Posted: Feb 27, 2009 in

Every Egg Matters - Keeping Incredible Hens

Hatching a plan
hen head
Hens are lovely animals that will give you a lot of pleasure as well as eggs. However, they must be well looked after and they need a small amount of attention twice a day. In the morning they need to be let out, fed, watered and the droppings removed. In the evening they must be locked in the house to protect from predators. The house and run need regular cleaning and you will need hen sitters for when you go away.

You will also need to consider if your deeds place restrictions on keeping animals and how your neighbours may react.

The hen house needs to be water tight, vermin proof and easy to clean. An average bird will need about one square foot, so a small 4 foot by 3 foot house would hold a maximum of 12 hens. Larger breeds will need more space.

Hens must be cleaned out daily and the droppings are great for the compost heap as they activate decomposition. Fresh droppings are too strong to be put straight onto plants.

The Run
4 birds need about 20 square feet or roughly 2 square metres. If allowed in the garden they will eat garden pests but also uproot plants.

Hens need layer pellets/ mash and fresh water each day. A hen can drink a pint of water a day. A small amount of (non-meat/fish) leftovers such as rice or bread in the afternoons will be enjoyed but too much low protein food can reduce egg production. They naturally eat insects and sometimes slugs. Providing oyster shell will help the hens produce sound egg shells.

Number of eggs
This can range from 250 to 300 eggs per bird per year. The variation depends on the breed, the health and the age of the bird. A hen doesn’t need a cockerel to lay eggs. Hens can go broody and stop laying and they don’t lay as frequently in the winter. It’s important to collect eggs at least once a day.

Where can I get chickens from?
You can buy chickens from breeders at various ages from day old chicks to point of lay (16-20 weeks) make sure you buy vaccinated birds. You can also get ex-battery hens from welfare charity organizations; see contact list below.

Dogs and Cats
Pet cats are no problem but feral cats may hunt hens. Most pet dogs will learn to leave them alone when they know the hens are part of the family.

Foxes and other predators
Foxes are very common and can strike during the day. Mink and the neighbour’s dog may also attack so it is best to put the hens into the run if you are leaving them for even the shortest time. Men’s urine, spread around the perimeter of their area can be very effective in keeping foxes at bay.
Rats It is very important to deter rats by keeping poultry food in metal containers with well fitting lids. Avoid leaving food around the run and put the feeders away at night somewhere rats can’t penetrate. The house should be made rat proof and always be alert for evidence of a rat problem.

Wild Birds
Hens can get infections from wild birds particularly the uncommon but very serious bird flu. If you can, feed and water your hens under cover and don’t attract wild birds by leaving food around.

We support the Five Freedoms (Farm animal welfare council)
1. FREEDOM FROM HUNGER AND THIRST –by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour;
2. FREEDOM FROM DISCOMFORT –by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area;
3. FREEDOM FROM PAIN, INJURY OR DISEASE- by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment;
4. FREEDOM TO EXPRESS NORMAL BEHAVIOUR – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animals’ own kind;
5. FREEDOM FROM FEAR AND DISTRESS – by ensuring conditions and treatment to avoid mental suffering.

Useful Information/Contacts
• Incredible Edible Todmorden –
• Great Britain Poultry Register (DEFRA)– 0800 634112 this free registration is compulsory if you have more than 50 birds. Anyone else can register voluntarily and get up to the minute info about Avian Flu and other poultry matters.
• Battery Hen Welfare Trust – 01769 580310
DEFRA Laying Hens Code of recommendations for the welfare of livestock
DEFRA Biosecurity & preventing disease
DEFRA Codes of Recommendations for the welfare of livestock Oct 2001
ADAS Poultry Legislation Factsheet Update March 2006 tel 01522 521290
RUMA Guidelines Responsible use of vaccines and vaccination in poultry production
MAFF Code of Practice The handling & storage of eggs from farm to retail sale
• Katie Thear Starting with Chickens 2004 Broad Leys Publishing Ltd ISBN: 0 906 137 27 6

Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy but IET cannot accept liability for errors or omissions.

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