TL ; DR : Thinking about getting hens ? Go for it, but remember they are living beings and they need care. Don’t forget to also check out your city’s policy on keeping hens.
If you’re thinking about getting started with livestock and more precisely chickens (or hens) there are some things you might want to know before starting.
Chickens are chickens, they don’t need palaces, they don’t care if their coop has flowers painted on it (we haven’t tried this yet, but we’ve seen such awesome coops that we regularly get kinda jealous) or if they have automatic closing doors (still working on that). Try not to get carried away on the chicken coop if you don’t want to spend too much money on them. You can easily build a chicken coop from scrap parts. We found some pallets and used them with some scrap wood in order to build a perfectly waterproof chicken coop. Use your wit and imagination and you’ll definitely build a great home for your chickens.
You can also get one of those chicken coops from kits. They are quite easy to build and you can buy them online or at your local gardening store (if it is large enough).
Chickens like to perch to sleep, however be careful to not offer them a perch with rough, cutting edges (like square-section timber) that they have to wrap their toes around to sleep. They can also end up with tendon problems if the roosting area is not quite right. A flat board that is wider than your hens feet is just fine – it just needs to be properly fixed so the chickens don’t have to constantly adjust their balance. Chickens feel safe and secure if their legs are on solid ground; this is why it is advised to hold their legs firmly when craddling a bird – they feel safer and are less likely to try and flap their wings to regain balance.
Try to keep the coop as clean as possible in order to avoid diseases and parasites. Food grade diatomaceous earth will help against most pests. It is a great solution against those pesky red mites and is also great in the garden against pests like flea beetles. We swear by it and wish we’d known about it before. You can probably find some at your local gardening shop or online if they do not have any.
If your area has a lot of predators, and even if you don’t think you have any predators you should try to make your hen house predator proof. These include dogs, coyotes, bobcats, fearless house cats – mostly for chicks -, foxes – especially red foxes-, raccoons, members of the weasel family – especially long-tailed weasels -, skunks, opossums (and the list goes on and on – we’ve even had hedgehogs sneaking into the coop and stealing eggs). Think mesh wiring on all 4 sides, and consider also closing the “roof” of the chicken run with wire, as many predators are excellent climbers (I’m looking at you, weasels and foxes!). And remember to bury your wiring deep because some predators are not only great and climbing and jumping but also at digging. Finally, since most of these animals are nocturnal the best thing to do is to close the coop every night – this will keep your birds safe and sound, reducing their stress levels, and will improve their health and egg-laying!
Figure out which breed (or breeds) of chickens you want.There are rather tough, less “interesting” (classic looking no-frills chicken) breeds, that have been selected for their strength and reliable egg-laying ability. We went with these. We got some Sussex, Marans and the classic red hen. You can get a variety of hens, but try to get a few of each because some of them might not get along. Try to read up basic information on each breed before making your final decision.
Ornamental hen breeds are usually not good layers, and some are pretty susceptible to disease. Though they are definitely beautiful and if you want out of the ordinary pets, they are great with their cute little feathers.
Chickens are generally quite adaptable, and can survive quite extreme temperatures. Choosing a local breed is usually a good idea, since they will be naturally adapted to your temperature range and most local illnesses and parasites, and will be able to eat most local food.
The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it 🙂 Expect some trial and error !
If you’d like to read more on our personal experience with raising hens you might want to check out our blog post on gardening with chickens.
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