Chickens are becoming more and more popular as pets in the UK. They’re fascinating companions – as well as giving you plenty of fresh eggs!
It’s important that chickens have a safe and secure home to live in where they can act naturally.
We’ve teamed up with the chicken specialists at the British Hen Welfare Trust to bring you advice on creating the perfect home for happy hens.
Creating a home for happy hens
Your hen house
Your chickens need a hen house that gives them shelter in all weathers and keeps them safe. You can buy purpose-built chicken houses or coops, or you can convert a shed or outbuilding. Hen house designs and prices vary so do some research into the type that would suit you best.
Most hen houses will come with a recommendation about how many hens they’re suitable for but we recommend buying a house that’s suitable for more hens than you’re planning on getting – e.g. if you’d like 4 hens, buy a house big enough for 6.
Keeping your hens secure
You need to decide on the best housing for your birds: either keeping the hens in a smaller house with a secure attached run and frequently moving it onto fresh ground, or building a larger permanent aviary type enclosure. The most crucial thing is that your housing is predator proof. Foxes, badgers and rats are attracted by hens, and will kill your birds if they are not kept secure.
Cleaning your hen house
Keep nest boxes and bedding hygienic by doing a daily poo pickup (pop on those marigold gloves!) and keep the ground outside the house fresh and clean, too.
Your hen house will need a thorough clean every two weeks. Disinfect the house and change the bedding to keep everything fresh.
A lawn for your chickens
Hens love nothing better than scratching around on grass, they are wonderful lawn mowers and will delight in trimming your lawn. However, don’t give them the grass clippings after mowing as it is too wet and pressed down. Also avoid long fibrous grass. Both could cause problems in your chickens’ crops (the place where your chicken stores food before it goes to their stomach). If you don’t have grass, your chickens will love a daily helping of fresh green vegetables.
Getting the best from your birds
A good routine
It is important to establish a daily routine for your hens. Make sure they are let out of the hen house when it’s light and shut them in safely at dusk to protect them from predators. Your hens will soon recognise the sound of a garden gate being unlatched, and rush to see if you have brought them a tasty treat!
Do poultry like parties?
Hens live in flocks and generally don’t like being alone. Any group of hens will find a ‘pecking order’ with one top hen and others lower ranking. Hens will happily live in harmony but this delicate balance can be disrupted when new hens are introduced. A carefully managed introduction will allow the new girls to join the party and find their place in the pecking order.
The company of a cockerel
Hens don’t need a cockerel in order to lay eggs but your flock might benefit from having one around. A cockerel will act as a guardian. He’ll keep an eye out for predators, point out tasty morsels on the ground and keep the peace during squabbles. Check with your neighbours before bringing one into your flock – the daily wakeup call is not to everyone’s liking.
Chickens and other pets
Hens are happy to live alongside other pets and often make unlikely friendships. Dogs need to be carefully introduced to chickens. Not all breeds will be happy to ‘look but not touch’ so keep an eye on them at all times. In general, a sharp peck from a hen’s beak will give most pets a healthy respect for their feathered friends.