Guide to Chicken Keeping

Before purchasing any feathered friend please ask yourself if you can and are willing to provide adequate and loving care to your new addition? Many people will tell you it is easy and cheap to keep chickens but with any animal they require time, money and care. Also remember that in the cold winter you will have to go out and tend to your chickens, often continuously de-icing water bowls, securing them every night.You will also need someone to care for your chickens if you go on holiday.

I have prepared this guide about hybrids and general care required for taking care of your chickens to help you decide if chickens are right for you. If you purchase a chicken from us we are always on hand for help and advice. We do not know everything about poultry, but we will endeavour to help with any concerns or problems. Medical advice should always be sought by a professional.

All our birds are DEFRA registered, you are required by law to register your poultry if you keep over 50 birds or more, this includes chickens, quail, duck,turkeys, guinea fowl, geese etc. This is to monitor poultry in case of disease out-breaks in your area so they can contact you and inform you immediately. Even if you own a couple of chickens you can be DEFRA registered by going online as an extra safeguard and their website contains a wealth of useful information about keeping chickens, laws etc.

Firstly the difference between a hybrid and pure breed chicken:

Hybrid Chickens:

Hybrids are ideal for first time chicken keepers, they are friendly easy to manage, ideal for the whole family. Hybrid birds are all cross bred birds from 2 or more pure breeds. Good egg layers were crossed using a special genetic recipe to develop the hybrid chicken. Primarily they are bred as egg laying birds and tend to more reliable than pure breeds. Hybrids can produce a lot of eggs, some can lay 300 plus annually although gradually they will lay less, a pure breed will keep laying at a steady rate until old age kicks in. Hybrids as a rule do not go broody there job is to simply keep laying although on some occasions some do. Some hybrids can be extremely affectionate to their owners, others a little flighty depending on the nature of the hybrid. Many are docile and have a calm nature and are relatively easy to look after. Hybrids have been bred for characteristics of the pure breed such as resistance to disease, prolific egg laying or good meat birds. A hybrids life span is generally 3-5 years although some have been known to live a lot longer. With proper management they can be useful as back yard flocks giving you lots of lovely fresh eggs of excellent quality. (you can't beat a fresh egg)! They are generally more prone to disease and tumours than pure breeds and have a strict vaccination regime consisting of Mareks, salmonella, Enteritidis, coccidiosis, infectious bursal, Gomboro, classic infectious bronchitis, avian rhinotracheitis, avian encephalomyelitis, egg drop syndrome. All our hybrids are sold fully vaccinated and supplied by reputable breeders.

 

Pure breed chickens:

Pure breeds are colourful and glamorous and come in all shapes and sizes. The choice is vast, some breeds have been with us for centuries. Pure breeds are full of personality and generally lay for longer and more seasons than a hybrid. Fun to own and admire plus you are helping to conserve the species and history. They are more expensive than a hybrid and some pure breeds often go broody. Broodiness is simply Mother Nature's way of giving your hen a rest from laying. Most pure breeds do make excellent mothers. Pure breeds are more difficult to source. A lot of breeders do not deem it necessary to vaccinate pure breeds as they are more resilient than a hybrid. There are pros and cons to vaccinating them and some say it does them more harm than good. I have vaccinated my pure breeds against Mareks and Newcastles Disease. A pure breeds lifespan is generally longer than a hybrid from 6 years to over 10 years and in some cases still laying the occasional egg in old age. Pure breeds eggs come in all shapes and sizes. 

 

Before purchasing a chicken

1. Research about the type of breed and what is required (each breed has different requirements, temperement, space, expense on feed etc).

2. Make sure you have the correct housing for the breed and that housing is secure and fox proof.

3. Make sure you have suitable food bowls and water bowls (this can be trial and error depending on breed).

4. Make sure you have chosen the correct feed best suited for your chicken. Keep in mind that when purchasing a young bird it will be on growers pellets and at 18 weeks layers pellets will start (If purchasing any of our pure breed birds you will be given the birth date and accurate feed information). Do not forget you will require grit to aid the digestion of food and oyster shell only for point of lay hens.

5. Remember chickens and ducks need to be wormed. This is an added expense. You can use Verm-X a herbal wormer which has to be administered monthly available in liquid or pellet form or Flubenvet which is used every 6 months. Mite control is also a must. We spray our houses with mite control every 6 weeks not just wooden houses, red mite also lives inside the plastic. We also apply a mite powder to our birds every 4 weeks.

6. Only buy poultry from someone you trust, never buy a bird on impulse. Always look at how the birds are treated, if they are kept clean and have adequate space. If you are buying a hybrid ensure you are confident that they have been vaccinated. Pure breeds do not have to be vaccinated and rarely are. Always check your bird before purchasing, make sure you see it walking, check the vent, the eyes should be bright and the bird alert, not dishevelled and quiet, this is displaying sickness. Always get a receipt. If buying birds to add to your existing flock it is advisable to quarantine them fo 5 days before adding to your flock. It is best to introduce the birds at night. At first they will squabble until the pecking order is established. Chickens can be ruthless with each other and you should always add a minimum of 2 hens when increasing your flock. Chickens enjoy eating grass although it is not always practical or easy to house them permanently on grass unless you have large areas or runs you can move. You can still give them small blades of grass by taking off the root. Do not feed grass clippings or long grass as this can become entangled in the bird's crop resulting in death. As with all poultry your birds must have clean bedding and their housing kept dry. Good husbandry is essential for the well being of you poultry. Do not leave your birds unattended in an unsecured area, Mr fox is always lurking, you might not see him but he is watching you and especially your loved chicken!

Chickens do get bored, especially if in confined in a small area, you can hang treats up for them to jump and peck at. Scraps can be fed to chickens but always research what scraps are suitable. Chickens love meal worms especially live ones and will go crazy for them, meal worms are full of essential nutrients for them. The pellet food or mash you give them does supply them sufficient nutrients along with some grass so always research what treats are good for them as this can affect egg laying. Wheat apparently digests better than corn. Always make sure they have access to grit in order to aid digestion and oyster shell to aid egg laying when hen is at laying age. There are poultry supplements that can be added to their water to help them through a moult or stress. Chickens can easily become stressed which is a big killer as often brings on illness and disease. Apple vinegar added to their water every so often strengthens their gut. Generally when a chicken is unwell it will look dishevelled, quiet and hunched up. A chickens health will deteriate rapidly if something is wrong. It is adviseable to segregate this chicken and check over for a blocked crop or egg being stuck, and seek advice. It could be an off day or something more serious, always worth checking.

Hatching your own chicks

Hatching your own chicks is an amazing experience especially where children are involved. Before attempting hatching your own eggs make sure you research fully the breeds you are attempting to hatch and remember the incubation process produces a lot of cockerels so know what you are going to do with the cockerels before you start.

I hope you find this guide helpful and if you decide chickens are right for you, I hope you find many years of happiness with your new feathered friends.