If you’ve ever wondered what it’d be like to keep your own hens, this quick and easy guide will talk you through all you need to know to get started and the ways in which hens can enhance your household.
I must admit, when my husband suggested we acquire some rescue hens, I was less than enthusiastic. Having just returned to work from maternity leave with two preschool children, I was worried about the extra work involved. He must have caught me at a weak moment because I agreed and I am so glad I did. It is now six months since Maggie, Henrietta and Pinkie clucked their way into our lives and I couldn’t imagine life without them.
What do you need to get going?:
A Coop: There are lots of different coops on the market to suit all budgets or you could simply convert an existing shed or outbuilding. We chose a plastic coop as they’re easier to clean and reduce the risk of red mite. Whatever you do, remember it’s important that you choose the right sized space for the number of birds you intend to get (if you want to rehome 3 birds, make sure you buy a house that can accommodate at least 4). You also need to make sure your coop has a nest box and somewhere to perch and that it is adequately fox and vermin proof.
Bedding: Some simple bedding such as wood shavings should be placed inside the coop to keep the hens warm and clean. Droppings and wet patches should be cleaned daily with a full bedding change every 2-4 weeks.
Chicken Feed: The average adult hen needs 100-120g of feed per day. We use layers pellets and ensure that fresh food is put out daily. There are lots of different feeders available online – the sturdier the better to avoid it getting knocked over – we hang ours from the roof. It is also important the hens have fresh water daily, so a water hopper is also a must. Your hens will need some grit to aid their digestion and help them form strong shells for their eggs.
Treats: Giving your girls an occasional treat is a great way to bond with them and to get children involved in their care. Our hens love sweetcorn, natural yoghurt, dandelions leaves and cabbage.
Hen Health: Your girls will need to have a worming treatment around 2-3 times a year and will also need some flea protection powder and an area to dust bath.
Where to get your hens?
We acquired our hens via the British Hen Welfare Trust who are responsible for rehoming an incredible 50000 ex-battery hybrid hens a year. We registered our interest online and were contacted with local hen collection dates. A donation of around £5 per hen is suggested and throughout the whole process we found them to be incredibly supportive and helpful.
So, what are the benefits of keeping rescue hens?
Fresh Eggs: A constant supply of beautiful eggs – so much fresher than any you’ll ever buy in a supermarket. They poach beautifully and have the most golden yolk you’ve ever seen.
A greater appreciation of where our food comes from: In a world of plastic packaging and processed meals, there is a pride in eating something that you know exactly where it has come from.
Companionship: You’ll be surprised by how much time you can pass just watching the hens and their antics. There is a real joy to be taken in watching them sunbathing or simply pottering about. Our girls love to be outdoors and know each of our hens by name. My husband has also been overheard having a chat with them on more than one occasion.
Important lessons for children: Looking after hens teaches children about responsibility and how to care for others. Whether it’s giving the hens a small treat, collecting the eggs, helping to muck out or letting them out in the morning or tucking them up safely at night, these day to day tasks give the children a connection to nature and an understanding of the importance of animal welfare.
You’re literally saving a life: Rescue hens are those who have come to the end of their commercial laying life and would otherwise have been sent to slaughter. Some have never seen daylight and it’s a privilege to be able to offer them a happy free range retirement.
So, in summary, hens make a fabulous addition to any family. Aside from a coop, some feed and some bedding, you don’t need much to get going. Their day to day care only takes around thirty minutes and in return, they’ll bring you endless joy and entertainment and maybe even an egg or two.
For more information visit The British Hen Welfare Trust
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