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Getting started with keeping chickens

Keeping a few chickens in the back yard really is quite straight forward, but first you must however consider some things in order to get the right sort of birds for your situation and to keep them in the best possible health.

When choosing your chickens, there are quite literally hundreds of different breeds of chicken to choose from and out of these, many have slightly different requirements. Some breeds of chicken come only as Large Fowl, and others are also available as Bantams which are a smaller version that look the same. Bantams are often quite flighty whereas the heavy breeds of large fowl often cannot fly more than a few inches off the ground. Also, every breed is slightly different in the amount of eggs they lay. Bantams will lay smaller eggs because of their smaller size. Hybrids are chickens that have been created by crossing pure breeds. They are typically crossed to make good layers, coloured eggs or attractive hens. Some can be very attractive and they are all generally very hardy. Hybrids are often chosen because usually a hybrid hen will cost you around £15 compared to £25-£30 for a pure breed hen. Hybrids are a good choice if eggs are one of your choices for buying chickens, although if you think you might like to hatch some eggs, you would need the original pure breeds to cross again in order to create more of the same as they will not breed true.

Once you have chosen the chicken that is right for you, you will of course need a chicken coop but also a secure run or area that is predator proof. A question that is often asked is ‘’how big should the cage be?’’ and the answer is as big as you can, within reason. Even 2 chickens kept in a 2-metre  run will soon turn it to mud and get bored, but that is fine to provide a small run like this if you can let them out for a few hours each day to free range while you are around. This will give them a chance to forage, supplement their diet and reduce boredom. Once chickens have settled into their new house, they will go back to it to roost every night so you can let them out in the late afternoon, knowing they will come back to roost at night. Some houses and runs have handles or wheels that make them easy to move onto fresh ground which is not only good to prevent a build-up of worm eggs and disease but also provides them with a little fresh grass to graze. Also, if you have a ‘nice’ garden that you don’t want spoilt, it’s a sensible idea to limit their foraging. Chickens scratch at the ground, make dust baths in the dry soil, leave muck wherever they go and destroy young plants. If you can plant in pots, this will help, and fencing off part of the garden is usually a good choice to keep them out. Chickens with feathered feet scratch less. Bantams can clear a 6-foot fence if they want to. Heavy breeds of large fowl can be kept out with a knee-high fence or box hedge. If you want to stop a bird from flying then you can clip one wing, it is advised not to do both.

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