Keeping chickens has become increasingly popular. Chickens are far less demanding than other pets but they do require daily attention.
There is a great variation in breeds and a great variation in size, color, marking, egg laying capability and character.
Modern F1 hybrids have become increasingly popular as they have a good health record, are good egg layers and can become very tame. Popular hybrids are: Black Rock, Bovans Nera, Calder Ranger, Speckledy, Columbian Blacktail, White Star and Bluebell.
Most chickens are sold at POL (point of lay).
- Egg production: 250-275 eggs per year for 3-4 years. (battery hen 250-300 eggs per year for 2 years).
- Life expectancy: 6-10 years (maximal 16 years).
- Clutch size: average 12 eggs.
- Egg incubation time: around 21 days.
- POL (point of lay): from 5 months of age onwards.
- Molting: once a year, the egg production stops at that moment.
All chickens need a henhouse where they can sleep in safety and shelter from cold, wind and rain. The front of the henhouse should face the south-east to have the benefit of the morning sun. During the middle of the day chickens should access to shade as they do not withstand heat very well. They should have access to a chicken run or the garden.
Chickens will take leisure baths in your precious herbaceous border, will have a good scratch and will leave their droppings all over the place. It can therefore be wise to fence a part of the garden off with an electric fence which also prevents foxes, badgers, dogs and cats taking an unhealthy interest in your chickens.
Chickens like to have a sand bath. You can fill up a dust box of around 3 feet by 3 feet with clean white sand which needs to be changed regularly.
Chickens are omnivores. When free-range they eat seeds, berries, worms, slugs and insects. Our domesticated chickens have lost their instinct to know what is edible or not.
Worming and Mites
Free-range chickens can become infected with worms and mites. Infected chickens may show emaciation, loss of colour of their combs and legs, laying less eggs, loss of brightness of plumage, diarrhoea, drooping wings, ruffled feathers and a gradual loss of strength manifested by leg weakness.
To prevent worms, treat with Flubendazol (Flubenvet®) 2-4 times a year, or more often if birds are kept in a small area. Treat against mites 2-3 times a year using a pyretrin-based louse powder.