Friday, December 16, 2005

Keeping Chickens at Home - Getting started.

Keeping Chickens at Home - Getting started.

Keeping chickens at home UK
'Keeping Chickens at Home' is for anyone who simply wants to learn how to keep a few chickens in their back garden and just wants the basics explained to them in a simple to understand manner.

You don't need acres of land to keep a few chickens. In fact I kept three very happily living only a mile from an UK city centre.

If you and the kids want a new (and I warn you now....addictive) new hobby or you just want to stick up two fingers to chicken battery farming and produce your own organic free range eggs, keeping chickens is the easiest way to start raising your own livestock and begin the 'Good Life'.

Unfortunately, chickens and pigs still get a very raw deal when it comes to farming standards and practices. Things are getting better, but we're still a long way off. Free Range doesn't mean anything any more as EU standards are still too low.

If you're interested in how livestock are really kept in the UK and how you can help (apart from keeping chickens at home) go to They campaign for the improvement of intensively farmed animals. Some of the details and images you may find upsetting. I actually hope you do get upset and angry. I know I did when I first saw how animals are being kept in this country. But do something about it and influence your family and friends. Try to buy organic meat whenever possible. I know it's more expensive, but hey, eat less meat and you can then afford it. You won't go back after you've tasted it. And you know the animals are being properly looked after.

As well as posting articles on 'How to Keep Chickens', I will also pop in the occasional post and pictures of my other animals at my Smallholding in Devon, UK. I currently have chickens, ducks, geese and pigs.

Let's get something straight though, I don't pretend to know everything about keeping chickens. I'm still learning every day, even after years of doing it. I simply want to share the tried and tested methods I use for keeping chickens that have worked for me. God knows, I've made lots of mistakes, but hopefully, I can show you how to avoid the worst of them.

So if someone posts a comment or question you know the answer to, don't wait for me to reply. Get in there and share your experience and knowledge with everyone. Let's face it, the 'forum' aspect is always the most useful, as it answers the problems you have now.

So, if you've always fancied the idea of keeping chickens, the very first things you have to ask yourself is Why? and Where?

Why do I want to keep chickens?

There are obviously loads of different reasons ranging from wanting a fresh, free-range egg every morning to just enjoying having chickens scratching around your garden, softly clucking when they find an interesting titbit. This normally results in every other chicken suddenly wanting it and a game of 'catch' breaking out! One chicken will get the desirable morsel (in reality probably just a leaf or something...they are not the brightest creatures in the World!) and every other hen will chase it until one of them gets it. Then it's their turn to run and so on until they lose interest or just forget what they're doing.

I think it's important you just get it clear in your head now why you want to keep chickens, because, as with keeping any animal, they will be totally dependant on you for everything. Chickens are for life not just for Xmas!!!!!

As I stated earler, I started keeping chickens when I found out how battery hens were kept and I knew I could never support such cruelty to animals. But when I tasted the first egg from my first hen, I was hooked. The white was somehow thicker and denser. The yolk looked like I added yellow colouring. In fact, when I made scrambled eggs for some friends, they thought I had added something to it. It was so yellow. I could never go back to shop bought eggs. Even the free-range organic supermarket versions pale in comparison with the eggs laid every day from my girls.

Chickens are not the most cuddly of animals to be sure, but they are, without doubt, one of the most interesting and amusing to watch. Their antics and routines are a sight to behold. Try and watch a hen come running across the garden towards you when it's feed time without a smile on your face. It's like a fast waddle with the odd skip and flap thrown in for good measure.

They have loads of character and are easily trained. They will quickly learn to feed from your hand, allow you to pick them up for a stroke and a 'wattle rub' (It's nothing kinky, but the chickens enjoy it! ;-) I think watching a chicken have a 'dust bath' is one of the funniest things around. Especially when the hole is deeper than they are. It's like a scene from 'The Great Escape'. After they finish, they wander off, stop and have a final flap emitting a huge dust cloud. In case you're wondering, a dust bath is exactly that. An area of dry earth where the chickens can flick dust onto themselves in order to keep down parasites.

If you're already thinking 'wattle-rub, dust bath - what is he talking about? Don't fret, all will be explained later. Just make sure you come back to learn a little bit more about keeping chickens and to see how all the animals are doing at my smallholding.

Where can I keep chickens?The answer is anywhere you are allowed to. There may be certain local regulations not allowing the keeping of poultry in your neighbourhood. You need to check with your local authority to make sure. Having said that, as long as you have a friendly chat with your neighbours, no ones going to even know you got them (As long as you don't keep a cockerell that is! Your neighbours may not like being woken up at 4am with his energetic crowing).

By the way, you don't need a cockerell (That's a male chicken for the complete beginners out there) for hens (female chickens) to lay eggs. They are perfectly happy and will lay as many eggs without a man around. How many woman out there are now thinking "Lucky things!!". It's the ultimate in 'Girl Power'.

We will go into the types of housing for chickens later on, but a space of about 6ft x 4ft is needed to keep 3-6 hens. Their accommodation consists of a sleeping and laying area (which is covered and protects them from the elements and a covered 'run' area. This is where they spend the day scratching around. 'Scratching' is when the chicken uses it's feet to scratch the ground looking for bugs to eat.

Ideally their house will need to be portable, so that it can be moved over fresh grass every day. You can also have a permanent hen house and alternate the areas of grass they use with the use of a fence. It's important to change or rotate the area they use, otherwise they will soon scratch it up and it will be bare earth in a very short time. Keeping any animal on the same ground for a long time is not a good idea as parasdites will soon start to build up and cause health problems.

Even though it's what they naturely prefer, you don't have to keep chickens on grass at all. You can put them on a thick layer of straw or woodchips. Change it every four weeks and you will not only get great eggs, but you will also have the best compost for miles around.

Whichever route you decide to take, the most important thing of all is to make sure the chickens are treated with care and respect. They must have a dry, comfortable and safe place to sleep, a dark and clean place to lay their eggs, access to food and fresh water and a safe and sheltered outdoor area to spend the day.

Keep these things in mind and you will raise the happiest chickens in the world. And in return, they will keep you amused and provide the best boiled egg and 'soldiers' you've ever had in your life.

Bye for now and don't forget to come back as I'll be adding new posts and pictures.


Keeping Chickens at Home


Anonymous said...

not a comment but a question, what age do roosters start crowing? we have 6 chicks 7-8 weeks old and no idea of their sex. reply to mike&anna at:

Anonymous said...

can u tell me best hens to keep for biginer plz for egg laying
or good dual pepers hen for table and laying ty

Anonymous said...

hi there

can anyone tell me how to start we are looking to start keeping chickens on a small scale looking for egg layers and good for table can anyone help,

thank you.

please reply to

cat said...

hey, i really enjoyed reading your posts some had me in stitches, weve got 5 hens and a rooster one of our hens has just had 6 babies we got another one sitting on 12 eggs and to say we are complete novices wld be an understatement, we just come bk off holiday so completely unprepared for this, at the moment we have put mummy and babies in an empty aviary as she has had them in a bush lol, any advice wld be soo appreciated

Claudia said...

We're in Sydney and just got 2 chicks from the kid's pre-school, that hatched for Easter. We're coming into winter here and I have them in a cardboard box with a desk lamp. How can I tell if they are hens?
Also, how long can I keep them in the box? they're a week old.
Thanks for all your info and the laughs. I was in stitches.

Peter Skuse said...

Hey Claudia,

Sexing chicks is really difficult to do. You won't really know until they either crow or lay eggs!
Keep the ones that lay eggs and have a pot-roast with the ones that crow.
As for the box. Depends how big it is and how cold the weather. A few weeks is the norm. I make a small run in an outhouse with a lamp in there. Start turning the lamp off during the day after a week or two. If the chicks are huddling together under the lamp, they're too cold. If they are by themselves panting, they are too hot.

Protect them against vermin and make sure they have plenty of clean water and chick crumbs. Change the bedding daily.

Hope that helps,


dolphin said...

Hi Pete,

Thanks a lot for your comment on rearing chickens.
It helped me alot with my chickens with your useful tips.
Keep up the good work and some more details on chicken behaviour.


Anonymous said...


I am thinking of keeping some chickens. I have some agricultural land attached to my house which can only be used for agri use. Can anyone tell me what the restrictions are on keeping chickens. I have read recently that you need to be licenced.

Anybody help??

Peter Skuse said...

Are you in the UK? If you are, you don't need to register if you have less than 50 chickens. There's no license needed for keeping chickens on a small non-commercial scale.
Make sure you secure the poultry from the neighbours (if you have any) as you are liable for any damage they cause. It is your legal responsibility to keep them in and not for your neighbour to keep them out! Cocks crowing at four in the morning is the biggest cause for complaints ;-) Free eggs always has worked wonders for me. Keep your neighbours sweet. You never know when you'll need them to 'chicken' sit!


Anonymous said...

Thanks, for that grate mum wants to keep chickens so with your help she is getting some and learning how to keep em.

Thanks soo much.

your grate

Anonymous said...

hey, I really think this is usefull. Me and my parents are thinking of keeping some chickens. We are total beginners and need some help. can you please please please send some begginer's help to

Peter Skuse said...


Everything you need to know to get started is right here ;-)


Anonymous said...

Hi Pete, from Mike and Lisa in Fort Washington:

Just wanted to let you know we are major newbies at this but we love this hobby (and yes, it is very addictive). We have managed to hatch just two ducks and two chickens (we think the chickens are black rocks) so far. We bought a few more chicks to keep ours company. We are getting ready to build a semiportable coop for them, and we will be checking this blog often for comments, posts, and answers to our, no doubt, many questions.

Many thanks for your great blog,

Mike and Lisa

Janny said...

I absolutely LOVE the fact that you didn't buy a whole bunch of lumber and build the coop from scratch. This has been a sore point with my husband, who doesn't want to build a coop and says we can't afford it. With using freecycle, I am getting all of my supplies FREE and am on my way to building nesting boxes like you have. THANK YOU SO MUCH for this blog.

Peter Skuse said...

That's the way to do it Janny ;-)


Pat said...

Hi Pete, I've just read your useful blog. I adopted 4 lovely ex-bat hens on Sat 7th June and they're settling in happily already - have even presented me with 8 eggs so far. As I've got about an acre of garden I'm looking forward to letting them freerange safely in due course. My neighbour, who has a very tiny garden, has warned me today that his large dog will jump over the fence and kill them. He said the vet advised him to bring the dog in to meet the hens, but I don't want his huge dog in the garden in any circumstances - nor do I want to show the dog the way from the road to where the chickens are kept. I've got six foot fences and have taken every step to keep my Yorkshire Terrier in the garden; am I right in thinking he should ensure his dog can't get out of his garden?

Peter Skuse said...

UK law is very clear on this matter Pat. It is the pet owners responsibility to ensure their animal does not damage their neighbours property. You do not need to stop the dog coming in, it's your neighbours responsibilty to ensure his dog doesn't get out. Same goes for your hens.
You may want to point out to your neighbour that if his dogs enter your property and kill any hens, then that constitutes criminal damage and they run the risk of the dog being put down. A sobering thought that may make your neighbour act a little more responsibly. But the reality is you don't want your hens harmed, so just make sure the area they run is well protected and make sure the garden area is well fenced off. If you have any trouble with the neighbours dog, I would immediately call the local council. Hope that helps and best of luck. Pete.

Pat said...

Thanks for that advice, Pete. I certainly don't want to lose any of them. They've become amazingly attached already - this morning (the first time they'd all ventured into the run) I took the opportunity to make the pop hole a bit smaller as it was too tall (the ramp lifts up to close the hole). It meant putting my head inside the coop and fixing in some wire mesh from the inside, and I used a wire cake cooling tray. A couple of them kept coming back in to have a look and voice an opinion. Great company.

Anonymous said...

hi i was just wondering if any chicken fans can help, i love chickens and my neighbour recently bought 10, they are kept allday long in a 6x4 shed, no light etc, and some days they are not let out at all, and when they are it is for half an hour if that, i don't want to have to moan but i am worried about the chickens and if it is ok for them to live like that?

Peter Skuse said...

There's nothing illegal in keeping poultry in that way (the majority of commercial meat and egg birds are kept in far worse conditions), as long as the birds are being kept clean, fed and watered.

It is simply a matter of personal beliefs and welfare standards. Ideally, I personally believe they should be running free range, but not everyone can do this. I'm not sure why they haven't built a small run attached to the shed though.

Why not get a couple of hens of your own and show them how it's done. Lead by example ;-)

Peter Skuse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

My parents neighbors chickens keep escaping onto the road which does not bother their neighbor but is stressing out my folks. Is there anything they can do to get the owners to secure their garden as hinting hasn't worked?

Peter Skuse said...

Different local councils have different rules and regulations, but it is the legal responsibility of the poultry owner to prevent their chickens leaving their premises and damaging other peoples property and not the other way round i.e You don't need a fence to keep them out. Contact your local council if they are causing a nuisance. Pete.

Anonymous said...

Very nicce!

How To Keep Chickens said...

I have actually been seeing a lot of articles around the net about zoning issues regarding keeping chickens.

It just really annoys me that housing associations and councils make such a big issue of such a trivial hobby.

calisantosa said...

Speaking of Home Owner Association, ours just told us to get rid of our chickens. Help!!
3 FREE healthy hens ready to lay eggs in six weeks or less. They are less than four months old. Our HOA doesn't let us keep these chickens. We raised them since they were chicks. Please call for more information:990-3408
Need a good home for my three pets. Please don't take them home if you plan to eat them. These are pets who will lay nine brown organic eggs weekly. They live in Hawaii, Honolulu in our backyard and are not caged.

Anonymous said...

I have 3 chooks who have the most amazing huge run that includes a clear area as well as bush and even a creek, but 2 of them are little houdinis and keep escaping. We have looked and looked and just cannot find where they're getting out. Is it true that if I tied a string around their wee legs for a few days they would forget how to escape.

Peter Skuse said...

I really don't recommend tying string to their legs. How high is your fence? I suspect they are flying over it, probably with the help of some kind of nearby raised launching platform. Trimming one of their wings will prevent this. Just get a pair of scissors and trim the outer feathers from one wing only. That way when they attempt to fly, they always go around in a semi-circle and prevents them from flying over fences and climbing up trees. Best of luck. Pete :-)

Janine said...

I was wondering about gravel for the younger chickens and the roos (roosters). I give the laying hens ground up egg shells to replenish their calcium output, but the others don't need that. They just need something in their crop to help grind up food.

Also wondering about what to use for dust baths. They are digging up the "lawn" to get to the dirt to have a dust-bath in and it's not effective for them, and annoying to me (uneven ground for lawnmower and turned ankles). I've heard of using DE (diatamacious earth), which can help kill things like mites on them, but I'm worried about them inhaling the crystals, which is bad for their lungs. Any thoughts?

Peter Skuse said...

If your chickens are free range Janine, they will naturally pick up enough grit for their crop. A calcium supplement is important for layers. I personally use ground up oyster shells as I have an oyster farm near me and they let me have the shells for free. The only problem with giving them their own egg shells is it can result in egg eating as they can get a taste for it ;-)

All my coops are always raised off the floor by a least a foot to prevent dampness and vermin getting in. I first dig over the area under the coop and work in some sand. When the coop is built, the area underneath stays dry and loose, and is a perfect dust bath area. I occasionally dust the area in mite powder. Just remember to fill in the holes every now and then as they can dig them real deep - You just see dirt flying out! I called one of my hens 'Bronson' after the tunnelling expert character Charles Bronson plays in 'The Great Escape'. Hope that helps? Pete :-)