A beginner’s guide to hen keeping

Our guest blogger this week comes from the British Hen Welfare Trust, who will be featuring at the Show this year and you'll be able to get up close with some of their hens as well as get some tips and advice on keeping your own hens. For now, though, read about these inquisitive birds and how to look after them properly.

Hen-keeping is becoming more and more popular and it is easy to see why – looking after the birds isn’t expensive or time consuming and they provide a versatile, protein-rich, perfectly packaged daily gift.What’s not to like?

Ex-commercial hens in particular, as re-homed by the British Hen Welfare Trust, are the ideal starter hen for novice keepers, and you can meet some at this year’s Royal County of Berkshire Show where the charity will have a stand.

The BHWT, now in its 13th year, has so far re-homed more than 655,000 hens through 37 regional pop-up sites and continues to educate the public about egg production, including hidden eggs within food products.

It does this through its small team at Hen Central in Devon, plus a network of 600+ volunteers who give up their time every four to six weeks to make sure the hens go off to loving homes.

The birds are becoming ever more popular and was named the UK’s fourth most populous pet by the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association in 2015, proving their reputation as endearing, amusing, productive pets is on the rise.

Looking after them is relatively easy once their initial needs are catered for.

Firstly, hens will need their own coop. This can be a purpose-built house or a converted shed, outbuilding or even a child’s Wendy house. However the coop must contain nest box facilities, perching provision and a pop-hole as essentials. Both wooden and plastic coop houses make perfect homes, though the latter is often easier to clean.

Every coop needs a run and that can take the form of a large enclosure with fencing or an aviary style boundary. Generally speaking, the more there is for the hens to see and do, the happier they will be. A storm shelter or covered area should be provided for wet and windy days. It can also be used for feeding outside in wet weather and doubles up as a sunshade and/or dust bath for the birds.

Minimal cleaning out is required on a daily basis – just don some rubber gloves and remove droppings and any wet patches. A more thorough clean can be carried out once every two weeks, or every week if you’re really keen. This should include sweeping out bedding, using a paint scraper to remove debris, and putting down a fresh layer of bedding.  

Feed and water can be fed ad lib, generally birds will eat 100-120g daily, and using a sturdy feeder will prevent it being knocked over.Food should not be allowed to go stale or damp so control the amount in the feeder and tailor it to the number of hens you have in your flock.

Whilst in the past feeding kitchen scraps was a way of life, it is now illegal to feed your birds scraps unless they are from a vegan household. In any case, chickens thrive on a well-balanced diet and should therefore only be given nutritional treats specifically designed for them; this will help maintain good egg production too.

Other than that, chickens really do look after themselves – yes it takes a certain amount of commitment, but the rewards far outweigh any inconvenience.Ask anyone who has enjoyed a simple omelette made with fresh-from-the-garden eggs; it becomes extra special when made with eggs from your own flock.

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