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WE HOPE YOU enjoy this little guide to getting started with chickens, written by poultry breeder and writer Andy Cawthray and produced by Your Chickens magazine. It is packed full of useful information to get you up and running. You will be in good company. Hens are hot! It is estimated that 500,000 households are now keeping chickens in their back gardens. Hard economic times are partly driving the trend. People are realising they can save money on eggs by having their own birds. The nostalgia factor is playing a part, too. Many of us have fond memories of grandparents with allotments. Hens are part of the trendy ‘good life’, along with growing your own veg. They are also fun and endearing, if slightly quirky creatures. Children love them, of course, and will vie with each other to collect the eggs in the morning. And the eggs taste great – supermarket ones are so insipid by comparison. There are many varieties of chickens – and hen houses – to choose from, and this guide will point you in the right direction. Good luck – and enjoy! Simon McEwan, Editor, Your Chickens

Getting started Why chickens First things first

• Your Chickens magazine is devoted entirely to back garden henkeeping. It is packed full of expert advice, fascinating features, news and comment. There is even a cartoon character, Hattie Hen, with her own kids’ club. • Special offer – 5 issues for £5! See page 38.

Care & welfare Care regimes Keeping your hens healthy

MORE: Join the chickens conversation at our popular Facebook page,

Andy Cawthray is a poultry breeder based in Shropshire. He co-authored The Chicken: A Natural History, a comprehensive science-based exploration of the world of the chicken and is currently working on a new title for the curious keeper. A blogger and columnist for a wide range of magazines and newspapers FREE guide by Your Chickens

House hunting The Must Haves The Should Haves Plastic vs Wood Other equipment Essential kit to manage your flock Choosing your chickens Which is best for you? Hybrids vs Pure Breeds Keeping ex-bats Pure breeds – your choices & types

Breed directory A-Z of chickens

including Your Chickens and Country Smallholding, he writes, teaches and has presented about chickens, both on radio and film, from their science to their place in our culture, ranging through fancy fowl to an accessible form of livestock for a self-supporting lifestyle. MORE: Getting started with CHICKENS 3

Getting started

WHY CHICKENS? YOU MIGHT have just returned from an agricultural fair and been in the Fur & Feather section where you were presented with a massive range of chickens, alternatively you may have just dropped in at one the many small poultry businesses that can be found in most counties; either way, you quite fancy keeping some chickens just like the ones you saw. Stop. Before embarking on the breed of chicken you want to keep, ask yourself why do you want to keep chickens. This is an important first question in order to ensure you get the most from the experience. Some people are looking to have fresh eggs, for others it might be a supply of home-reared meat, and then some might want both eggs and meat. It might be that the family wants a pet and why not have one which is productive?


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“The reasons are many, so take time and think ‘why?’ first.” Alternatively, it might have been the whole show side of things and wanting to get into the hobby and become a part of the local animal breeding and exhibition scene; chickens are, after all, one of the most accessible forms of farm livestock which don’t demand vast tracks of land to accommodate. Perhaps it’s a lifestyle choice to complement the vegetable patch or allotment you already manage? The reasons are many, so take time and think ‘why?’ first. Getting started with CHICKENS 5

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Getting started with CHICKENS 9

Getting started

FIRST THINGS FIRST HAVING THOUGHT through why you might like to keep some chickens of your own, you are probably eager to press on and get the nearest chicken book to decide which breed of chicken you are going to keep. Stop. There is another question you need to ask yourself: “How am I going to keep my chickens?” This might seem like a silly question and you may be reading this and thinking it’s simply a case of providing accommodation, food,

water, shelter, opening and closing the coop door, and collecting baskets of fresh eggs every day. In many respects it can be as straight forward as this, but only if you get the correct breed and set-up for your environment and lifestyle; otherwise it can turn into quite a trial which can significantly tarnish the experience and quite possibly impact the levels of husbandry for the animals that fall within your responsibility. Ì

“Depending on the number of chickens you intend to keep, in general you will need at least 30 minutes a day to manage your flock.” FREE guide by Your Chickens

Getting started with CHICKENS 7

It may also be that once you have gone through the ‘how’, you might need to revisit the ‘why’ as one means the other isn’t possible. Take a moment to consider the factors on the following pages, and the reality of what is required from you, your environment and, most importantly, what you can offer your chickens will become more crystalised and help you narrow down the breeds you might be able to keep.

Free range The EU maximum legal stocking density for a free range bird is (and let’s face it, one of the motivations for keeping some hens at home is possibly improved or better welfare) 2,500 birds per hectare, that’s a maximum of one bird per 4m squared. • Advantages: loads of room, better foraging, lower maintenance costs • Disadvantages: birds will go wherever they like, boundary fencing, exposure to predation. Fixed run This is a permanent, immovable enclosure for the birds which they will remain within at all times • Advantages: birds contained, easier to manage & catch birds, less damage to your garden. • Disadvantages: higher maintenance of ground litter, poo picking, feed/forage supplements needed.


Space There are three main methods of providing space for your chickens which need to be considered. Take a look at the space you have in your garden and decide which of the systems work for you. 8 Getting started with CHICKENS

Moveable run A combined house and run that can be quickly moved to a new location to minimise ground wear and tear. • Advantages: fresh ground can be provided regularly, less forage supplements needed, flexible location. • Disadvantages: usually a smaller space so stock density is limited, has to be light enough to be portable. Ì FREE guide by Your Chickens

Getting started

Time Depending on the number of chickens you intend to keep (which will be defined by the initial question of why you want to keep chickens) in general you will need at least 30 minutes a day to manage the requirements of the flock – 15 minutes at the beginning of the day to let the birds out, check their condition, fill drinkers and feeders and collect any eggs, and the same amount of time at the other end of the day to again check for eggs, check the birds over and lock them up. These time periods are FREE guide by Your Chickens

dependent on the time of year. Unless you invest in an auto pop hole door opener, you will need somebody present about an hour after dawn and at dusk, 365 days a year in all weathers. On a weekend, you will also need about an hour to muck out and perform the weekly tasks. If weekends away are frequent, or you take annual holidays, then think through what you will do with the chickens then. Do you have friends or neighbours who can commit to the needs of the flock or are there hen sitting or boarding services nearby you can use? ĂŒ Getting started with CHICKENS 11

Security This isn’t so much about padlocks on gates and deadbolts on chicken coops (although those are sensible precautions when keeping some breeds or standards of chickens as theft is not unheard of), but rather the general design elements of the space you intend to keep your chickens in. The boundary barriers or fencing surrounding the area your chickens will be ranging in need to be given consideration, especially if the intention is not to custom build or re-design the existing fencing. Boundary fencing is needed to keep your chickens in your own garden and out of the neighbour’s prize dahlia patch. If you don’t intend to hand over all of your garden to your flock, then you’ll need fencing that will keep the chickens in the part of the garden you want them to be in and not in your vegetable patch, for example, or dust bathing in the pots on the patio. Predators The fencing also needs to be secure enough to keep out any potential threats or visitors such as foxes, badgers and stoats – even hedgehogs will attempt to get into the chicken run, either for the chickens themselves, their eggs or even their food. 12 Getting started with CHICKENS

BUDGET Start up: Housing & fencin g Cleaning equipme nt Dietary Supplem ents Treatments TOTAL


Running costs: Feeds (200g/bird/ day) Shavings (1/8th bale/week/ho use) TOTAL

£300 £40 £30 £30

5p/bird/day 1p/bird/day


Cost Once you have established the space and time you can devote to your flock of chickens and have assessed the levels of security in terms of boundary fencing you either have or will need to install, then you need to consider what budget you have available, as the next major purchase will be the house followed by the other poultry paraphernalia you will need, not to mention the food and bedding materials. It is at this stage when you can start to figure out which breeds will suit your needs, and also fit with the set-up you can provide. A rough idea of the likely costs when starting out with the hobby is provided in the panel above. FREE guide by Your Chickens

House hunting


The Must Haves There are many houses and house designs available on the market, but there are significantly less essential design elements that are must haves for the residents and keeper alike. Chicken houses need: L To be of a solid construction (there are lots of cheap options on the market that simply don’t last more than a couple of seasons and are a false economy) L Perches are not essential but preferable to stop roosting on the floor, so if they are installed they should be: FREE guide by Your Chickens

– higher than nest box to stop roosting in the nest box (chickens will always try to roost at the highest accessible point in a house). – 5-8cm thick with a smoothed curve and not a round dowel. L At least one nesting area per three birds. L Correct ventilation not systems that simply encourage draughts. L Easy access for cleaning by the keeper. L Sufficient perch space. One bird per 20cm of perch space is required regardless of what the housing claims it can accommodate. L Multiple perches to be 30cm apart. Ì Getting started with CHICKENS 15


The Should Haves Once you have established that the house designs you are considering purchasing have all the essential aspects built into them, there are then some other aspects to take into consideration. These are the elements that a good house design should have and will make the process of managing the accommodation and your flock easier (and more enjoyable) in the long term: L Removable perches. These not only mean they can be taken out of the house in order to scrub them clean, but also means it’s easier for the keeper to clean the house out without need to manoeuvre around obstruction. L House raised 15-20cm off the ground. This comes in handy in a number of ways. Firstly, the raised house keeps the main body of the house off the damp ground which can prolong its lifespan, particularly if made of wood. Secondly, it can stop rodents from taking up residence underneath, and thirdly it does allow for your chickens to shelter under it when the weather is poor, and better still, establish a dust bath there. L Rebated pop hole door. This means the sliding door slots between two fixed piece of material which reduces the risk of it being gnawed on or nudged open by noses of potential predators. 16 Getting started with CHICKENS

Plastic vs Wood Chicken housing is now built from a variety of materials when once it was only timber. There are, however, only really two main players, wood and plastic. Wooden housing offers a greater level of flexibility and modification, with housing available not only to meet the specific needs of certain breeds but also to blend with the environment the house is in. Wood is also a naturally breathable product and a well-designed wooden house will not suffer from condensation, even when ventilation is poor. They are also far easier to repair should the need arise. Plastic housing has a limited number of design options as the sections tend to slot together or are FREE guide by Your Chickens

House hunting

Wood or plastic – which is for you?

pre-moulded. This, however, does mean that when it comes to cleaning and annual maintenance, the task can be simpler. Plastic requires no treatment with a preserver and weekly cleaning is significantly easier and quicker meaning they can be cleaned out, washed and dried in less than 30 minutes. This also makes them the easier of the two materials to deal with when suffering a red mite infestation, but don’t be fooled, no house, no matter which material it’s built from, will be red mite proof. In the end, your personal preference and budget will decide which material you will go with as each has pros and cons in equal measures. OMLET

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Getting started with CHICKENS 17

Other equipment Drinkers and feeders come in many different forms

ESSENTIAL KIT ALONGSIDE THE housing, you will also need to buy some other equipment to help you manage your new flock and it’s best to sort these out before you purchase your birds. There is a lot of poultry paraphernalia on the market, all of which have the purpose of making the job of keeping chickens easier. Some of it might well prove to do just that, but before spending too much money on your new hobby, first ensure you have the essentials: L Drinker – plastic ones are cheap and easy to clean, metal last longer but can be expensive. L Feeder – many different designs and materials are available and all have their advantages and disadvantages. Make sure, though, that you buy one with a large enough capacity for the flock size you intend to keep. FREE guide by Your Chickens

L Grit pot – chickens need a supply of grit to aid in digesting their food. Even if they are free ranging and finding their own grit it’s important you have a pot of grit available for them. L Cleaning equipment – a dust pan and brush along with wallpaper scraper will serve you more than adequately when it comes to mucking out. L Floor litter – there are many options available and it can be down to personal preference of both the keepers and their chickens. Avoid hay or non-chopped straw.

“There is a lot of poultry paraphernalia.” Getting started with CHICKENS 19



BY NOW YOU should have settled on why you want to keep chickens and confirmed the space, time, security and type of house you are capable of providing. This means you can start to narrow down the type of chicken that will be the best match. Put simply, there are different breeds that provide for different needs but by the same measure have different needs themselves in terms of their care.

20 Getting started with CHICKENS

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Choosing your chickens Hybrids v Pure Breeds The first decision is whether to purchase pure breed chickens or hybrid chickens; the table below provides a brief look at the differences: HYBRID A commercially-developed strain of bird post 1950. Pros: Cheap to buy Predictable nature Heavy egg layers Usually vaccinated Fast maturing Cons: Short life span Laying difficulties Limited breeding use Function specific (egg or meat) PURE BREED A heritage or old breed pre-1950. Pros: Long lived Variable egg colour Variety of sizes & plumage types Variety of sizes Variety of natures Some capable of providing both eggs and meat Cons: Can be expensive Difficult to source Breed dependent egg output Not usually vaccinated Slow maturing FREE guide by Your Chickens

Keeping ex-battery hens Commercial hens at the end of their first laying cycle are sent to slaughter, but actually make great pets. So how can you adopt them and what’s involved in their care? There are several welfare groups that save laying hens, the main one being the Devon-based British Hen Welfare Trust (BHWT), which has 30 hen collection points across the country. Contact details below. CARE Housing – housing must offer adequate space, ventilation and run area for the number of birds. Security from predators is also vital. Temperament – what they may lack in fine feathers, they make up for with huge personality! Pecking order – there’s lots of advice on merging and establishing a new flock on the BHWT website. Health – all commercial hens receive the full gambit of vaccinations; the BHWT never knowingly re-homes a sick hen, and most adapt to free range life with great enthusiasm! They will need regular worming. Feed – it’s so important to buy a good quality feed, and don’t give your hens too many treats! Eggs – if fed correctly, commercial hens will happily continue to pop out eggs for a number of years. FANCY ADOPTING SOME? Contact the BHWT at: Words by Jane Howorth of the British Hen Welfare Trust

Getting G tti started t t d with ith CHICKENS 21

Choosing your chickens Layer breeds NCharacteristics  Excellent layers, large numbers of eggs  Light birds, tend to be the smaller of the large fowl breeds  Quick maturing  Excellent foragers  Spritely character, tend not to tame easily  Non-sitters, don’t go broody often NCare & Management  Capable of short flight, suitably high fencing or a roofed in run required  Clean legged, capable of coping with wet conditions

Ornamental breeds NCharacteristics  Grouped because of their accentuated features  Generally rare and specialist show birds  Carry attributes of the other groups  Qualities very breed specific  Usually very striking looking breeds NCare & Management  Very variable husbandry requirements  Tailored care & housing according to breed  Can be a challenge to show successfully FREE guide by Your Chickens

IF YOU’VE decided that a pure breed of chicken is what you would like, then once more there are different needs for the different pure breeds. Below is a brief look at them:

True Bantams NCharacteristics  These breeds have no large fowl counterparts and only occur in a bantam form  ‘Showy’ appearance  Not known for egg laying  Broody, make excellent mothers  Proud cockerels, can suffer ‘little man syndrome’ NCare & Management  Can be kept in a small enclosure  Great for small gardens  Very good for young children  Housing needs to be sized accordingly  Roof maybe required as some breeds are flighty  Need a dry run, short stature can mean dirty feathers in wet conditions A true bantam – the Japanese ANDY CAWTHRAY


Getting started with CHICKENS 23

Game breeds NCharacteristics  Self-confident & assertive  Very intolerant of other breeds or birds outside of their flock  Non flighty  Can become extremely trusting toward the keeper  Hard feathered, posture more important than plumage  Strong & dominant  Very poor layers NCare & Management  Extremely tough and durable  Require secure housing; must be kept separate from other birds  Need suspended drinkers & feeders due to upright posture  Some breeds monogamous

Dual Purpose breeds NCharacteristics  An all-rounder, reasonable layer, reasonable table weight  Durable breeds, cope well with poor weather  Can be tamed with patience  Generally placid and tolerant with other breeds  Some go broody, others are non-sitters NCare & Management  Dependent upon individual breeds as different ones take different characteristics from either the layer or the table breed 24 Getting started with CHICKENS

Of course, if the colour of the egg laid by the chicken is important then this also needs to be looked into when narrowing down the possible breeds that you keep. Eggs come in a rainbow of colours, from olive greens, through blues to browns, tints and even an almost plum colour!

Table breeds NCharacteristics  Heavy, large birds with males often exceeding 10lb in weight  Not very active  Non flighty  Placid nature/ Non aggressive  Poor layers compared to ‘Layer’ breeds  Do go broody, excellent mothers NCare & Management  Low fencing is sufficient  Not big rangers, happy in a smaller space  Big appetite, care needed to avoid getting fat  Accommodation needs to be appropriately proportioned  Low perches to avoid leg or foot problems  Large nest boxes required FREE guide by Your Chickens

PURE BREED TYPES Layers LEGHORN This breed is an excellent forager and copes well with free ranging – it is robust and copes well with poor weather. They can be kept within the confines of a run, but high fencing or a roof will be needed as they are quite capable of flight. The hens are excellent layers, with some bloodlines exceeding 200 eggs a year. RHODE ISLAND As befitting a laying breed, the hens can lay on average 250 eggs per year and will do so for quite a few years. They tend to be calm around keepers and have little desire to take to the wing, so can be kept in an enclosed run. They are equally good as free rangers, with excellent foraging skills. The chicks grow fast and pullets can be in lay by 20 weeks. They are also very hardy birds perfectly adapted to extremes of climate. These characteristics makes them a great breed for the beginner. ARAUCANA These are vigorous and hardy birds who handle poor weather conditions with ease. They are also prolific layers of blue or green eggs, which have the unique characteristic of having the colour permeating throughout the shell. As a crested breed, they ideally should not be mixed with non-crested 26 Getting started with CHICKENS

varieties, as their vision can be slightly impaired by the crest, making them more vulnerable to bullying attacks. Suitable for free ranging, they make excellent foragers. ANCONA As with many country fowl types, this breed is unlikely to be tamed or trained to the hand. They are active birds with excellent foraging skills best suited to a free range environment. They are excellent flyers and will easily clear low fencing, so run roofing or high fencing is required. They are tolerant of most climates and need little in terms of special care. The hens are excellent layers and were often the breed of choice for eggs prior to the arrival of the laying hybrids.

Table DORKING Because of its huge size and its loose feathering, spacious housing is required if the birds are to maintain a good look. They do not need much in terms of outdoor space and are quite content within a fixed run, however, care must be taken to avoid them becoming fat through lack of exercise. They can become tame if handled calmly but their size should be considered carefully if thinking of having them as pets. The hens tend only to lay during the spring and summer. FREE guide by Your Chickens

Choosing your chickens FAVEROLLE These are friendly, docile and gentle birds that seem to enjoy the company of their keepers to the point of appearing to show affection. They are happy to be kept within a run and do not range far, though if not given sufficient exercise they will run to fat. They are non-flighty and a low fence will keep them confined. Hardy and capable, they can handle poor weather. The hens lay a reasonable number of eggs and are known to continue into the winter months.

Dual Purpose IXWORTH Great foragers, this breed is ideally suited to a free range situation as it is capable of handling most climates. Confinement can result in reduced laying ability and fatty birds. Despite its heavy size, it has strong wings and is capable of getting off the ground. As such, good fencing or a roofed-in run is required. Cautious by nature, they can be tamed, but do not make good pets. SUSSEX The Sussex is a very calm breed and can become very friendly over time, being quick to trust its keeper. This composed nature extends towards each other. A robust bird, it copes well with all weather conditions and is happy free ranging or within a fixed run. The hens are excellent layers, producing a good number of eggs, often during the winter, too. FREE guide by Your Chickens

Game INDIAN GAME Although developed from fighting breeds they can be very friendly towards the keeper, but not towards other birds and should generally be kept in pairs. Their heavy weight means they do not fly, so low fencing is sufficient. They are a very hardy breed, which benefit from free ranging, but can be kept in a smaller space though care must be taken to ensure they don’t run to fat. The hens tend to lay very few eggs and usually during the spring. MODERN GAME As with most game breeds, the Modern Game will become trusting towards its keeper, and show breeding means that the fighting spirit is less evident. This means that they are more tolerant towards each other, and within a mixed flock, which makes accommodating them much simpler. They are quite hardy and cope well with most climates, needing no particular special care. The hens are poor layers, laying only for a few months a year.

Ornamentals SILKIE A calm and docile habit means Silkies are friendly and quick to trust owners. Despite their delicate appearance, they are surprisingly hardy and tolerant of poor weather conditions. The nature of the feathering though ĂŒ Getting started with CHICKENS 27

Choosing your chickens Ornamentals contd

True Bantams

does mean that mud and rain can quickly make a mess of their appearance, so shelter does need to be provided. The hens are not heavy layers, but will provide around 100 eggs a year in ideal conditions. BRAHMA Despite their appearance, Brahmas are gentle giants. They make an ideal starter chicken due to their placid nature, however, consideration does need to be given to their immense size, not so much in terms of the space they need to range, as they are not known to wander far, but more in terms of the accommodation required and access to and from it. They do not fly and a low fenced run with no roof will keep them contained. Their feathered feet mean they are less prone to cause damage to a garden, however, they are not suited to muddy conditions.

DUTCH Although the Dutch is an active little breed, its size means it can be kept in a relatively small space, making it ideal for the smaller garden. They need no special care other than having a draft-free house to protect them from the worst of the elements. They are a tolerant breed amongst themselves and can be easily tamed; qualities that make them very suitable for young children. The hens lay a reasonable number of eggs, though these are very small. NANKIN A hardy little breed and easy to keep, with no special requirements beyond that of other bantams. It has a trusting nature and with correct handling can become very tame. The hens will lay a reasonable number of eggs but do tend to stop laying during the early winter months. BOOTED BANTAM Despite its size, it is quite hardy and makes a very good bird for beginners or a small garden. Their feathered feet mean limited damage to the garden if you free range them, but they are not suitable for muddy conditions. They are an inquisitive breed and seem to seek out the company of their keepers, resulting in them becoming reasonably tame. The hens lay a good number of eggs of a fair size.

NAKED NECK Despite looking otherwise, these are a hardy and vigorous breed that thrives in any weather conditions. It is a relatively heavy breed and as such isn’t very inclined to fly. They can be kept in a run, but if allowed to free range they forage intensively, taking very little of the food supplied by the keeper. Their temperament is calm and they can be tamed easily, and hens lay reasonably. FREE guide by Your Chickens

Getting started with CHICKENS 29

Choosing your chickens

HOW TO BUY FOR THE FIRST time chicken keeper it is advisable to buy directly from a reputable breeder rather than through an auction or local sale. If you follow the guidance below you should be able to mitigate a lot of risk. L Ask to see the parent birds and where the young birds were reared. Good breeders will be happy to show you their setup. L Ask if and when the birds were wormed and/or vaccinated and what with. Good breeders will keep records and will provide you with details. L Check there is a returns policy. Breeders will always tell you whether the stock they are selling

is sexed or not. Mistakes do happen, but a good breeder will exchange or provide a refund in such an event L Check there is a guarantee period. Good breeders will allow a period of around two weeks where the birds can be returned for refund if there is a health problem. L Always ask to hold the birds and check them over first before committing to buy. Good breeders will be more than happy to have their stock checked by a buyer before they are sold. L Be patient and prepared to wait for stock. Good breeders are often small scale and are likely to have a waiting list.

Home to Roost

Prior to picking up your chickens make sure their new home is ready and secure. Put the feed and water in the house (the water indoors is only temporary, drinkers are always best kept out of the living quarters) and open the ventilation on the house if it is not already open. Before heading out to purchase your chickens, check that the seller has carry boxes available, if not then you will need either a sturdy cardboard box or a pet transporter of an appropriate size. Food and water is not essential for the occupants unless the journey is going to be a particularly long trip, and try FREE guide by Your Chickens

and make the collect time as late as possible in the day to avoid any high temperatures. When you get the chickens home, place each bird into the coop, checking it over once again as you did when you collected them. Don’t let them out into the run – leave them indoors where the food and water is so they can settle into their coop. They will roost in there overnight and hopefully when you let them out into the run the following morning they will realise the coop is where they roost. After a couple of days the drinker can be placed outdoors (along with the feeder if you intend to have it positioned outside). Getting started with CHICKENS 33

Care & welfare


LOOKING AFTER your newlyacquired chickens can be broken down into daily, weekly, monthly and annual regimes and all are quite straightforward. Daily requirements are to simply check the feeders for food, ensure there is clean, fresh water available and collect the eggs. Once a week you will need to muck the coop out and, if it’s a movable ark, then it will need moving to fresh ground. The drinkers and feeders should also be scrubbed out, dried and refilled. It’s also worth giving your chickens a quick physical check over to make sure they are OK and free of external parasites. Each month a more deep clean of 34 Getting started with CHICKENS

the coop should take place, ground litter in the run should also be refreshed and replaced accordingly. It’s also a good idea to add antilouse powder to the dust baths and nest boxes so the birds can undertake a bit of self-treatment. Twice annually (spring and autumn) you should worm your birds with an appropriate wormer such as Flubenvet, and if you have wooden housing it will need a coat of preserver. This is best done during the longer summer days when daylight is at its longest and the air temperature aids the drying of the house. Whenever you get the chance, watch your birds to get an understanding of their character and behaviour. Keeping chickens is very much livestock husbandry ‘by eye’ and those acting in a way they don’t normally probably have something awry with them that might need attention.

Seasonal care considerations WHILST THE CARE routines will provide for most of what your chickens need, there are considerations needed for the more extreme weathers, such as the heat of summer or the cold and wet of winter. Ì FREE guide by Your Chickens


Care & welfare In both circumstances, it is important that shelter from the elements is provided; this can be as simple as a fence panel leant against the side of the coop, as long as it provides shade from the sun and protects against the prevailing wind. Water is also a key consideration. Chickens drink quite a lot of water no matter what the season. Ensuring the water is fresh, cool and free from algal growth in the summer is as important as ensuring it isn’t frozen solid during the winter. If the ground gets boggy during the rainy season then provide raised areas for your chickens to get out of the mud. If it snows, then clear areas for them as anything over 10cms deep is often considered impassable by them.

Feather care

Dust bathing is one of the key feather management techniques that chickens deploy as they don’t ever bathe in water like many other species of bird. Most chickens will try to create a dust bath if given a chance, however, if they are unable to then make sure you provide one. A large cat litter tray filled with dry compost and sand will soon be requisitioned as a dust bath by a chicken. ANDY CAWTHRAY

Feather care: taking a dust bath

FEATHERS DEFINE a bird and THE M are essential, even in a flightless It is inev OULT species such as chicken. They it will beco able that a chic provide protection to the skin k m year and e worn and ta en’s feathers underneath, but also play an tt s o th ey moult y during the grow ne th important role in the bird’s ability w rate of fe ones. The pre em out and cis to manage its core temperature to bird a ather renewal v e timing and n a as chickens don’t perspire. usually d breed to bree ries from bird occurs a d, howe They are also key in the bird’s t the en ver, it and is co do m appearance, not only to us, chicken plete in time fo f summer s will sto r w but also to each other. inter. Yo p laying and givin ur a When you consider the during th g your chickens t this point a is time w vitamin amount of time chickens bo ill help th em alon ost spend preening, it is fair to say g. that they understand all these points. FREE guide by Your Chickens

Getting started with CHICKENS 37

Keep your hens healthy Advice from leading poultry vet Victoria Roberts

POSITIVE SIGNS The bird is alert and active Shiny feathers (all present)

DUE TO THEIR lifestyle, chickens are exposed to internal and external parasites, but husbandry is key to continuing health with high quality feed, clean water, clean housing and free-range. Prevention • Poultry healthy respiratory system depends so very much on good ventilation that disease can be prevented. • High levels of ammonia from the litter stop the removal of phlegm and so invite bacteria and viruses to multiply – if ammonia can be smelled in the hen hut, more frequent cleaning is in order. • Hens are omnivorous and enjoy catching and eating mice, but the disease risk is high from rodents. • Not having teeth, with pieces of food being ground up in the gizzard, old long grass needs avoiding as this can impact and kill. • Muddy areas encourage harmful parasites to breed so put down slats or move the hut more regularly. • Use cider vinegar (plastic drinker only, 10ml:500ml) one week a month, helping to keep 40 Getting started with CHICKENS

Smooth shanks Straight toes

A red comb Bright eyes Dry nostrils Good weight and musculature for age

Clean vent feathers with no smell

the drinker clean and the gut unattractive to pathogens. • Feathers are good insulators and it is sometimes harder to keep birds cool in summer than warm in winter. Birds that are too hot will hold their wings out from their body and pant. • Hybrids are automatically vaccinated against Infectious Bronchitis virus and Marek’s disease. Other backyard hens are only vaccinated if a disease has been diagnosed by the vet, and in any case can only be vaccinated when very young; mixing vaccinated and unvaccinated hens carries a slight risk. Ì FREE guide by Your Chickens

Care & welfare The sick bay Chickens are prey species and so hide their symptoms if they are sick. A change in behaviour is often the first sign of ill health. Seek veterinary attention if: 1. Foam in the corner of the eyes, swollen sinuses and nasal discharge: likely to be mycoplasma. 2. Difficulty in breathing: other respiratory disease. 3. Lethargy, standing around with eyes closed: internal problem. 4. A change or blood in the faeces (remember the caecal faeces are a different colour, consistency and frequency): possibly coccidiosis. 5. Pale comb: likely to be red or northern fowl mites. 6. Rough legs: likely to be scaly leg mite. 7. Lameness: if the chickens have been regularly wormed with Flubenvet, may be Marek’s disease. 8. Unusually shaped eggs. MORE: Victoria Roberts is one of Britian’s leading poultry vets and teaches other vets. She writes for Your Chickens and sister title Country Smallholding every month. For more extensive information see Victoria’s website:

Feeding IT IS POSSIBLE to make your own chicken feed, and it’s also possible to grow your own ingredients. However, for most people purchasing 42 Getting started with CHICKENS

manufactured feed presents the best option for ensuring the chickens get the right food. In the main, this comes as a compound layers’ pellet; mash is an option, but this is a powderlike substance and needs mixing with water and making daily. Secondly, it’s a good idea to introduce your chickens to a scratch feed, such as whole wheat or mixed corn. If given an hour or two before roost, it will ensure your chickens have a full crop overnight. It can also be used to coax chickens into an area where you need them to be, such as the run if they have been free ranging. Greens are essential, too, and if your chickens are not ranging on grass then be sure to give them some vegetable greens or annual weeds from the garden. Grass clippings can be provided, but be sure they are not too long or too tough as this can cause problems in the birds crop. Treats are not essential, but are something many keepers like to provide. Mealworms are particularly enjoyed by chickens and soft fruits, such as a bunch of grapes, and whole corn on the cob can provide much entertainment amongst birds and keepers alike. The key, though, is not to over do the treats; a balanced diet is essential for the hens to lay good eggs – too many treats can mean insufficient vitamins and minerals and this can lead to health problems. FREE guide by Your Chickens

Breed directory












Le Fleche

Layer breeds Ancona Andalusian Arauncana Ardenner Australorp Barnevelder Campine Fayoumi Friesian Hamburgh Lakenvelder Legbar Leghorn

Lincolnshire Buff Marans Minorca New Hampshire Red Orpington Plymouth Rock Rhode Island Rhodebar Scots Grey Sicilian Buttercup Welbar Welsummer Wyandotte

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Dual Purpose

Game breeds

Bresse Croad Langshan Ixworth La Fleche Marsh Daisy Norfolk Grey Old English Orloff Redcap Scots Dumpy Sulmtaler Sussex Vorwerk

Aseel Indian Game (Cornish) Ko Shamo Malay Modern Game Old English Game Rumpless Game Shamo


Getting started with CHICKENS 45

Breed directory







Rhode Island Red




Sussex (Light)


Transylvanian Naked Neck

Ornamental Appenzeller Spitzhauben Vorwerk Brahma Cochin Table breeds Frizzle German Crevecoeur Langshan Dorking Modern Faverolle Langshan Houdan Poland Jersey Giant North Holland Blue Silkie 46 Getting started with CHICKENS

True Bantam

Spanish White Faced Black Sultan Sumatra Transylvanian Naked Neck Yokohama

Belgian bantams Booted Bantam (Sabelpoot) Dutch Japanese Nankin Pekin Rosecomb Sebright Serama

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