Hen Keeping Q&A
How many hens should I get?Hens like to live in groups with a definite pecking order. We recommend a group of 3 so if anything happens to 1 then there are still 2 left. You should never keep one hen by it's self.
Each hen will lay 5-6 eggs / week on average, less or none during the winter.
Do I need a cockerel?No. Only if you want to raise your own chicks. The hens will quiet happily lay eggs without a male around. If a breeder tries to sell you a trio of 2 hens and a cockerel decline the offer unless you know what you're buying.
How easy is it to keep hens in the garden?Very easy as long as you fulfil a few basic requirements.
They need somewhere dry and draught free to sleep. They don't normally mind cold weather as they are supplied complete with feather duvet.
They need somewhere safe from predators. The main one is Mr Fox who will almost certainly visit your garden at some point.
They need a supply of food and water.
They need to be checked on a daily basis and have the eggs collected.
What size house do I need?You need to have enough room for all the birds to perch at the same time. If you get this right the house will be big enough. You'll find calculating the size this way requires a slightly larger house than calculations based on the number of hens/metre that some manufacturers use.
You should allow 15cm / bird for most breeds, adjusted for larger or smaller breeds. Allow room for an extra bird on the end so they can move about - 3 birds need 45cm + 15cm = 60cm of perch. Perches need to be 20 cm from the wall. They also need a bit of room to jump up. This gives a minimum size for 3 birds of 60x60 cm.
Can I let my hens free range in the garden?Due to the number of urban foxes we strongly advise against allowing poultry to free range in an urban setting. We feel a secure run is a must. You have a duty of care to protect any animal you keep from physical harm. A fox will kill all your hens but may only take one away to eat.
The amount of space required is largely down to personal preference in the back garden setting.
You could have a small run which is moved every few days to a fresh place but you may quickly run out of fresh ground unless you have a substantial garden (a 2 meter run moved once a week would need an area of 50 square meters if you are to let the grass recover underneath). Our Preferred method is to keep them in an enclosed run with as large an area as possible, ideally around 1 square meter / bird. We find that a small area requires cleaning more often.
The bottom of the run can be filled with wood chip, saw dust, pebbles or rubber chip. All these are easy to clean and will still allow the hens the scratch around. A roof over the top will keep everything drier which in turn keeps smells down and reduces the chances of the hens creating too much mud.
Based in these dimensions the majority of poultry houses with attached run, especially the cheap imported ones, are far too small for anything more than 1 or 2 hens.
By Simon Wells