Keeping Chickens

If like many you’ve been growing your own fruit and vegetables for some time, thoughts often turn to other ways of contributing to the home produce lada. For many, the natural progression is to keep chickens for eggs.

Chickens roaming around the back garden

Chickens roaming around the back garden

Chickens are great for home gardeners and there is nothing better than collecting your own, home produced eggs in the morning for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a spot of baking. Chickens also contribute to the home garden in other ways.

  • Chickens help to reduce the number of slugs, snails and other pests in the garden
  • Chickens are a great source of natural fertaliser that will feed and nourish plants
  • They are great at digging over and fertilizing dormant areas of the garden during the winter months
  • Make great pets if handled on a regular basis
  • Entertaining with their individual characters and habits

Keeping Chickens

One of the main concerns that people have when thinking about owning chickens is how much care they require. Truth is, it’s far less than a cat, dog or other domesticated pet. As long as they have access to food, water and a clean chicken coop or chicken shed, they’re pretty easy to care for.

Chickens are sociable animals so never have less than 2. If introducing new chickens to an established group, it’s recommended that 2 or more are introduced. Adding one chicken can result in it being treated as an outsider meaning that it could be bullied or attacked by the established group.

What do chickens need?

In terms of needs, chickens require very little.

  • A clean, dry chicken shed or chicken coop
  • Straw and sawdust for the chicken house and laying boxes
  • Access to clean water
  • Access to chicken feed
  • Oyster shell or grit
  • Ideally, some open space for the chickens to roam around and explore

How many eggs can you expect?

The number of eggs produced can depend on several factors including the breed of chicken, age, health and the time of year. Chicken egg production slows in the winter months and picks up again in the summer months. It’s worth noting that many breeds can produce an egg almost every day so before rushing out to buy 6 or more chickens, be aware that potentially, 6 chickens could mean up to 40 eggs per week or approximately 160 eggs in a month as a maximum. This is great if you love eggs but if it’s too many, the surplus can be sold to friends and family with the money being used to pay for chicken feed, a better chicken coop or other accessories.

Home produced chicken eggs

Fresh chicken eggs in the morning

Chickens 101 – The birds and the bees

Believe it or not, one of the questions we’re commonly asked is “How do you know which eggs are OK for eating and which contain chicks?”. To keep it simple, as long as you only have Hens (female chickens) and no Cockerels (male chickens) you have no worries about coming down in the morning to find that the eggs you put in the basket have hatched in to little yellow fluffy chicks. Simple as this may sound, it is a question that is commonly asked.

home raised baby chicks

Home raised baby chicks

Chicken food and treats

For egg laying chickens, all that is required is a bag of layers pellets, perhaps some treats in the form of corn and some, but importantly, not all vegetable scraps. As an example, Potato skins and Rhubarb leaves are just some of the things that are either toxic or poisonous to chickens. Layers pellets are often available from many of the major pet stores but can usually be cheaper to buy online or from a farm that specialises in selling chicks, chickens, feed and accessories. The cost of layers pellets can vary dramatically so shop around. If you want truly organic eggs then the chickens will need to be fed with organic chicken feed pellets.

Dangers for Chickens

Foxes

It goes without saying that the biggest danger for chickens are foxes. Even in large towns and cities, urban foxes are commen and will take any opportunity to snap up an unprotected chicken. This said it doesn’t take much to make your chicken house, shed or chicken run fox proof other than some sturdy pegs, bolt locks and perhaps some chicken wire and digging.

Smaller and lighter chicken run frames can be pushed over by a determined fox so pegging it down with strong tent pegs is a good start. doors to the chicken shed should be bolted at night to prevent foxes from sliding or pushing doors open and gaining access to the chicken coop. unfortunately this does mean that the chickens will need to be let out and locked away every morning and evening but this only takes a couple of minutes and will help to ensure that your chickens stay safe through the night.

A favorite tactic of the fox is to burrow under the chicken run or shed. if the chicken shed has a sold floor then this isn’t an issue. The most effective way to protect chicken runs and enclosures from burrowing foxes is to dig out an area around the enclosure and bury chicken wire. There are many recommendations on how this should be done but a common approach it to dig down around 12 to 18 inches and bury the wire outwards away from the enclosure to a distance of around 2 or 3 feet (approximately 60cm – 90cm). Foxes tend to dig down by the edge of the run or enclosure, this means that if they do, they will eventually meet the wire and not be able to dig any further.

Toxic or poisonous substances

This is not an exhaustive list but highlights the more common substances that are fed to chickens by mistake. There are also a wide variety of other flowers and garden plants that can also be toxic to chickens. Chickens however will usually stay away from them as more often than not, chickens dislike the taste of these plants.

  • Rubbarb leaves – Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid or oxalates that are toxic to chickens
  • Potato’s and Potato peelings – Toxic unless cooked
  • Tomatoes – Tomatoes contain a compound called solanine that is toxic to chickens
  • Avocados – These contain a toxin called ‘persin’ that can kill chickens
  • Citrus fruits – Citrus fruits probably won’t kill your chickens, they do however cause a drop in egg production
  • Nothing with mould present – Mould can cause illness and may be fatal
  • Onions – In large quantities can cause anemia or jaundice, and sometimes it can be fatal
  • Apple seeds – The rest of the Apple is fine

Other garden dangers

These are the types of things that can harm chickens if they are allowed to roam freely around the garden

  • String / wire around garden
  • Other sharp objects
  • Heavy objects that can be easily unbalanced
  • Some types cats and dogs – This said, a couple of chickens will often chase off a cat

Chicken habits

It’s great fun watching chickens explore the garden, stopping on occasion to rake around soil and stones looking for hidden treats. One word of warning is that if they get to your prized vegetable beds, they will either eat what they can or rake out of the ground what’s left, decimating any vegetable crops that you once had.

Chickens also tend to poo frequently and anywhere where they happen to be. This might not be too much of an issue if its on bare vegetable beds that are laying dormant over winter months. In fact letting chickens do this and rake over the soil is great preparation for the spring when young seedlings are planted out. It can however be more of an annoyance as far as patio and decked areas go. Patios can be easily washed down or swept if the chicken poo is allowed to dry. It can however stain decking boards if they haven’t been thoroughly treated with a clear or coloured decking oil or decking stain. Decking treatments seal the wood and prevent the poo from soaking in and staining the wood. This said, any traces of chicken waste should still be cleaned up as soon as possible with a decking cleaner as leaving it on the decking finish may still degrade or mark the finish over prolonged periods.

For those that have seen the Peter Lord and Nick Park 2000 film ‘Chicken Run‘, take this as fair warning. Chickens are natural explorers and escape artists. If there’s a defect, hole or gap in your vegetable plot fence or garden boundary, chances are, the chickens will find it and ones they know it is there, will continue to exploit it. To prevent those awkward trips to all the neighbours in the street to ask if you can search their garden for a chicken, take time to ensure that your garden is chicken escape proof. Doing this will likely help to reduce the likely hood of foxes also getting into the garden.

Chicken Coops and Chicken Feed

The two basic essentials for of chicken care. To find out more about these, see our information on: –

Recommended chicken guides and books

There’s an amazing number of books about chickens that provide detailed information about the varies chicken breads, and how to care for and get the most out of these wonderful creatures. Here are some of our recommended reads and places to get all the chicken equipment and supplies you might need.

Chicken Supplies

looking for information on chicken feed, chicken coops, sheds or houses, or any other chicken accessories. See our related pages.