Our little plot will definitely feature this easy-to-look-after and very productive livestock. I’ve kept chickens before, in a small garden in Croydon. We had three hybrid hens in a large coop, with a fenced-in run underneath. They eat everything (literally everything) and require very little upkeep.
Coops should be big enough to comfortably house the amount of hens you’re looking to keep. It should have a removable tray for cleaning, a ramp down to an enclosed run, perches for them to sleep on, and nest boxes for them to lay in. If your nest boxes are not cosy, your chooks will lay their eggs elsewhere! The run should be fox-proof, with a floor ideally. Previously I’ve cable-tied a layer of galvanised wire to the bottom of the existing run – this works very well. Water and food bowls can go in the run, to keep them out of the sun and to provide for them overnight and in the morning before you let them out. The inside of the coop should have some hay, for nesting and to keep them warm overnight. Important to have ventilation for the summer too, or you’ll get mites.
Budget: around £100 for a medium-sized coop and run.
I’ve always kept hybrid-breed hens, that is, hens who are bred for laying and being all-round hardy. Gingernut rangers are ideal hens to keep, as they are hardy and produce large, regular eggs. It’s not essential to have a rooster (hens will lay, regardless), but if you plan on having a larger flock (more than 5), it can help stop in-fighting, and also can help protect your girls from foxes, or getting lost. I’ve never had a rooster, so getting one would be a new challenge! Hens usually lay an egg a day in summer, and some will lay all year round, but most slow down in winter. They need nest boxes that are cosy and warm (fill them with hay). Common ailments are egg binding (egg gets stuck inside hen – unpleasant and often difficult to solve), mites (dust coops in summer, and chickens) and injuries from fighting (possibly solved/lessened by rooster?). Broody hens are also an annoyance – they sit on their eggs and don’t lay or eat much. This tends to happen in the warmer months – the only cure is to make them cold! Take them off the eggs, or segregate them in a dog cage – somewhere the breeze can get to them – it seems to snap them out of it.
Budget: varies, £10-25 per hen.
As I said above – they eat everything (previous hens really liked spicy chinese noodles). Chicken mash (vegetable trimmings, peelings, leftovers) can be boiled up and mashed into a food supplement that can be heated up when the weather is cold. Their staple diet is pellet-based, and cheap from any farm supplier. They also need grit to form solid eggshells – this can be bought or made from eggshells, crushed and dried in the oven. It’s probably easier to buy grit. Water can freeze over in winter – we got around this by putting an aquarium heater in the bowl. Might be trickier when we have limited access to electricity. It’s important to stop them getting into any vegetable patches, as they’ll decimate them, given the chance. Leaving them free-range in the day will supplement their diets with bugs and foliage – all good stuff! Food supplements can include chicken spice and a tonic you add to their water – not sure if actually helpful or not.
Budget: £15/huge bag layers pellets, food waste free!