Chicken Keeping FAQ's
Glossary of Common 'Chicken' Terms:
Bantam - Small size chickens and cockerels.
Brody - 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.
Cockeral - 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.
What are the advantages of keeping chickensChickens make great pets and are more productive than a rabbit or a hamster! A healthy, outdoor hobby the whole family can be involved in. Whilst they need daily care, they are not as time consuming as cats or dogs. Great slug and pest clearers. Chickens are great stress relievers - just sitting and watching them is really relaxing. A supply of delicious, healthy eggs from your own chickens. You will know exactly what has gone into your food.
What are the disadvantages of keeping chickensYou have to be available to check them daily, or arrange for someone else to do so if you are away. Be available to let them in and out every day (or buy an automatic door opener). Be prepared to deal with any health issues/vets bills and decide what to do should they come to the end of their laying life - will you keep them as pets? If they are free ranging they may take a fancy to your favourite plants.
What's involved in keeping chickensA 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 and carefully check for signs of lice or mites. Quarterly - Worm your hens with Flubenvet mixed in with the feed.
What do chickens live in?Chickens need a dry, comfortable but well ventilated house to sleep in at night safe from the fox. You can either have a specially designed hen house or adapt a garden shed or outbuilding. They will want a nice dark cosy place within their house to lay their eggs, and a perch with rounded edges for them to sleep on at night. The perch needs to be the higher than the nestboxes as they naturally want to roost as high as possible. You have a choice of either plastic or wooden housing - both have advantages and disadvantages. You can either have your hens in a run or you can let them have the run of the garden and they will automatically return to their house at night (you don't have to catch them every day - they will go 'home to roost!). They will need an absolute minimum of 1.5 square metres per bird in the run - the more space for them the better. Be very cautious when a manufacturer states a coop will house a certain amount of hens, check the measurements yourself and consider if there is enough space for your pets to spend their whole life in. After the initial settling in period, hens will always return to their house to roost at dusk so you don't need to worry about catching them and putting them in. If you go to the hen house at dusk, all your hens should have returned from the run or garden and be on their perches. You will need to line the base of the house with shavings or similar so that you can easily clean them out, and put shavings or straw in the nest box.
What do chickens eat?Their staple diet is layers pellets or layers mash. Unlike cats or dogs, these can be left available to them at all times and they will not overfeed on them. Clean water available all the time is essential. A huge amount of water goes into every egg and they drink more than you'd think. The only other essential item is grit and oyster shell. This can be put out in a small dish for the hens to help themselves to when they need it. Chickens don't have teeth and the grit does the job of teeth for them. The grit is swallowed and stored in the hens gizzard, it is used to 'grind' their feed, and the oyster shell goes to make strong shells on your eggs. They will also love small amounts of corn (but strictly limited to ensure they eat enough layers pellets).
What are the essential things I need to buy?Fox proof, dry but well ventilated house for the hens to sleep in. Large run or well fenced area/garden for them outside - a minimum of 1 square metre per hen run space. Feeder and drinker. Shavings or bedding for the house. Layers pellets or mash. Grit and oyster shell. Optional Mixed corn for a treat Diatomaceous Earth powder (lice powder) Wound spray Have a look at our 'Starter Kits' page on our online shop for more detailed ideas.
What type of chickens should I buy?This comes down to personal preference, but initially you have to decide between a hybrid chicken or a pure breed chicken. A hybrid is a bird developed by professional hatcheries over many years from crossing two specific breeds. This is done to obtain the characteristics required such as good egg layers, docility etc. There are about 10 established varieties of hybrid and different companies use different trade names which can cause some confusion. e.g. Amber Star, Amber Link and Ambers are all the same breed. A pure breed is a 'pedigree' chicken that will breed true. They come in a huge variety of sizes and colours - they are termed as either 'bantam' which is a small chicken or 'large fowl' which is a medium/large sized chicken. Generally hybrids will lay very well for 2 or 3 years before production slows or stops whilst pure breeds will lay fewer eggs (usually stopping totally during the winter) but are longer lived. Have a look at our 'Hybrids for Sale' page and our 'Pure Breeds for Sale' page for more ideas.
What should I look for when choosing a chicken?Firstly the surroundings should be clean and tidy and the birds should have plenty of space, clean water and feed. If you are going to mix the breeds they should ideally be living together as the added stress of introducing birds to each other is not perfect. Depending on their age the birds comb and wattles (pink or red flappy bits on their heads!) should be a healthy dark red, however, young birds will not yet have developed and may have a small, pale comb which is normal. 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 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 vent area. Make sure the hen doesn't have loose droppings around her rear. If you buy hens from us we will automatically check through all the above with you.
How many chickens should I buy?For welfare reasons we only sell a minimum of 2 hens. Chickens are flock creatures and can't be kept alone. We would recommend 2-3 hens as a minimum. Always get your chickens at the same time as it is not easy to introduce new hens to an established flock and it can takes weeks to slowly integrage new birds.
What should I consider when buying 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.
How do I get the hens home?A well ventilated cardboard box or cat/dog crate will be fine. The hens can travel together, you don't need a box for each chicken, but it is important they don't get too hot on the journey. When you arrive home open the box and gently lift the hens into their new house. If you are not confident to handle them and your house is big enough, just place the box inside and open it up. If you are buying from us we sell purpose made, ventilated boxes.
How often do I clean them out?As a general guide you will need to remove and replace the shavings at least once a week. If you have more hens in a smaller house this will be more often but if you have a few hens in a large shed it would be less. There should never be a build up of droppings or any smell in the house. If you can smell ammonia then it is already at a dangerous level for your hens. Every month the house will need totally emptying and disinfecting and checking/treating for mites.
What problems might I have?Generally hens are very easy to look after and not prone to health problems. If you are able to handle them regularly you are more likely to spot any problems before they become serious. A common problem are chicken lice and mites, we will show you when you collect your hens how to check for lice on the birds, but you need to check your hen house for red mites which live in the house and not on the bird. A healthy hen looks bright and alert, has a red comb and spends most of the day foraging for food, dust-bathing and a small time napping An unhealthy hen usually stands hunched up with her feathers ruffled and will sleep a lot of the time.
Do you take chickens to the vets?Vets are now becoming much more used to seeing chickens, check with your local vet if they are happy to see poultry. As a first stop there are a huge amount of web forums to cater for the many new hen keepers to help you with any problems your hens might have. Ultimately a hen is a living creature and no less likely to feel pain or fear than a cat or dog, and if they are in any sort of pain would need to see a vet. By taking them on you are responsible for their health and wellbeing, and before deciding to buy them, need to be aware that could include nursing them as well as vets bills. They don't need any routine vet trips (such as vaccination boosters).
What about when I'm on holiday?Ideally your chickens should always be checked twice a day to ensure they have feed and water and are healthy and not injured. If you are going away overnight and have a fox-proof run they should be alright if left with a couple of feeders and drinkers. If it will be longer than this, then you will have to arrange for someone to come in and check them daily. Whilst it is better to keep your hens in their own home, it is not always feasible and we offer a chicken 'boarding' service. You can bring your hens to us and we will look after them whilst you are away - See our 'Chicken Boarding' page for more details.