Keeping chicken has never been so popular and is it any wonder? Not only do hens provide delicious, nutritious eggs that are packed with protein, they're also real characters! Poultry is generally a wonderful addition to any garden or smallholding. Most children bond well with their new feathered pets and learn responsibility by caring for them. For many people, keeping hens is the next step to becoming more self-sufficient and living a greener way of life. We have had hens ourselves for many years and consider them an essential part of the family. Before YOU get carried away though, it is worth considering the following:
What is your main motivation for getting hens? Pets or as laying birds?
Neither motivation is wrong and often the answer is both! Most hens fall broadly into TWO categories. PET hens often include pure-breed large fowl and bantams (small fowl) such as Pekins, Wyandottes, Silkies, Faverolles, Seabrights and so on. LAYING hens are usually HYBRIDS and often include Lohman Browns, Columbian Blacktails, Light Sussex, Bluebells, Silver Sussex, Speckledys, Bluebells, Splash Marans, White Stars, Blue egg layers and so on. Every hen lays eggs and there is no need for a cockerel for that to happen.
What TYPE of hens would suit your family and garden?
Hybrid hens are great at laying, are friendly and hardy BUT they can be heavy, they do big poops and scratch up the garden a lot! Large pure breeds do the same but lay less eggs per year. Bantam hens are also friendly, they are small, they are gentle on the garden BUT they’re not as tough, they don’t lay so well and they go broody (want to hatch a clutch of eggs) more often.
The way you keep your hens can often make a massive difference to your decision. There is more information about different ways to keep hens on our 'Housing and Runs' help sheet.
How many hens you want/need?
Three is generally the maximum number of hens I think beginners should consider. Hens can make quite a mess and need a fair bit of space not to mention give you up to 42 eggs a week! Having more birds than you can easily manage is no fun for you or the birds. Be realistic about how many eggs you can eat as a family and how much space you’re willing to sacrifice.
Other things it’s worth considering
Even if you don’t have a cockerel, chickens can be noisy. As soon as a hen lays an egg she likes to squawk away for quite a while to make sure everyone knows how clever she is. How would your neighbours feel about this?
You need to think who will look after you hens if you go away on holiday. Often friends or neighbours are very keen if they get to keep the eggs. Using something like an automatic opening/closing door and larger capacity feeders and drinkers makes this so much easier to manage.
Where will you buy feed and bedding? Is it convenient? How will you store it so it stays dry and rat proof? Where will you put the dirty bedding from the coop?
Who will clean them out every week? They need cleaning out in the winter when it’s cold, wet and muddy. How will you manage your hens run in bad weather?
Is someone around every morning to let them out and make sure they’re locked up at night? You can get around this by using an automatic opening/closing door, this is particularly handy if you’re going away. This is the item people end up buying after the 3rd time their flock are destroyed by a fox or badger. If you can afford to get one at the beginning you WILL save the cost of the unit on hens, I promise you! Attacks by any predator is devastating for your much loved pets and really horrible for you to have to deal with. Dead birds are a sad sight but not nearly as devastating as a fatally injured bird that needs to be dealt with.
Please see the other help sheets to find more information you may need and good luck!