Thinking of keeping chickens - Before you buy FAQs
Much of the information available for those thinking of starting with hens can be too in depth, so if you want a quick, honest guide to see if chicken keeping is for you, we have put together a list of the most commonly asked questions.
There is more in depth help on the Advice pages of the website.
Please take a look at our Starter Kit and Essentials on the Online Shop for products to get you going.
You can also download our quick guide to starting with hens.
What are the advantages of keeping chickens
Chickens 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 chickens
You 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 chickens
What do chickens live in?
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 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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
What should I consider when buying chickens from you?
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:
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.