How To Keep Chickens

How To Keep Chickens

I am very, very jealous of my guest blogger today. She keeps chickens. This has long been an aim of mine. However Mr Thrifty and I have lived in a series of flats with no outside space, followed by a house with the smallest garden that I’m sure a chicken would cluck itself silly at (we couldn’t spread our arms in said garden) and now one that isn’t much bigger and is far less secure. So, alas chickens will have to wait a move or two for us. But it can’t stop me dreaming, right?My guest blogger today, Sian, comes from the fantastic blog Diary of a Tinyholder which is well worth a read.

I’ve been keeping chickens now for the past 3 years and it’s been a wonderful experience. Aside from the obvious benefits, ie, fresh eggs, they make great pets!I’m known affectionately at work as ‘the one with the chickens’ and I’ve found that the topic of chicken keeping is a great ice breaker at parties. The awe and wonder you feel as you reach into the chicken house and find a beautifully smooth (sometimes warm if you are lucky) egg waiting for you never truly goes away.


Chickens come in all shapes and sizes. There are the hybrid hens that tend to lay one egg a day (give or take) – these are the ones that people tend to be most familiar with, pure breed hens of which there are 100s of varieties (including bantams), and dual purpose hens for both meat and eggs (ie, light Sussex)
Over the years we’ve gone from having 2 commercial layer breeds (Road Island Red hybrid hens) to Pekin bantams.Let me introduce you to my lovely little Pekin bantam hens imaginatively named Browny, Whitey and Blackie.The Pekin bantams suit us perfectly – I think they have a bit more personality than the hybrids, they are more friendly, very good with children, they take up less space and they don’t do as much damage to the flower beds. The downside is that they do go broody (sit on the nest and try to hatch out the eggs), but if you want to hatch out chicks bantams are perfect. I’ve heard some farmers use them to hatch out duck and quail eggs because they are very good at sitting on the eggs.

Chicken houses and run Chicken houses come in all shapes and sizes from the humble arc to more traditional wooden houses and Eglus (plastic chicken houses). All of them have their advantages and disadvantages. The most important thing is that they are secure and fox proof. Lots of people say to me that their garden is too small to have chickens, but in most cases that’s simply not true. I guarantee the chicken you buy for your dinner has far less space to run around in then your garden! At the moment each of my bantams have about 1m2 of space in their run, which is ample space. Granted if you are going to buy more than 3 chickens you need to make sure that the space in the run is adequate. Our chickens spend most of their time in the run because we work full time and, whilst I know people who leave them free to roam all day, I’m not prepared to risk that myself. It usually ends in tears. When I do let the hens out during the weekend it is always supervised.
Here are a few examples of different chicken houses on the market

I know they may seem expensive, but I wouldn’t swap mine for the world. It’s a great design (I call them ‘The Apple of chicken houses’), washable, more hygienic, and convenient for us as we lead quite busy lives.
We’ve modified ours over the years to include the plastic sides to stop the bedding coming out and we also added a perch as bantams love to perch. You can move them around, but unless you have a paddock for a garden to move the house on a weekly basis, it’s no good really (there will be no grass left within a week!). First of all we put chippings down on top of the grass, but that got really mucky and we noticed rats were tunnelling underneath so now ours are on a permenant hard standing, which makes it so easy to clean out (quick 5 minute sweep).

  • A Simple Scrape With The Rake Is All It Takes To Clean Out The Old Bedding.
  • What Do You Do With Your Hens Once They Have Finished Laying?
  • The Simple Answer To This Is Nothing, Our Hens Are Very Much Pets In The Same Way As A Cat Or A
  • Dog. Aside From That, Egg Layers Tend To Very Scrawny And Certainly Wouldn’t Have Any Meat On
  • How Many Eggs Do You Get A Week?
  • Hybrid Hens Can Lay As Many As 300 Eggs A Year, While Pure Bred Hens Lay Between 100 And 250 Eggs
  • A Year. Our Bantams Lay About 3-4 Eggs A Week During The Peak Laying Season (Spring/summer Months).
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Do I Need A Cockerel To Get Eggs?

This may seem like a ridiculously obvious question to some of you, but actually this is one of the most common questions I get asked. The answer is no you don’t. The eggs that we eat are unfertilised. The eggs that hens lay are simply external ovulation.How long do chickens live for?Anything from between 3 and 10 years in some cases. Our hybrids didn’t live as long (both 2-3 years), but I think that’s partly to do with that fact that they lay so many eggs they burn themselves out.Will having chickens attract rats?They won’t attract rats, but you may see them more than normal. Rats are everywhere and there’s very little you can do to get rid of them. Things that you can do to avoid having a rat problem are remove the food at night, clean the house out weekly, and position the chicken house on concrete to prevent them tunnelling under the house and run.
What do chickens eat?

When they are laying, they need layers mash or pellets. This food conatins all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients they need. It also contains grit that they need to break down the food (chickens don’t have teeth so need to mechanically break down their food in the crop).We do sometimes give them tinned unsalted sweetcorn as a treat (they love it!), but there’s very little nutrition in this. They also love meal worms, mixed corn and green veg. Whatever you give them it must be fit for human consumption so old veg is no good.
Food must be topped up daily and it is essential that chickens have fresh water daily. In the summer, chickens will drink a litre of water each so you must make sure they have enough.What do I need to buy food and bedding wise and how much does it all cost?

I use Hemcore for the bedding. We have tried so many different things over the years (bark, Nedz bedz, Aubiose, paper, wood chippings), but this is by far the best. It is sprayed with citronella to deter flies, the texture is nice – quite soft under foot, and it clumps nicely.The initial outlay is quite expensive, but keeping chickens is quite cheap. Hemcore is £9.99 a bale (bale last 4-6 weeks), our hens prefer layers mash – we tried them on layers pellets, but they much prefer the mash. A large bag (15kg) of that will last for about 2-3 months and costs about £10 max (NB: you can’t buy too much in advance as it has a shelf life of 3 months).I also like to have in my supplies the following:- Red mite powder- Life guard (vitamins that you add to the water, particularly in the winter when they need a boost)- Worming powderYou can buy all of these supplies online or at your nearest agricultural supplier.

Chicken food must be stored in a metal container to prevent mice and rats getting in. We keep ours in the garage in a metal dustbin. I also keep a container in the kitchen to top their food up daily
What size eggs do bantams lay?Bantam egg on the right, large egg on the left
Our bantams lay eggs that are probably the same size as supermarket small eggs – the yolks are the same size as large eggs, it’s the white that is much smaller.For more information visit the Omlet website which contains lots of really great information on all aspects of chicken keeping