Chicken Keeping FAQ's


BANTAM - Small size chickens and cockerels.

BROODY - Term used for a chicken sitting tight on the nest in the hope of hatching some eggs, they will usually protest loudly and peck you if you try to put your hand underneath them.

CANDLE - Method of shining a strong light through an egg to determine if it is developing into a chick.

COCKEREL - Male bird.

COMB - The serrated pink/red fleshy part on the top of the hen or cockerels head. Much larger on the cockerels than hens.

CROP - First section of the digestive system - A 'pouch' where the food is stored at the base of the neck.  It can be clearly felt in the evening when full with food!

HYBRIDS - Chickens of mixed parents and grandparents selected for their productivity from the best strain

FERTILE EGGS - Eggs from chickens that have been with a cockerel - still fine to eat!

MOULT - Annual event when the feathers are shed and re-grown.  Usually occurs in the Autumn.

POINT OF LAY - Loose term for birds of approximately 16 weeks old.  The pullets do not generally lay until at least 20 weeks so can be a little misleading.

PULLETS - Female chickens under 1 year old, some people class chickens as pullets until they commence laying.  When over 1 year old (or when they begin laying depending on your train of thought) they become 'hens'.

PURE BREEDS - 'Pedigree' chickens who will always breed true (the chicks will resemble the parents). 

ROOST - Chickens at rest or sleeping - usually they should 'perch' on roosts (or sleep on poles above the ground).

SPUR -The nail like growths on the inside lower part of a cockerels legs.

WATTLES - The red fleshy parts hanging below the chickens chin/beak -much larger on cockerels than hens.

Frequently asked questions

What should I consider when buying my chickens from you?

For welfare reasons we can only sell a minimum of two chickens together, and only in exceptional circumstances could we sell a single chicken. If you are introducing them to an existing flock there is safety in numbers & more than one new hen is vital. If you are starting from scratch, two birds would be the minimum you would need.
When you have picked your chicken we will check them a full health check with you and clip their wings (if required). If you are new to chicken keeping we will happily run through chicken care with you.
Some signs to look for when selecting your hens:

  • Depending on their age, the birds combs should be a healthy dark red, however, young birds will not yet have developed and may have a small, pale comb.
  • Bright eyes with no signs of swelling surrounding them.
  • Clean nostrils with no discharge. Whilst respiratory infections are common in chickens, don't choose a bird showing any respiratory symptoms.
  • An alert, bright looking chicken. Don't pick a hen who is hunched up, with fluffed up feathers or with her head tucked up under her wing.
  • No lice or mites. Check through the skin around the fluffy feathers near the birds vent looking for any signs of lice or mites.
  • Clean feathers around the vent with no loose droppings.
  • Smooth legs with no raised scales.

What do I do with my chickens when I arrive home?

It will take the hens a few days to imprint where home is so they will need to be kept in a run for 5 or 6 days.
They need to perch up off the ground out of draughts, although some birds may need lifting up on to the perches for the first few nights to get the idea.
They will still have to sort out the new 'pecking order', and there may be some minor pecking and squawking for the first few days - just observe them to make sure no chickens are being seriously bullied - if you ever see blood remove the chicken immediately as the others will peck at blood incessantly (and to the death). It is crucial to put food and water in different places. Dominant hens will not allow the timid hens near the feeders and drinkers so put temporary dishes out for them wherever they spend most of their time. Watch for any smaller or timid hens -if a hen is being bullied she may be too nervous to eat and drink enough resulting in her getting weaker and in the worst case scenario, eventually dying. If the hens have plenty of space to keep out of each other's way and are not bored, all should be well after the initial settling in period.
If you are introducing the hens to your existing birds they should be kept separate but within sight of each other for 2 weeks. This is to quarantine them and give them a chance to settle in. If you only have one house and run and have no choice but to put them in together, do not put them into the coop until it is dark and the original hens are roosting. They will then wake up together in the morning and hopefully not be as shocked by each other, but it is essential you are on hand for the first few days to observe them and give them as much space as possible to avoid each other.
Try to keep any stress to a minimum for the first few weeks to avoid any health problems.

What do I feed my chickens?

Layers pellets or mash should be available for the hens ad lib, there is no need to limit the amount they eat. Chicken layers pellets or mash are their staple diet and provide all the nutrients needed including calcium to make the shells (they will also get calcium from oyster shell). Try to hang up your feeder up to 12"off the ground inside the house (ensure if they stretch they can reach the food), it will stop the birds scratching it out all over the floor and wasting it, as well as discouraging mice.
The hens love mixed corn, but just feed it as a treat -it is fattening without providing all the elements they need - I throw them a handful every evening after they have eaten enough layers pellets, but it is not essential. They must also have access to clean water at all times - they drink more than you would expect - it takes a huge amount of water to produce an egg.
They will also need grit and oyster shell ideally in a small container or scatter some for them regularly. Chickens don't have teeth so they use the grit stored in their gizzards to grind their food.

When will my hens lay eggs?

When the chickens feel settled and they are old enough, they will start laying. Expect hybrid chickens to lay at about 20-25 weeks, although it may be a bit earlier or later. You can expect some very small, soft shelled or odd shaped eggs to start with, but they will become larger and more uniform as they settle. Pure breed chickens can be later coming in to lay as they are slower maturing.
If your hens are already laying when you buy them, don't be surprised if they stop laying for a week or two when they move house due to the stress of moving.
The hens may not lay where you intend them to initially - I usually just remove any eggs laid in the wrong place and put them into the proper nest boxes, (blocking off the original laying area) - they soon seem to get the idea and start laying where the eggs are.
Please be aware that they are not machines, and there will be periods of time when you may not get any eggs or very few eggs. Expecting an egg every day off every hen is not realistic.

How do I transport my chickens home?

Ideally bring a well ventilated cat type carrier or dog crate. Big cardboard boxes are fine in cooler weather if they are well ventilated. Chickens overheat very quickly so the more air around them the better. If transporting them on a hot day avoid normal cardboard boxes and ensure the birds travel inside the car and not in the boot (preferably with air conditioning on). We also sell purpose made cardboard transport boxes that will carry up to 3 hens in each box.

How do I get my chickens tame?

The chickens may be quite nervous when you first get them. They will calm down and most will get friendly but please be aware that they are all very different personalities, and whilst some will be trying to get on your lap after a few weeks, others need their own space and will prefer never to be handled, don't try and force unfriendly chickens to be handled as they will just become more nervous.
If you do want very friendly, tame chickens try to bribe them with food. After a few days they will run to you for food and if handled gently and quietly will soon be eating out of your hand. It is so important to be calm, gentle and quiet around your chickens, they are prey animals and loud noises, shouting or sudden movements will stress them and make them wary of humans.
I know children love to pick them up, but try to encourage them to be gentle and quiet around them and not to squeeze the chickens - a broken egg inside the bird would be fatal.

What routine and annual care do my chickens need?

A basic common routine would involve the following:

  • Early in the morning - Let out your hens, check they are all well. Top up feeders and drinkers.
  • Dusk - Collect any eggs, check the hens again and close in overnight away from the fox.
  • Weekly - Clean out the hens house and run, wash out feeders and drinkers. Check the house for signs of red mite.
  • Monthly - Handle your hens to feel their weight. Check carefully for signs of lice, mites and scaly leg mite and treat as necessary.
  • Quarterly - Worm your hens with Flubenvet mixed in with the feed.

I'm worried one of my hens is poorly, what should I do?

Firstly please download our Hen Health Assessment which will help to narrow down and identify problems. Next check our Chicken heatlh and Common Issues page for advice.

How do I stop my chickens getting bored?

Chickens need to fulfill their need to scratch the ground with their feet, so the best solution is moving them on to fresh grass regularly. If this is not feasible then I'd strongly recommend putting down our mud management system. This gives them something to scratch in and keep them busy. Throw a small handful of corn or treats into the wood chips (only in dry weather to ensure the food doesn't get damp) and they will then spend hours scratching through it looking for their food. Amusement and exercise at the same time! I also hang up cabbages, lettuces and bird peanut feeders stuffed with treats such as corn on the cob - they will then take hours pecking at it to retrieve their treats. Another popular chicken treat is to hang up bunches of nettles, they spend hours stripping them bare - cheap and effective.

Can I introduce new chickens to my existing flock?

Generally yes, you can introduce new chickens to a flock, but care needs to be taken. In an ideal situation you would have an extra chicken house and run and would set this up in close proximity to your existing hens. Your new hens would then live in this pen for a few weeks slowly getting used to their new neighbours before actually being in direct contact. In reality not many people have this set up available so there a few ways to try introducing newcomers. When you get your new chickens put them into the hen house with the older hens at night when they are roosting, in the morning let them out and observe them carefully. If you are very lucky there will be a small amount of mild confrontation before they settle together. If you are able to, then let your existing chickens out into the garden and keep the newcomers in the chicken run. That way they can see each other but not fight. In the evening let the older chickens back into the chicken run and let them roost together. Hopefully after a few days things will settle down and they will be able to be left together during the day. The critical thing when mixing new hens is space and food. If they are in a confined chicken run there is nowhere for the new birds to run and hide, if they have plenty of room or ideally are free in the garden, they can then keep our of each others way minimising any problems. It is crucial to have a number of temporary feed and water stations in different areas of the run. Timid hens won't eat or drink in front of dominant hens. It is important to be on hand when new chickens are introduced so you can monitor things and also observe where the newcomers spend their time and put food and water close to the place where they feel safe.

Do I have to clip my chickens wing?

No, but if you would like us to we can clip the hens wing for you, we will also show you how to clip them.

It is entirely up to you if you clip their wing or not. If you have one of the flightier breeds and don't want them jumping over into your neighbour's, it may be worth doing. If you have a roof on your run there is no need. Chickens cannot actually fly but they will use their wings to help them jump up onto objects - clipping their wing will not stop them jumping but it will knock them off balance and help contain them. On the other hand, by clipping their wings they have less chance of escaping a predator.
The feathers will not re-grow until the hens moults and re-grows all her feathers (usually around 12-18 months old).

How do I stop the chickens run becoming muddy?

If you are planning to keep your chickens in a static run I strongly recommend putting a base down in it. If you don't, then during the wet weather you will have a muddy, unhygienic area. The other problem caused by a bare run is boredom which can lead to all sorts of problems such as feather pecking. There are lots of bases you can use, but I use our chicken run mud management system which comprises of a layer of our turf protector or mud mats, topped with a thick layer of wood chips, which we have for sale in 70 litre sacks. Full details can be found on our 'Chicken Run Mud Management' web page. Bark chips are not suitable for chickens as the whole point of bark chips is as a mulch to retain moisture - exactly what you want to avoid. Aspergillus thrives on bark - this is the fungus which, if it gets into poultry lungs and airs acs and slowly kills them. It's dangerous as the spores can hide inside the airsacs where antibiotics have little effect. Wood chips are too hard for the aspergillus fungus to colonize and so are ideal for the run. I regularly cover the woodchips with a layer of powdered disinfectant such as Stalosan F or Agrisec which reduces any odours and kills worm eggs.

My hen is broody and sitting on the nest all the time.

Typically a broody hen will not want to move off the nestbox, she will make a distinctive growling sound, fluff up her feathers if you put your hand near her and may even peck you. If you don't want to hatch chicks it is advisable to stop the broodiness. She will not be laying eggs whilst broody, will get very run down and the flock pecking order will be ruffled. The best way to stop her broodiness is to place her in a 'broody crate' - this needs to be somewhere cool, light and uncomfortable so that she can't make a nest. I use metal dog crates with no bedding (just a layer of newspaper), but it is possible to construct something similar with wire (if you do an internet search for 'broody crate' there are many great ideas). Put the crate in a safe, dry, draught free place that has plenty of daylight. Her instinct is to hatch some eggs in a nice dark, quiet place so you need to create the opposite conditions to put her off and make her hormone levels drop. Pop her in for 24 hours and see how she is behaving, if she is still clucking and showing broody behaviour leave her for another 24 hours and check again. Some hens will stop the behaviour after 24 hours, others will take a week or more. It is essential that she has free access to food and water in the cage. Expect her to be very upset at being confined - she will probably pace up and down looking agitated, but you have to be cruel to be kind and leave her in until she stops. I feel it is better to have 2 or 3 days of discomfort than risk her health by letting her sit for no purpose. Some determined hens will sit for up to 6 weeks if allowed to, and then take a further month to recover their strength.