Requiring just a small amount of time each day, chickens are low maintenance pets and relatively easy to keep. They are happy to occupy themselves by running around your garden and will reward your fabulously with fresh eggs each morning.
With a number of breeds of chicken to choose from, make sure that you find the one suited to you. Rhode Island Red’s are one of the most popular choice for a first time chicken keeper. Well known for being tough, they are capable of looking after themselves and are very friendly. The Sussex is another popular breed, also being tame and friendly. They are happy to roam the garden without destroying it and will become your companion, even being happy to eat from your hand.
You can buy chickens from a breeder, but you should ensure that they are trusted and have kept the birds well. Hold the birds and give them a good checkover and ask the breeder questions about their goals. This will help you to decide if these chickens are right for you. Alternatively, you could ask around locally if there are any chickens who need rehoming. Our own chickens at The Montagu Arms from New Forest Chicken Rescue.
Then comes the question – how do you keep chickens?
Every coop should have the basics including security, a nesting area and weather protection.
A suitable coop should be completely safe from the danger of predators. This is where your chickens will be kept during the night and therefore you do not want to make it accessible to foxes. It is also important that it be rat proof, as rats can spread disease or even steal eggs.
For roosting and nesting, the chickens will need a separate area. The nesting area is where the chickens will lie down and lay their eggs, so it should be a comfortable, separate space. To ensure that the chickens are kept warm during the winter, ensure that the coop is well insulated but with plenty of ventilation for fresh air to prevent them overheating during the summer. Even throughout torrential rain, the coop needs to be able to keep your chicken’s warm and dry, meaning it will need to be weather proof.
Just as you would regularly clean your house, make sure that you are doing the same for your chickens. Once a week, remove the droppings and replace their bedding. If the droppings are left, this can cause a build-up of ammonia which is damaging to their respiratory systems and eyes.
Naturally good at foraging, chickens will look for insects and greenery but this means you will need to keep them away from anything you do not want eaten.
To ensure good health and lots of fresh eggs, your chickens will need some extra food with a balanced diet of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals to help them grow and produce eggs. Look for a good organic chicken feed to produce delicious eggs with golden yokes.
To help digest their food, chickens also need to eat small stones which will be used to grind up food in their gizzard. Providing them with grit such as calcium-rich oyster shells is particularly beneficial to strengthen the egg shells. Treats such as corn, pasta and banana can be given, but not too many as they will fill up on those instead of their pellets.
Keeping chickens is a wonderfully fulfilling experience with many benefits. From the fresh eggs produced each and every day, to the entertainment from their individual personalities and quirks - once you have the hang of it, you won’t want to be without these animals! Meet the Montagu Arm's own brood of rescue hens during your next trip to the New Forest.
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