Chicken FAQ: your most common chicken keeping questions answered
When I am out at shows and events around the country talking to prospective keepers about chickens it’s invariably the same questions that keep arising. With that in mind I thought I’d answer some of the most common ones in a Pocket Farm chicken husbandry FAQ as a useful guide for anyone who is considering chickens as livestock or pets. Please feel free to email me any further ones and I will add the most popular to the page.
I want to keep some chickens but don’t know what size or type of coop I should buy
The size of accommodation needed will be dependent on the breed of chickens you buy. Some pure breed hens can grow to a very large size once they are fully matured while medium sized chickens and bantams won’t require quite as much space to live in. As a rule the minimum area you should aim for is 30 cm of perch space per bird in the coop and 1m sq per bird in the run with a min 3m sq (i.e. you shouldn’t keep a single bird and 2 should still have a min 3m sq)
In the coop chickens need sufficient space before settling down for the night so that they can fluff out their feathers, trapping air between them to keep them warm. The combined heat given off by each hen will warm the air within their coop and can be considerable depending on numbers.
Ventilation is crucial. This should be designed so that it doesn’t direct a draft onto your birds while they roost but ensures an ample supply of fresh air too circulate.
There are also many ready made wooden and plastic coops available. There are designs to suit every taste just choose one that is easy to clean and easy to secure from predators. Each has its own pros and cons. Wooden coops tend to be more attractive and available in more styles but plastic is easily cleaned and can help discourage red mite which are a problem for many keepers.
While these commercially available coops are convenient housing, your hens needn’t cost a fortune. You can just as easily convert an existing garden shed, large rabbit hutch or plastic wheely bin holder into a very comfortable home for your birds. Chickens aren’t fussy what their home looks like as long as it is warm and comfortable and they have a quiet, private little corner where they can lay their eggs. An old pet carrier makes an ideal nesting box.
What do chickens eat?
There is a wide variety of proprietary chicken feed most of which comes in pellet form and is designed for different stages of their lives i.e. chicks, growers and laying birds. These may look unappetising but contain all the nutrients your chicken need for a healthy balanced diet.
Layers pellets: visually unappealing but full of essential nutrients these are a complete food source
However, almost without exception, chicken owners I know give their chickens treats as well – sweetcorn, greens, some fruit such as grapes, apple or strawberries and salad leaves are all popular. There are countless other food stuffs that chickens would enjoy but current government policy states that you should not feed your chickens any scraps that have been through a kitchen and now mealworms too. Treats should always be left until at least lunch time or afternoon to ensure your birds have eaten high enough proportion of their nutritionally balanced feed which is what they need to stay healthy and produce those golden yolked eggs with hard as brick shells! Free ranging hens will get much of their intake from foraging grass, plants and insects. Note: Although chickens are omnivorous and will readily eat worms, slugs and other garden beasties you should never feed your chickens meat from the kitchen.
Can you keep chickens in the house?
I certainly wouldn’t recommend keeping chickens in your living environment. Although they do much of their business sitting on the perch at night they will poop whenever they get the urge making it impossible to keep your house sanitary.
Breeders and showers of chickens with fancy plumage, feathered feet or white feathers do often keep their birds inside on deep litter to avoid damage, soiling or yellowing. A large shed or barn offering plenty of space, good ventilation and a natural light source might be suitable. Wherever possible, though, I would always recommend suitable outdoor accommodation.
Smaller birds such as quails (which are actually tiny game birds) can be kept in large cages or hutches. They can still smell a bit so a garage might be better than in the house itself but if cleaned regularly this may be the answer if you particularly want your birds inside. Still provide as much space and daylight as possible.
How many eggs do hens lay?
As with a few of these questions the answer will depend on the breed of chicken you have.
You will get eggs from all chickens but some breeds are much more prolific layers than others. Rhode Island Red, Leghorn, Maran and Sussex amongst others are all purebred breeds that are good layers. These breeds produce from 260 to 300+ eggs a year. There are also hybrids, which are hens created by cross breeding especially for their egg laying ability, that will lay an egg practically every day and may even continue to lay through winter when the pure breeds will stop altogether
Because of the great effort it takes producing eggs at this rate most hybrids lay more eggs but for a shorter length of time – so maybe 3-4 years as opposed to 5-6 or more for pure breeds
Other birds which may be better suited to showing, meat production or as pets may not lay as many eggs so it is best to research the breeds before you buy to avoid the disappointment of too few – or too many – eggs.
A rainbow collection of chicken eggs showing just how diverse the colour range is
Another thing to consider is egg colour. This can vary with breed from pure white to a dark, almost purple, with blue, green, olive and tinted hues also possible and this may also be a factor in your choice of bird.
How long does a chicken live?
It depends on the breed again. The oldest recorded chicken was into its 20s but this is very rare. Many pure breeds can live 8-10 years or more but hybrids tend to be slightly less at 4-6 years.
Do I need a cock bird if I want eggs?
No hens will lay eggs whether there is a cock bird present or not they just won’t be fertilised – a positive for many owners. While male birds are often extremely handsome to look at the fact is that the majority are noisy, some can be aggressive and, depending on the environment they are kept in, can be over amorous to the point that they stress out your hens. Unless you have lots of hens, lots of space and amenable neighbours cock birds can be a bundle of trouble. That said in the right environment they can often help to keep dominant hens in check and be a wonderful addition to any flock that many wouldn’t be without.
Do chickens attract vermin?
In a word, no. Chickens themselves don’t attract vermin (unless you include their predators such as foxes) but any food or treats left around at night will encourage rats and mice in particular. Always clear up any left overs after your chickens have gone to bed and ensure there is no food inside the coop either because mice and rats have been known too chew their way into the coop to get at that too.
Clear up any spills of food to help discourage vermin
Are chickens safe if I have other pets such as cats or dogs?
Generally yes. Usually you will find that a curious cat will investigate but they will get very short change from a chicken by means of a nasty peck on the nose. Having encountered this treatment from a chicken, domestic cats will usually give your birds a wide berth. Smaller breeds are more at risk from cats but remember also that if a cat can get at them then so can a fox, badger or weasel.
Dogs unused to chickens should not be left unsupervised around them
Unless they have been brought up around poultry, dogs should never be left unsupervised if your chickens are free ranging. Don’t forget that, before being domesticated, dogs lived in packs and hunted for food. Any sudden movement from a chicken could trigger the instinct to hunt.
Are chickens noisy?
Cockerels can be and you should probably have a chat with any close neighbours before taking on a male – especially if you are in a urban area. Hens may occasionally make a fuss when they are laying or if they are startled by something but their little day-to-day clucking and chattering is unlikely to have environmental health around.
Do chickens make good pets?
Breeds such as Orpingtons (large, good egg layer), Pekins (bantam) and Silkies (friendly, exotic looking, fluffy feathered variety) all make excellent pets. Many other breeds are also intelligent, friendly and even affectionate although highly strung breeds derived from old fighting stock may be less suitable especially for children. Try to find a local breeder or keeper who will allow you to experience different breeds and their characteristics.
Breeds like this Silver Campine are flighty and can be noisy so may not make the best pets – beautiful though!
How much does a chicken cost?
This depends on many things including pedigree, rarity, characteristics and age. Full grown chickens start at around £4 for an ex-battery hen moving up to £8-£15 for an egg laying hybrid. Pure bred chickens start at around £10-£15 but can be very much more if they are of show quality or a rare or desirable breed. When you are more experienced, and with the right equipment, you could try raising chickens from day old chicks from around £1 each or even from eggs from around 50p each. Remember that there are likely to be a high proportion of unwanted cockerels if raising chickens from a very young age and what you do with them will require prior consideration.
Raising your stock from chicks can be very fulfilling but you will inevitably get a large proportion of cockerels
Most recent Poultry articles
- Preventing egg laying problems in older hens with implants 15th March, 2017
- Integrating new chickens into an existing flock 15th May, 2016
- The nests in my heart – a personal view of ex-battery hens 22nd March, 2016
- Chicken FAQ: your most common chicken keeping questions answered 19th January, 2016
- Hens and herbs – no this is not a chicken recipe 08th October, 2015
- Feeding chickens: a balanced diet for backyard hens 16th April, 2015