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Keeping Chickens - A Beginners Guide

Keeping chickens in the back garden has become extremely popular over the last few years. 

We have many customers that tell me us they have been thinking about getting a few hens in their back garden but don’t have a clue where to start.

1) So what should be considered before you get started?

Ask yourself why you want to keep chickens and look at the pros and cons before going ahead.

Common pros and cons are as follows:

Generally keeping chickens is pretty easy.  Having a fresh supply of eggs that taste far superior to those from the supermarket and endless hours of on tap entertainment far outweighs the occasional frustration of a ruffled flower bed or tracking down an escapee.

2) So what housing/bedding do I need?

A chicken coop is probably the most expensive thing you will buy and there are many different designs on the market.  They can vary considerably in price, materials and design.

Essential features are nesting boxes for egg laying, perches for the birds to roost and good ventilation.

For beginners we recommend a basic, sturdy design with good functionality/practical access for cleaning, collecting eggs and accessing your chickens.

At Poole Farm Feed Centre we sell two different wooden designs that are amongst the top sellers in the UK, affectionately known as “The Rooster House” and “The Egg House”.

Once the house is in place the flooring and nesting boxes should be covered with suitable bedding.  This will help keep the housing and eggs clean and provide warmth and comfort for your new family pets in the winter.

We always recommend using an anti-bacterial treated and dust extracted bedding such as Bed Soft Blue – the most popular poultry bedding that we sell.  Whilst hay and straw are often used as a cheaper alternative any insects, mould or bacteria contained within them will be introduced to your birds.

3) What about a chicken run?

To keep chickens healthy they need to get outside.

A chicken run could be the back garden or a small fenced area or pen, whatever it is, it is advisable to have the biggest run possible for your birds so that they can get as much free ranging as possible.

There are many benefits to free range chickens, the biggest being healthier, happier birds that cost you less to keep and produce more eggs.

Security should never be forgotten – remember you want to keep the fox and other predators out and keep the chickens in!!!

Whilst our Rooster House comes with its own incorporated run we have a wide variety of chicken netting available for customers wishing to build their own runs, as well as electric fencing solutions. 

4) How do I feed and water them?

Chickens, like other animals, need a balanced diet and fresh drinking water.

Feeding chickens on household scraps alone will not provide them with the correct balance of nutrients they need.  If you want healthy birds and a good quantity of eggs, it is advisable to use a complete feed.

Complete feeds contain the correct balance of nutrients, vitamins and minerals.  They are available as pellets or as a powdered mash.

Mixed corn can be given as a treat - a handful per hen per day is enough. However it is fattening and it should be noted that fat chickens don't lay eggs!!!

Flint grit and oyster shell are also required.  Grit helps them grind down the food, as hens do not have teeth, and oyster shell is full of calcium to help them make strong egg shells.

Our most popular feed brands are Badminton, Fancy Feeds and Marriages - all of which come with great customer feedback.

In addition we stock a wide range of feed and drink dispensers, of varying sizes, in both plastic and galvanised varieties.

Remember though to allow enough feeders and drinkers for your birds.  There is a pecking order in chickens and sometimes the birds at the bottom of the pecking order will find it hard to get to the dispensers if the others are stopping them.

5) So what breed of chickens should I choose?

You will need to determine whether your birds are going to be functional and just for eggs, or kept for the table, or whether they are going to be more like pets for yourself or the children.

Hybrids are cross bred birds designed for great egg laying capacity.  Hybrids can lay up to 300 eggs per year.

Pure breeds come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours with each breed having its own distinct characteristics.  They are generally more expensive, harder to come by and are kept more for love of beauty than egg laying.  Our Peking Bantams for instance will lay approximately 100 eggs per year. 

Whilst hybrids will normally lay standard sized brown or white eggs pure breeds such as Cream Legbars will lay the very popular blue/green eggs and Marans really dark brown eggs.

Remember hybrids generally lay more eggs and cost less to keep.

We normally recommend commercial brown hens as a great introduction to hybrid chickens or Bantams as a pure breed as both are very friendly and great with children. 

We stock a wide variety of both hybrid and Peking Bantam chickens, as well as Silkies and Cream Legbars depending on availability.

If you are looking to get into chicken keeping, need feed, accessories or advice please pay us a visit – we are always more than happy to help.