests for sunbathing on. They lie on top of these messy heaps, with their tummies facing the sun, and lift each wing in turn to enjoy the warmth.
Chickens also need clean water. They wash their beaks in it, and also drink quite a bit. Initially I tried using a purpose-made water feeder but they kicked this all over the place as if they were playing football. The water spilled everywhere, of course. Now I use a metal dish which clips to the wire of the run.
Hens Love Eating!
Hens love to eat almost non-stop. They absolutely love food! They will devour all your kitchen vegetable scraps - though mine aren't over-keen on potato peelings. They will also eat whatever grows in your garden. Mine demolished all my Valerian within a week. And they enjoy patiently rooting through fallen leaves in the herbaceous border, foraging for worms, insects and snails.
Grit is an essential dietary need, as this aids in the digestion of their food and helps form the shells of their eggs. In winter, I also feed mine a commercially available chicken suet/insect mash which comes in pellet form.
If you buy grit and chicken feed from a farm outlet, you will spend a lot less than you would in a pet store or supermarket. As for greens - let your birds roam round your garden and they'll help themselves to whatever they want.
Hens get to know your routine. As soon as the kitchen light goes on in the morning, they know breakfast is on its way along with the freedom of the garden. At 3pm, they get fed again and as soon as they see me filling their seed and grit feeder they come rushing to see what they're missing.
My ISA Warren hens lay one egg a day each, usually around 10am but sometimes closer to mid-day if it's a sunny day. The pale brown eggs are larger than shop-bought ones, and the yolks are a gorgeous rich golden yellow - a much more intense colour than any mass-produced egg.
It is cruel to keep only one hen. They are social birds and a hen kept on its own will not thrive. They cluck and chirrup to each other continually, and roost snuggled up. They groom each other and come to each other's aid.
My birds are happy wandering round the garden together, talking to each other in their own way. They dig rounded patches of dry earth for dust-bathing in, and they enjoy basking in sunshine with one wing raised to cool off. They've even been known to wander into the house to listen to a spot of Vivaldi or Mozart.
Hens love company. Mine are never very far from each other. Even when one goes into the coop to lay an egg, the other will be nearby. They like to walk around together, digging through fallen leaves and rooting around under bushes, and they communicate constantly with musical "pwok-pwok prrrr pwok" sounds.
At night, they often share a roost spot even though there's plenty of room inside the coop for them to spread out. In fact, the coop I have is big enough for four birds. Watch this space for new additions to my flock!
Hens love of company extends readily to human company - they make great pets, and a child could easily learn how to take care of them. They're comical characters to watch as they potter around, rummaging under plants in a continual search for anything edible. If you're rash enough to be eating near them, they'll instantly do their best of make sure you share you food.
I remember one lovely summer's morning when our patio doors were open during breakfast. Suddenly I had a hen sitting on my outstretched forearm as its feathery head eagerly reached for my bowl of cornflakes.
Hens can be mucky critters. You will never toilet train a hen. Be aware of this if they walk into your home or if you walk around the garden.
Always, always wash your hands very thoroughly after handling hens, the coop or bowls etc. If you have children or visitors, it is vital that you teach them about the need for this.
- Backyard Chickens
An informative introdcution to keeping chickens in your garden.
- Adele's Garden
The garden was a wild tangle of waist-high grasses, weeds, brambles and mare's tail when my husband and I bought our home on the Wirral peninsula in 2000.
- Sandlea Park
Tucked away between Grange Road/Meols Drive and Dee Lane in West Kirby is a small but picturesque oasis of trees, shrubs and formal gardens.
© 2010 Adele Cosgrove-Bray