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 you should ask yourself some important questions.
What is my primary interest in keeping hens?
If it is to have the satisfaction of providing fresh eggs for the family then one of the Outdoor or Commercial Hybrid Breeds will be what you require. However if you want to breed chickens for the pleasure of their unique colour or attractive appearance and perhaps in the future to exhibit stock at local shows and competitions, then you will need to choose from one of the many pure breeds available. This is probably one of the most important questions we pose to new poultry keepers when trying to assess what types of birds are best suited to either their experience level or home environment.
New Poultry Keepers – Best suited to Commercial Brown or Coloured Hybrids
It’s important to ask what age the birds are when new poultry is being purchased. This is to ensure that the birds once purchased will be fed with the correct meal type. Birds whilst classified as (point of lay) can be sold anywhere from 14-20 weeks old. We recommend that all birds purchased within this age bracket are fed grower meal to ensure the birds are the correct weight before starting to lay. To put the birds straight onto a ‘layer’ feedstuff will produce weak lightweight birds that will have a short laying cycle and will invariably lay mainly small eggs.
We always recommend the brown or coloured hybrid stock as they are ‘hardy’ and best suited to traditional farm / back yard hobby poultry environments.
Only after poultry keepers have gained experience of what is required to maintain a healthy and happy flock do we recommend moving on to keep bantam and pure breed chickens as invariably these birds are more delicate and will require a greater level of care and attention.
Do I have time to give the birds the care they need?
A small flock requires minimal attention but they do require fresh feed and water every day. Chickens depend on you entirely for their well-being and you need to be sure you can provide the continuity of care required.
Will I find the work involved satisfying ?
Chickens are far less demanding than most other domestic animals but they cannot simply be left to their own devices. As well as providing feed and water, eggs need to be collected regularly and houses kept clean.
Have I enough room ?
All the birds supplied by Clogher Valley Eggs and Poultry are reared in the free range situation where the birds have housing for shelter and protection but otherwise are free to roam on a grass area where it can exercise its natural instinct to scratch and feed by pecking. While birds can be kept inside or in aviary type houses with a mesh front to exclude wild birds and vermin, they must always have access to perches for roosting, laying boxes, water and an area of floor covered in straw, sand or wood chips, for exercise and to satisfy their natural instincts.
Where access is provided to a grass area, which is the system we prefer, the covered house or ark can be quite small As a guide allow, a floor area of 1 square foot (30cmx30cm) per bird for large fowl but half this will suffice for bantams and smaller chickens.
In short the housing required need not be large or expensive so long as the hens have the basic essentials of shelter, protection, and sufficient space to exercise their basic instincts to roost and scratch.
Will they annoy your neighbours?
If you keep the hen housing clean and your chickens are contained within your own premises, few neighbours will object to their presence. It is only when the henhouse is not cleaned out regularly that it will attract vermin and flies, which will cause a nuisance to both yourself and your neighbours.
The situation is likely to become more of a problem if you keep one or more roosters. They will inevitably start to crow at dawn and this will not be appreciated by everyone. If your neighbours are very close or are likely to be sensitive to such noise, it is best to just keep hens or discuss your intention with any who live close by. Remember that hens cackle when laying and if startled, and any chicken, whether cock or hen, will never be totally quiet.