How to look after chickens in your garden
We have put together a short guide on how to look after chickens. Whether you are interested in hens that lay or birds for meat we can give you the advice on how to give them the best possible environment for welfare and well-being.
Chickens are easy to care for, inexpensive and highly rewarding. You should ask yourself some questions before you go about raising them though.
The first of which is do you have the time and financial resources to dedicate yourselves to these chickens? Although chickens are generally considered "easy" to look after they still require a lot of effort especially in the early stages. Another question is are you legally allowed to raise poultry in your area? There may be certain rules you have to abide by first so have a look at these before you go about doing this. Check with your local council or animal rescue center. As an example with cockerels being very noisy especially in the early morning it may be a good idea to check before you start waking your neighbors up at 6 in the morning. Obviously with keeping poultry there are many implications to think about before choosing to go down this route.
You now need to ask yourself how you are going to look after the chickens. Are they going to be kept inside a coop or a run or will they be free roaming chickens allowed to wander around your land. If you live in an urban environment then it would be best to keep the chickens under close control so we suggest a coop.
Chickens will manage themselves on flowers and garden plants so if you have plants you want to protect it may be a good idea to purchase a chicken tractor or use electric fencing that limits the areas to which the birds can go. Every once in a while depending on the ground depletion and how many hens you are looking after you can move this to an area of land with fresh nourishment.
If you decide to build a chicken coop then you have plenty of choices at your disposal. You can make your own out of materials such as wood or metal or you can purchase a pre-made one. The most important considerations to take into account with a chicken coop is that it is of adequate size. The general rule of thumb is 4 square meters per bird. You also need to make sure it is protected from predators including pets. You need the coop to have good ventilation (but no drafts) and somewhere for the hen to rest such as a nest box. Try to make sure the coop is protected from such things as sticking out nails or sharp wires. Chickens can be very curious and prevention is cheaper than taking a chicken to the vets.
For the coop you will also need other amenities such as a waterer, feeder, bedding littler and also scratch and grit.
In terms of choosing your chicken you have quite a wide range of breed to choose from. There is estimated to be over 400 varieties of chicken in the world. You will need to consider what sorts of climate they are accustomed to, what there breeding patterns are like. You also have to manage your expectations as some breeds produce more eggs than others and other chickens are perfect if you want to use them for a combination of meat and eggs.
About.com also say that if you want to mix breeds while keeping them then this is fine. There should be no problems such as fighting however this is not fine if you want to breed the birds in this case they should be kept separate from each other.
You may now ask if you need a cockerel or not. You don’t need one but you can have one. Hens can easily lay eggs without a cockerel by their side however if you want to breed chickens then obviously you will need one and they also offer a form of natural predator protection over the flock of hens.
If you plan on raising baby chicks then this is a very intensive process and they will need a lot of attention. They will need placing under a source of heat and also have enough food and water. You will need to decrease the temperature each weak until they are ok with the outdoor temperature.
For maintaining the chickens you have should be quite easy. You will need to feed them, water them and gather eggs. You will also need to clean the bedding. You must keep a regular routine as without vital food and water the hens will not last long.
If you want further advice then ask around. You are not the only person who wants to look after chickens. There are numerous forums online designated for looking after poultry and you can ask more detailed questions in them. Also if you have any friends or acquaintances who look after poultry then go around their house and ask for advice. Failing that, go and speak to your local (friendly) farmer who may be able to help. Just head to a local farmer's market and whoever is selling eggs you can have a friendly conversation with them. Furthermore there are also numerous books published which can give more in-depth advice.
Here is a useful visual guide on how to make the best chicken coop: