If you’re considering bringing chickens into your family after seeing the rise of the trend all over the internet, you are definitely not alone! Studies show that now, after lockdown, over one million households are keeping chickens in the U.K alone[i], catapulting these clucking little pets into the same league as hamsters and gerbils.
Surprisingly, chickens make excellent pets – they’re sociable animals that don’t require too much fuss, they can be reared in an urban garden just as well as in the countryside, and they give the owner a multitude of rewarding benefits not only limited to fresh omelettes in the morning. It comes as no surprise, really, that so many people are going mad for them.
There are, however, a few things you need to be aware of before bringing in your own feathered flock. Have a read of this advice to get you all set up for keeping your very own chickens in your back garden.
Benefits of Keeping Chickens
If you’re still in two minds about chickens, we’ll start with some of the benefits of keeping them. Although fresh eggs is an important one, there are so many more good things about keeping your own chickens.
- They’re inexpensive to keep
- They’re family friendly
- You get a sense of self-fulfilment, especially when cooking your own eggs
- They’re great pest control
- Chicken waste makes fantastic compost
Although these are all good things, one thing that seems to get overlooked is the fact that chickens make great companions, just like dogs or hamsters. They are friendly and interactive animals and, when they get to know you, they’ll be running to you as soon as you go out to them in the morning, which really brings home that sense of self-fulfilment.
Now you know some of the best things about keeping chickens, let’s get you on your way to getting your own.
Before Keeping Chickens
Almost anybody can keep chickens as long as you have the room and the know-how. It’s fairly straight forward once you know what you’re doing, but it’s incredibly important to do your research before you buy – don’t just go for the first ad you see! Although keeping chickens isn’t too exhaustive, they need to be cared for every day, so they may not be the best idea if you are away from home for extended amounts of time and there’s no one there to look after them. Here are some things to consider before buying your chickens.
1. Check The Law
Legally, you are allowed to keep up to 50 chickens in your garden[ii] without informing the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Any more than 50, though, and you will be required to sign up to the poultry register so you are informed about any diseases that may affect your livestock. You can sign up to the poultry register here.
If you’re clear in the legal sense, your next port of call is your local council. Make sure that there are no by-laws concerning chickens, then, if it’s okay with them, check the documents for your house. Some properties completely forbid livestock of any kind, and you need to be aware of this before you fill your garden.
2. Do Your Research
This seems obvious, but it’s the best way to get the ball rolling. Chickens come in many breeds, each with their own needs and personalities, so it is vital that you know what you will have to do to care for them before they even set foot in your garden. Make sure you understand everything required for the breed you choose and prepare as best as you can before you buy your chickens.
Ask the Right Questions
We’ve answered some of the most common questions that you’ll need to be aware of before buying chickens to help you make the right decision.
Which Breed Should You Choose? A few good breeds of chicken that are perfect for a beginner rearer are:
- Rhode Island Red
Luckily for your neighbours, hens do not need a cockerel to lay eggs however, if the long-term plan involves breeding, a cockerel will be required. It’s a good idea to let your neighbours know either way as you don’t want any noise complaints. If you plan on breeding and keeping chicks, you can get more information here.
How Long Do Chickens Live? This is a good fact to know so you understand what you’re signing up for. Depending on their breed and how well they are treated, chickens can live anywhere between 4 – 10 years on average,[iii] so you have to consider this commitment if you’re planning on buying chickens.
How Much Do Chickens Cost? Depending on the breed, their age and where you buy them from, chickens can cost anything between £5 and £30 each. Although this seems cheap, don’t go crazy – there are a few one-off fees such as a coop and feeders that will cost a little more. You can check out the potential extra costs you should consider here.
How Much Space Do Chickens Need? Chickens like to wander during the day, so they need a bit of space to roam. It is recommended that you have around 1 square meter of space per chicken, so if your flock is only small, they won’t take up too much room.
3. Plan Their Home
Chickens need some form of shelter for protection, and this need is best met with a chicken coop. A coop is necessary as it provides your hens with a place to lay their eggs as well as a safe place for them at night. They prefer to forage for themselves throughout the day so, because they will likely rip up your garden if they are left to wander, it is recommended you get an extended coop that gives them a fenced space to roam freely. Make sure the coop you choose:
- Is spacious, with enough room for the number of chickens you want to keep
- Is sturdy
- Makes for good protection
- Is well ventilated.
- Is suitable for egg collection.
- Looks good in your garden!
Other pets should also factor into your decision. Although cats and dogs often get used to chickens, it’s in their best interest to provide a sturdy, safe chicken coop to protect them not only from your other pets but from a wider range of predators too. If you plan on breeding chicks, they will require a brooder until they are old enough to move into the coop.
4. Choose A Number
Chickens are group animals, so if you want to bring them into your garden, you have to buy more than one. As a beginner, it’s recommended that you start with 2 or 3[iv] so the chickens aren’t alone, and you don’t overwhelm yourself.
Buying & Keeping Chickens
Once you have researched thoroughly what breed of chicken you want and are completely prepared for their arrival, it’s time to go out and get them! Buying chickens for the first time can be a fairly daunting experience, but as long as you have researched your breed, their price and where they are available, you should be fine. It is safest to buy from known breeders or safe poultry shows to make sure you as a buyer are protected and that your livestock is the best quality and well looked after.
Establish A Routine
Chickens are fairly easy to look after, though they do need a bit of a routine for both morning and night. Chickens should be fine left to roam during the day, but they will need checking on first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
Typically, you should let your hens out first thing in the morning and supply them with fresh feed and clean water at the same time. As long as their food and water is replenished, your hens will be perfectly happy foraging around by themselves until sundown.
Chickens commonly lay in the morning, and you can tell that a hen is about to lay an egg if they come out of the coop to feed then disappear straight back inside, so it’s a good idea to look for this in the mornings. If you think that any of them have laid eggs, you should remove them as soon as possible to avoid accidental damage.
You should check on them once more before you go to bed to clean out any fouled bedding, check again for eggs and then shut them in safely for the night.
It’s recommended that you clean your coop out every week or two depending how many chickens you have, though it’s a good idea to clean out their waste more often as chickens produce a large amount throughout the day. This is the basics of caring for chickens day by day, though there is some extra things that you need to know.
Bring In Their Food
Chickens don’t require a special diet, and regular chicken food (in meal or pellet form) is readily available online or in most high street pet stores. Keep their food available to them throughout the day so they can feed when they need to. Chickens are diurnal animals so filling up their feed just once in the morning when you let them out of their coop should be fine, though you can leave a feeder in the coop if you wish. Make sure you keep your chicken feed stocked up – a single hen eats around 100 – 150 grams of food a day[v], so ensure that your food stock can keep up with this.
Hens don’t have teeth, so they often peck at grit to help break up food in their gizzards, plus the calcium grit contains helps the hens lay stronger eggs. Add grit to their feed and the chickens will pick it up when they need it.
Give Them Fresh Water
Chickens need fresh water however, they tend to dirty the water themselves by sticking their dirty beaks into the container, and chickens won’t drink dirty water. To avoid this, set up several bottles above ground level so they can still drink but won’t mess up the supply.
Hopefully now you feel ready to take on the responsibility of chickens and see that not only are you readily able to keep the feathered pets, but that you’ll get so much joy out of the experience too! If you want to find out more about buying and rearing chickens, feel free to drop us any questions or queries in the comments below.
Ryan Jenkins is a professional gardener and has been working in the gardening industry for over 25 years. This has allowed Ryan to accumulate a vast wealth of gardening knowledge which he shares on the Sefton Meadows blog.