Keeping Chickens - First Things First
- First things first
- Do you have the space to keep chickens?
- Are you legally allowed to keep poultry on your land?
- Have you discussed the possibility of keeping chickens with your neighbours?
- Are you going to be a responsible chicken keeper?
- Is anyone in the family allergic to feathers?
- Do you really want them on your manicured garden?
The Jungle Fowl has been around for centuries and literally millions and millions have been reared domestically either for egg production (35 million or so in the UK although I have not counted them recently) or for meat to feed the masses.
Keeping Chickens as Pets
This information is aimed at a very small percentage of people who wish to keep a few chickens in their garden as pets and to be part of the family, to experience the real difference of eating really fresh eggs compared with those that have been produced in an unnatural environment.
The number of small-scale poultry keepers is expanding drastically. There are literally thousands of books and websites which will give you endless information on how to look after your girls, most of which are extremely informative and useful. The views and comments on the following pages are my personal experiences of looking after poultry. I am not claiming to be an expert or a veterinary surgeon, just a farmer who has kept chickens all his life (which is quite a few years now).
Most of the information available at present is based on traditional breeds of poultry. Personally I have kept the hybrids, which have been bred solely for egg production so their dietary requirements and husbandry needs differ from those of their old-fashioned traditional cousins.
Are chickens really the pet we need?
Let's use the checklist above to make sure you are ready to keep chickens as pets:
Do you Have the Space to Keep Chickens?
If you are looking for a pet to come into the house, forget it, you will not house-train a chicken. They will require a purpose-built house (coop) in the garden. Each bird requires a minimum of 25cm sq. per bird as a sleeping area and, in an ideal world, a total of 3m sq. of exercise area for each bird.
Are You Legally Allowed to Keep Chickens?
Some local authorities do not allow any form of livestock to be kept. It may be worth contacting your local Environmental Health office and, whilst doing this research, check the deeds to your property as well. If you decide to keep more than 50 poultry birds of any species you will be required to go on the Poultry Register.
Have you Discussed Keeping Chickens with your Neighbours?
It will be the neighbours who kick up a stink first if they do not like the idea of having chickens as neighbours. They might find any reason to complain to the local authorities, and some will create stories about how noisy they are or about the smell they produce or how much damage the escaping girls have done to their garden. But, in most cases, they will enjoy having clucking neighbours and will be kept happy with a supply of surplus eggs.
A Responsible Chicken Keeper?
The girls will need to be looked after 7 days a week; they will depend entirely on you for their daily needs. Yes, of course they will scratch about and find a small proportion of their daily dietary needs in their run, but the most important thing is that they are checked on a regular basis: early morning visits to let them out into the run or garden, topping up food and water, a quick health check, cleaning out the house on a regular basis, capturing any escaping chickens and - most rewarding - harvesting the freshly laid eggs. Again, as the sun goes down, you will need to make a quick check that all the girls are in bed and securely locked away.
Of course you may spend hours just sat watching them scratching around during the day, but if you are planning holidays or just a night out you will need to have someone available to take on these duties (payment in eggs is the norm).
Allergic to Feathers?
There seems to be a growing number of children and adults who suffer from various allergies so it would be an advantage to identify if this is going to be a problem before getting the chickens home. A visit to a local petting farm or to friends who keep poultry would be highly recommended, as discovering a problem after you have your own chickens could mean you have problems rehoming them, as most poultry suppliers are unable to take back poultry due to the high risk of cross contamination.
Chickens in the Garden
A single chicken will (not may) destroy a well-manicured garden in minutes - just ask Dawn, my wife! If you love your garden, simply keep the chickens off it. You will not be able to train them to scratch around the edges, they will quickly go to the newest plants and seedlings and hurl them across the lawn and path and, as you shout at them, they will find more to destroy and happily cluck at you as you do a war dance at the side trying to persuade them to leave. If this is not bad enough just imagine what damage they could do to your neighbour’s garden. If they manage to find a gap in the fence, in a matter of a few minutes a beautiful, well-tended garden could turn into a resemblance of Twickenham rugby ground after a match on a very wet day. However, if you have a vegetable patch a small group of laying chickens will harrow the ground extremely well in the autumn as they search for any remaining greenery and juicy insects.
It is always best to keep chickens off play areas and grassland where children are likely to play as their droppings can contain viruses, and their poo makes a sticky mess on the carpet!
Assuming that you have not been put off keeping chickens, the next step is to look at what is required before you bring the girls home. Next section: Getting started >