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Keeping Hens

Hens are increasingly popular as pets, they are useful in terms of egg-laying and are also friendly and rewarding to keep.

If you are keen for your hen to be a pet and are not too worried about how many eggs they will lay, then adopting ex-commercial chickens can be a good idea. They tend to be friendly and may come from farms where they have been either caged, barn-reared or free range. Often these will still be laying eggs but perhaps not every day. Some chickens may have bald patches or lack feathers but they quickly grow back and watching these hens explore and experience life in your garden is lovely.

If you plan to keep the chickens mainly for eggs then purchasing Point of Lay hens is best. These are around 20 weeks old and will lay eggs for around one year. Ensure you purchase from a reputable breeder to ensure your bird is healthy, and indeed that it is a hen and not a cockerel.

There are also a number of fancy hen breeds available. These vary in size and colouring. Most will lay eggs but some are more prolific than others. Some breeds do not lay regularly at all.

Now that you have chosen the type of chicken you are going to keep, you will need a place for them to live. It’s very important to provide a place that is safe and secure to ensure predators cannot get in and attack your hens. It must also be a large enough enclosure to allow them to act in a natural way. Predators include foxes, badgers and rats, all of which will kill hens if they get the opportunity.

The hen house should give shelter in all weathers and purpose built chicken coops and houses are available. Alternatively, you can convert a shed or outbuilding. They do vary in price and size and it’s recommended that you purchase a house a little larger than your hens will need. If you plan to keep four hens, then a house large enough for six hens would be ideal.

Whatever the size of the hen house, you will need a secure, attached run for them. It’s best to move the run frequently so that the hens regularly have fresh ground to explore. Alternatively, you can build a more permanent, aviary type enclosure for them.

As with all pets, you will need to clean out their quarters regularly. Nest boxes and bedding should be cleaned daily and the ground outside the hen house should be kept clean too. In addition, every two weeks you will need to thoroughly clean and disinfect the hen house and fully change the bedding.

Hens love scratching around on grass and will enjoy eating grass. However, they should not be offered grass clippings from the mower as it is too wet. Also avoid your hens having access to very long grass. These can both cause problems with the hen’s crops. If the chickens do not have access to grass you can give them some fresh green vegetables each day.

Hens like a set routine each day and like to be let out when it is light and shut up safely at dusk (when most predators come out looking for a nice chicken dinner).

Hens do live in flocks and don’t like to live alone. Most of the time you will find that one of the hens becomes the “top” hen and the others will find a place in the hierarchy. This can be disrupted if new hens are introduced so this should be done carefully to allow the new hens time to find their place in the group.

Hens do not need a cockerel in order to lay eggs. Although they act as a guardian to your flock of hens, they are very noisy and can be aggressive too. Your neighbours may not like the early morning wake up call provided by Mr Cockerel either.

Your chickens should be fed on commercial chicken feed. This is fully balanced to ensure they get all the nutrition they need. The feed is normally dried and can be bought as crumbs or pellets. Hens like to eat little and often so they should be fed in the morning and they will then eat it as they fancy throughout the day. If you’ve bought young chicks rather than full grown hens then they will need chick food rather than adult food. Fancy hens may need a special diet food for their breed.

Hens have no teeth and cannot chew food. They need to eat mixed grit or ground oyster shell which will help to break down the food in their stomachs.