By Laura Donovan
Chickens are very easy to keep and you could be saying goodbye to buying your eggs from the shops.
But, If you're thinking of keeping some as a family pet then there are a few things you might want to know about.
Laura Donovan has been keeping chickens for two years. She answers some of the most frequently asked questions that can help you make up your mind.
• Do hens require a cockerel to lay eggs?
No. A cockerel is only required if you want fertile eggs to breed your own chickens. A hen will carry on ovulating if there is a cockerel present or not.
• Are Chickens easy to keep?
Yes is the simple answer. Chickens require minimal time from you. Like most pets they require fresh food, water and an enriching environment. Their living space will need to be skipped out, (roughly cleaned out), on a weekly basis. A thorough cleaning out should be done every month.
• How much space do you need to keep Chickens?
I always say give your chickens as much space as you can. If in doubt of the space you can provide then go for a fewer amount of chickens. Chickens can live quite happily in an enclosed run or ark system for the majority of the week and when you and the family are around you can let them roam your garden or part of it. When chickens are enclosed in an area make the environment as stimulating as possible.
• What do chickens need to eat?
Chickens require a balanced diet with all the right vitamins and minerals to lay eggs and form good hard shells. Layer's pellets or mash are a compound feed with the correct balanced nutrition to feed a laying bird. They also require access to two different types of grit, oyster shell and flint grit. As hens have no teeth they use flint grit that they ingest and hold in their crop to grind up their food. Oyster shell is a soluble grit to add the extra calcium to their diet, hens need this if they are going to be able to form the shells for the eggs they lay.
• How much do chickens cost to buy?
Hybrid laying chickens at POL (point of Lay) or 17 weeks of age should cost you around £15 each. These chickens usually lay between 250 and 330 eggs in their first laying year.
• How much does it cost to feed them?
A bag of good quality natural layers pellets should cost you around £8-£9 this is for a 20kg bag this size bag should feed a couple of hens for a 3-4 months. If you supplement their diet with other foodstuffs such as mixed corn and vegetarian kitchen scraps this will reduce the amount of compound food consumed by the birds. Layers pellets as well as mixed poultry corn can be found as organic rations they will as you would expect cost a little bit more probably around £12-£13 for a 20kg bag.
• Are some chickens friendlier than others?
Chickens vary in temperament from breed to breed also there are no guarantees about the personality of each individual hen. Rhode Island Red hybrids are well known for being quite a docile bird also Black Rock and Amber hybrids are particularly quiet which is good if you have young children that want to handle the birds.
• How many eggs can I expect from my hens?
Chickens lay varying numbers of eggs depending on breed and age. Rhode Island Red hybrid hens usually lay 300 + eggs in their first year of life. Other hybrid hens lay between 240 and 300 eggs in their first year. Hens will lay less in their second and third years as the first year is always the most productive, although the eggs will be larger than in the first year.
Pure breed hens will lay fewer eggs than hybrid hens that have been specifically bred for laying.
• What is a hybrid hen?
A hybrid hen is a straight cross of two pure breed parents of different breeds. These crosses have been developed over decades to produce birds with the qualities of both parents combining these in their offspring.
• How long is the lifespan of a laying hybrid hen?
Hybrid laying birds don't live as long as their pure breed parents but you can expect a hen to live about 4-5 years.