Thursday, August 18News That Matters

Beginners Guide to Keeping Chickens

Perhaps you’re starting with a few pet chickens, raising some to provide for your household, or considering selling their eggs to the public. Either way, this article will guide you through:

  • How to look after & raise chickens – the basics
  • Finding the right kind of chicken house
  • Labeling and selling fresh eggs

So, keep reading as we talk all things chicken, and share a few easy tips and tricks to help you get the most out of raising your feathery friends… 

How to look after & raise chickens – the basics

Raising chickens is a fairly straightforward process once you have your basics in place, so let’s get started:

How to purchase hens

There are so many places to purchase your hens from, although it can be a little confusing when deciding which the best option is.

  • Via an online marketplace such as Facebook – the quality may vary quite a bit, so try and stick to sellers with a good rating or lots of experience selling chickens.
  • Via agricultural shows and exhibitions – you’ll be able to buy the best of the best here, plus you can ask expert breeders for advice.
  • Via dedicated adoption sites or auctions – some places, like the UK, have Hen Adoption sites for ex-caged hens. And other farms and charities auction off ex-commercial hens after a certain time, so shop around and see what you can find.

Whatever method you use, make sure to ask lots of questions and check the birds for any sign of injury or illness before you take them home.

Chinese White Silkie is one of the best pet chicken breeds

Setting them up and keeping them safe

A big part of owning chickens is making sure they have a home in the garden that is as safe as possible from predators and where they can lay safely. You’ll find out more about hutches later in the article, but you should also consider fencing off a part of the garden or their coop for safety.

Keep a tight cleaning schedule 

Without proper cleaning and daily attention, the coop can quickly become smelly, unhygienic, and a magnet for vermin. That’s why it’s crucial to perform regular cleaning duties as part of your daily chicken-care routine.

Clean up any wet patches and droppings each day – the thicker the layer of bedding, the easier it will be to do this. The aim is to prevent waste or food from festering and keep everything fresh, clean and comfortable for your chickens. Replace their hay, sand or recycled paper bedding weekly, and clean any food or water dishes every couple of days.

Depending on the number of chickens you have, you should perform a thorough clean every 2-4 weeks with a focus on disinfection, whilst checking for any signs of red mite.

Choose the right food

Feeding hens is similar to feeding dogs – that’s because they require complete and varied nutrition from a well-balanced diet. It’s best to go for specially designed, commercial chicken feed to ensure they get all the nutrients they need, and it should form about 90% of their diet. This is important if you want healthy, tasty eggs – the better quality the food, the more likely you are to get good eggs.

You can put their food in a dispenser or container and encourage their natural behaviour by scattering wheat or corn in their run. Provide fresh food daily so it doesn’t go bad or get damp, and pick up any old bits that may have been leftover.

Maintain a routine

Chickens enjoy routine and need to be attended to daily for feeding, cleaning and being let out into the run. Each morning, let your hens out into the run, fluff their bedding, check for eggs, clean up any waste and provide them with fresh food and water.

In the afternoon, check in on your hens again to see if there are any eggs and give them a treat if it is part of your feeding plan. Hens like to be out until dusk, so secure them back in their coop as the sun sets to ensure they are safe from predators.

Keep an eye on their health

As part of your daily chicken-keeping routine, you will need to check for signs of illness such as fluffed up feathers, feather loss, drooping wings, dull or closed eyes, or inactivity. As you get used to caring for chickens and their general behaviour, you will most likely notice when there is something wrong.

Keep an eye on their droppings as they are a good indicator of overall health. Their waste should be firm, brown (although it can sometimes appear greenish) and with a whitish, chalky cap of urates. Keep an eye out for signs of parasites, and if you notice anything out of the ordinary, promptly consult your vet for more advice.

How to find the right chicken house

The most important thing when it comes to finding the right home for your hens is ensuring a safe and comfortable environment. Many people adapt old sheds and outbuildings into a home for their chickens, so you don’t necessarily need to buy a purpose-built coop.

There are a few things you need to bear in mind when purchasing or creating a coop. Firstly, your hens need roosting areas and nesting boxes to lay their eggs in and sleep. You will need an average of four square feet of space per chicken, and it should have proper ventilation without causing a draft.

To ensure the happiness of your hens, you’ll also need a decently sized run providing adequate protection from vermin and foxes.

How to sell eggs

As long as you own a small number of chickens, you are not considered a commercial egg seller, so you can give away eggs or sell them locally without too many restrictions.

Avoid grading your eggs or using organic or free-range claims if you can, as these often require certifications and licenses. Instead, consider terms like ‘naturally raised’, ‘fresh from the garden’, ‘eggs from friendly, free-to-roam chickens’ or ‘home-farmed’ instead.

After that, all you need to do is box them up, wipe off (but don’t wash) the eggs, add a label if you want to and start selling. Remember to include the following on the cartons, just in case:

  • Your name and address (so that their origin is traceable)
  • The food name (eggs)
  • A best before date (usually up to 28 days after laying)
  • Storage advice (to keep eggs chilled)

Now you know how to keep your chickens and sell eggs, all whilst raising a happy and healthy flock. 

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