Beginners Guide To Keeping Chickens
A chicken house, commonly know as a chicken ark, hen ark, chicken coup, hen house or poultry house can be used to anyone to keep chickens at home. Please read our quick guide to chicken keeping or hen keeping below for further information.
Chicken Housing Requirements:
Good waterproofing properties
Practical egg collection
Ease of cleaning
To keep healthy stock these features are essential. The floor area requirements are 1-1½ sq ft per birdDependant on breed. Perch’s should be rounded and not square. Always place your house so that the Prevailing wind does not blow straight through the pop hole or ventilation. It is also a good idea to design your pen around the house so that you don’t have to move it again.
Choice of Breed
The choice of breed must reflect personal preference, although practical considerations are important.There are many breeds to choose from. Many can be good egg layers but there are some that are not.For instance, the Maran lays a lovely chocolate brown egg but only approx 160 per year a Rhode Island Red will lay between 250- 300 eggs. The new range of Hybrids that have been available for several years now are probably the best birds for a beginner, many of them being very good layers and they come in various colours and plumage. There are many ornamental and exotic types of fowl which can be seen at poultry shows. Details of these can be obtained form The Poultry Club Of Great Britain. As I said, it really is personal preference.
Chicken Runs and Pens
A lot of smaller houses now come complete with runs attached which are ideal for keeping a small amount of poultry in the garden for household egg supply. They also eliminate the building of a poultry pen and can be moved to fresh pasture on a regular basis, and are also ideal for keeping the Fox out if you cannot get back before dusk to lock your chickens up.
When keeping a larger amount of birds is is advisable to build a pen. When siting the pen you should take into consideration the following points.
In windswept wintry conditions and hot summer days, chickens benefit from some form of shade, either via the cover of trees or shrubs or by making a small covered area in whatever materials you have to hand. ie an old door placed on old bricks or nailed to four posts that have been driven into the ground.
Site your pen in the driest part of the garden or field you can give your chickens.
Ideally, wherever possible, the pen should be covered in grass.
If you are wanting to maintain grass in your pen then an area of 80 sq ft per bird should be allowed. This means that a 20 x 40 foot pen would be ideal for 10 birds. However this is not always practicable and smaller pens can be made to suit individual needs. The birds welfare will not be affected it just means that the grass will not have chance to re grow after the chickens have scratted it up.
The pen boundaries can be marked out with string. You will need 8ft posts placed no more than 8ft apart. Knock the first post in to a depth of 2ft where the entrance gate is to be situated. Hang the gate and knock the next post in at the other side of the gate and attach a latch. Knock all the other posts in. Then dig a 6 in trench in line with the front of all the posts. The roll of wire netting should be 1 inch gauge and 6ft high ( or two rolls of 3ft high one placed above the other) The wire can now be attached to the posts using staples making sure that the bottom of the netting is in the trench. Once the netting is attached to the posts and complete, backfill the trench to cover the wire. This is done to stop the fox digging underneath the netting.
If you have a large area for your chickens to roam, the use of flexible movable electric poultry fencing can be used. This means that the fencing can be moved to rest pasture and is also ideal for keeping chickens in your orchard, an old practice.
Looking after Chickens
Chickens need to be cleaned out at least every three weeks. If the litter inside the house becomes damp and soiled thus forming a mat, it may be necessary to clean them out every week. The best litter to use is wood shavings although straw will suffice if these cannot be obtained. Allow a good 2-3 in of shavings on the floor. An adequate feeder will also be required these are available in plastic or in galvanised steel. You should take care to choose the right size. As a rough guide a 5kg feeder will will only need filling every 4-5 days if keeping 6 birds. Raise the feeder above the floor on blocks. The drinker should be placed outside at all times. The use of mite powder in the litter every 6 weeks is also advisable. Disinfect the poultry house feeder and drinker every three months with a suitable disinfectant. If the area around the chicken house becomes muddy, a covering of bark chippings will soon sort the problem out.The nestbox’s can be lined with straw or shavings but NOT hay as this has spores in it.
Keeping a Cockerel
Although they look wonderful there is no real reason to keep a cockerel. Also they may not help relations with your neighbours. If you are implementing a breeding programme, then it goes to say that you will have to have a cockerel!
Finaly if you do require any help or information, ask! Most people that keep poultry are a very friendly bunch and more than happy to advise and impart information.