Keeping hens at home seems to be becoming an incredibly popular hobby. Just take a look on social media and see how many people have taken off keeping a few birds for eggs, or tending to a flock of rare breeds. Adopting ex battery hens is also a possibility – several family members have recently committed to re-homing some of these poor girls and have grown very fond of their new creatures.
Keeping less than 50 birds means you don’t have register as a livestock owner with Defra; however it is a good idea to make sure that you receive any health information, disease alerts and so on.
If the idea is something which tickles you, then do your research. Keeping livestock is a slightly different ball game to keeping other domesticated pets; and while chickens can be fairly low maintenance, all owners have a responsibility under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to ensure that all welfare needs are properly met.
The first thing to consider is the space you have available. Chickens are sociable creatures and will need to be kept in a group. If you are considering keeping them for eggs, then you will need several laying birds to provide enough for the average British family. A coop is essential no matter how ‘free range’ you’d like to keep the birds. They need it for a secure place to roost at night, away from casual predators. They are also fairly destructive in terms of garden space, so if you are a green fingered prodigy, you may want to consider a larger coop which can contain them for longer. A rough rule of thumb is around 50cmsq for each bird, plus a perch for roosting and a nesting box, and you must provide warmth and shelter from the elements too. Ventilation is important as chicken waste contains ammonia which can cause respiratory problems and damage eyes, although a well built home should also avoid drafty sleeping areas.
Exercise space is key, and this should ideally be enclosed with wire mesh fencing to avoid foxes. This should be checked regularly for any signs of wear or tampering.
There are a host of products on the market, from plastic, easy clean houses which tend to me on the small side but are easy to clean, to complex DIY wooden coop and run combos which provide excellent height but will need more maintenance.
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