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Chickens

A handy guide to keeping chickens as pets

Chickens are far less demanding than other pets, but they do require daily attention...

Keeping chickens has become increasingly popular. There is a great variation in breeds and a great variation in size, colour, 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, Speckled, Columbian Blacktail, White Star and Bluebell. 

Most chickens are sold at POL (point of lay).

Physiology

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 (maximum 16 years).

Clutch size: average 12 eggs.

Egg incubation time: around 21 days.

POL (Point of Lay): from 5 months of age onwards.

Moulting: once a year, the egg production stops at that moment.

Housing

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 southeast to have the benefit of the morning sun. During the middle of the day, chickens should have access to shade as they do not withstand heat very well. They should have access to a chicken run or 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 them.

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.

Diet

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.

Complete food: Commercial food is available in mash (which is ideal for chickens in a small run as it takes an effort to take it, preventing boredom) and the easy-to-eat pellets (for the free-range chickens). It is best practice to feed them in their roost to stop mice and birds eating it.

Grain feed: Mixed grain should be provided as an additional food. Chickens love grain and it is an ideal way to make them get used to you and tame them.

Mixed grit: This should be always available. It is made of oyster shells, which contain high levels of calcium, which is important for the production of eggshell.

Green stuff: A daily small portion of greens will be appreciated by your chickens, suitable greens/fruits include: blackberries, lettuce, broccoli, carrots, young nettles, shepherd's purse, grass, dandelion, apples and pears. Always remove the leftovers as mouldy or withered greens can cause severe gastrointestinal complaints.

Proteins: Rain worms and mealworms can be given now and then.

Water: Fresh drinking water must always be available. Laying hens drink more water as an egg consists largely of water.

Worming & Mites

Free-range chickens can become infected with worms and mites. Symptoms include emaciation, colour loss of their combs and legs, laying fewer 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 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.

Practice information

Midhurst

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