It is helpful in managing any flock to understand bird behaviour. Chickens have a well developed social structure based on the “pecking order”. The dominant hen is at the top of this order and can peck all beneath her. The second tier can peck those below them but not the one above and so on. Once established this pecking order allows a flock to co-exist peacefully.

However, introducing a new hen can upset the balance and result in the new hen being bullied. This can be severe and needs to be watched for to prevent injury and suffering. It is a good idea to introduce new hens in a large area where there is room to escape the attention of the bullies. It can also be eased by introducing more than one hen at a time and introducing them into a safe enclosure within the pen, so they can meet the flock through wire mesh from the safety of their own enclosure.

Busy chickens thrive and lay well and are less likely to cannibalise other hens in the flock. Hanging greens in a mesh bag helps kept them amused. Old CDs suspended on string also provide amusement but the most important requirement is to avoid overcrowding and provide grass or fine gravel areas seeded with scattered grain each day to allow the hens to exercise their natural instinct to scratch.

Good management is a matter of observation and taking the time to watch your hens. Changes in behaviour, dullness, not eating and loose droppings are indicators of problems and should be followed up promptly with appropriate action. As you observe the hens you will pick up the different calls made in different situations – a “cackle” after laying an egg; “screeching” when alarmed; “soft growling” sound when broody and a “took, took, took” call to lead their chicks to food.

All hens must molt once a year. This is a natural process essential for their survival. It involves them stopping laying, losing their feathers and then growing new ones. Do not reduce feed at this time – they need good nutrition and plenty of protein during this phase to grow new feathers for the next year.

Antisocial behaviour is rare but some males can be aggressive, especially in the breeding season. If the bird aims it attack at head and eyes it can be dangerous and terrifying for children. Birds exhibiting such aggressive behaviour should be culled.

Keeping Chickens

  • Questions to ask before you start?

    Keeping chickens can be an extremely satisfying pastime with the added bonus of providing fresh eggs for family and friends. It does however require sustained commitment so before you start

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  • Choosing a Breed

    Hybrids. Commercial hybrid chickens are particular commercial crossbreeds based on those originally selected in the 1950s for the battery cage producers seeking to vastly increase production over the traditional pure

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  • Housing

    As explained earlier housing for hens does not need to be large or elabotate as long as it provides the essential requirements of shelter, protection, and sufficient space to exercise

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  • Feeding

    Poultry will eat most things but like all animals they require a balanced diet for good health and best performance. The best way to achieve this is by feeding ready

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  • Eggs

    Young hens or pullets start to lay at about 20 weeks of age. Commercial laying hens can lay over 300 eggs per year although this is much lower for some

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  • Flock Management

    It is helpful in managing any flock to understand bird behaviour. Chickens have a well developed social structure based on the “pecking order”. The dominant hen is at the top

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  • Pests and Diseases

    As with all livestock, chickens do occasionally fall ill and if in doubt you should consult a veterinary surgeon. However good management will prevent many diseases and lead to early

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  • Breeding and Rearing Chickens

    Breeding and raising poultry can be very rewarding, especially watching them hatch as chicks and then grow into mature adults. You can either breed your own stock or purchase “hatching

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The Supply Chain Development Programme is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD). Further information on the programme is available at www.countrysiderural.co.uk