Keeping your own stock of free range egg laying hens is an enjoyable and rewarding pastime as more and more city folk are discovering with the increasing popularity of ‘urban farming’. Hens can be kept in even the smallest of spaces as long as they have suitable shelter, a ready supply of food and small patch of ground to scratch around in.
Hens can easily be bought as chicks from local farmers and smallholders. They will produce one egg per day per hen so even a couple of good layers will produce more than enough eggs for a family. They are easy to keep and feed and as long as you don’t add a cockerel to the flock you wont get any complaints from the neighbors either! In no time at all the hens will become very tame and make entertaining pets as well as being a useful source of fresh eggs.
Hens should be given a roosting shelter in the form of a well constructed chicken coop. This will need to keep them warm and dry and protect them from predators at night and also provide some roosting boxes in which to lay their eggs. When constructing the chicken coop, make sure that it is easy for you to gain access to for cleaning and collecting the eggs. The coop can be attached to or placed inside a small pen in an unused corner of the garden. Give your hens as much space as you can spare them. The more space, the happier and healthier your hens will be.
Your new hens should be fed with proprietary ‘layers pellets’. These will ensure that they get all the nutrients they need to thrive and produce a regular supply of quality eggs. You can also supplement their diet with food waste from the kitchen but remember that what your feeding your hens is ultimately what you are feeding yourself as you will be eating the eggs!
Make sure also that they have a supply of fresh water available at all times.On a warm day a hen can dehydrate very quickly and this can often prove fatal. Make sure that the container you provide the water in can’t be easily knocked over as they often perch on the side of the vessel to take a drink. A good idea is to purchase a specially designed water hopper as these cant easily be knocked over or otherwise emptied inadvertently.
Ninety nine percent of the time you will have no problems keeping chickens but there are some practical matters you will need to keep in mind.
For example if you are occasionally going to give your hens the run of the garden you need to make sure there are no hidden hazards such as holes in fences, gaps under gates or deep ponds which could cause a problem. Bear in mind also that the family dog or cat (or the neighbors for that matter) may have an entirely different agenda!
Make regular checks on the condition of the pen and coop for signs of predators such as foxes. It doesn’t take much more than a space the size of a hand for a fox to squeeze through and remember he has all night to do it. There is nothing more disheartening than seeing a mass of feathers and little else remaining when you go to collect your eggs in the morning.
If you decide to complement your ‘urban farmyard’ by growing your own organic vegetables then it might be best to keep your hens away from the vegetable patch as chickens like nothing more than a fresh leaf of lettuce straight from the plant.
Remember also that if you plan to spend some time on holiday you will need someone to take care of them.
Overall, keeping your own chickens is a fun and rewarding pastime with the added bonus of having a constant supply of free range eggs! It’s easy and fun to get started and a great project to get the kids involved in.
The author has been successfully keeping farm and exotic fowl for almost twenty years and is also an enthusiastic keeper and breeder of aviary finches. For more information on keeping chickens and building your own chicken coop just follow these links http://tinyurl.com/raisingchickens and http://tinyurl.com/buildachickencoop. Related reading on growing your own organic food can be found here http://tinyurl.com/growingorganicfood