With a bit of common sense, a clean place to live, the right food and protection from foxes, egg laying garden hens can live long and happy lives, paying for there keep with nice fresh eggs.
Chickens and laying hens can be kept in small or large gardens, in the countryside or town and as long as they are fed and housed properly will reward you with lovely fresh eggs. These are a few tips gained from my own experience keeping laying hens that should help you look after your garden hens.
Before rushing out and buying laying hens or point of lay pullets, you will need to think about buying or making a suitable place for the hens to sleep, rest and lay there eggs.
Types of coops and runs for housing hens and chickens in a garden are discussed in more detail later in the article.
A hen house or coop will need to be high enough to have perches for your hens to roost and a safe run, preferably on grass or soil for them to scratch around and enjoy the sun and fresh air.
When choosing housing for poultry it is important to consider protection from foxes.
You will need a secure chicken run for nights and when you are away. All but one of my laying hens left to wander in my garden for a couple of hours were killed by a fox in early afternoon. Walls and fences that will keep most dogs out of your garden will not stop foxes.....
Chicken and hen run that can be moved around the garden.
This type of hen house can be moved regularly to provide fresh places to scratch around and makes access for cleaning out easier. If you don't have space for this type of hen house and run, add fresh hay or straw for the hens to scratch around in and a bowl of sand or dry earth for the hens to dust bathe. The stuff you remove when cleaning out can be added to the compost heap.
What to feed laying hens.
To keep your hens in peak condition and laying many eggs it is very important to feed them the correct food as discussed next....
Grain encourages chickens to exercise by scratching the ground to find the grain, it is high in energy and fiber, but relatively low in protein, like feeding your kids a diet of fast food, great in moderation, but chickens that eat too much mixed corn will have less appetite for more nutritious feed.
I always feed mixed corn to my laying hens to encourage them to have a bit of fun and enjoy scratching around the run, also the corn provides energy to help keep your hens warm overnight and it keeps their crops full overnight.
Feed enough mixed corn as your chickens can finish in about 20 minutes in the afternoon after they have eaten the layers pellets you have fed them in the morning and it won't spoil there appetite.
Pellets provide the essential protein and calcium laying hens need to produce hard shelled healthy eggs, they require large amounts of calcium to form the eggshell, the layers pellets you are feeding to your hens should contain 2.5% to 3.5% calcium. If you find your hens produce eggs with thin shells or shells that are easily cracked, it may also be necessary to supplement the diet of laying hens with grit that contains ground oyster shell on a free-choice basis.
Layer pellets should contain at least 14% protein to keep your chickens fit and health during the laying season, I also buy meal-worms to give my laying hens the occasional treat and provide a bit more protein during the peak laying season.
Layers pellets should be fed in the morning, before treats like corn and kitchen scraps.
Household and kitchen scraps.
I supplement my chicken feed with scraps from the kitchen, it helps keep the feed bill down and provides a bit of variety for my laying hens, but according to Defra rules? It is illegal!
If you are going to feed kitchen scraps to your chickens and laying hens, feed them in the afternoon after the layers pellets have been eaten and avoid scraps that contain high levels of salt, fat and any food that has gone moldy.
Laying hens will also enjoy grass, weeds, seeds, insects and slugs and snails from your garden.
Grit is essential to help grind up and digest the food. If your hens are regularly given the run of your garden or live in a movable run, they will also pick up grit from the garden.
It is important to add green stuff to your laying hen's diet.
Laying hens and chickens, in fact all poultry, need green stuff, like grass and cabbage leaves, they will produce better eggs with less cholesterol and more Omega-3 fatty acids currently good for you according to the daily mail, although they do have a habit of changing health advice quite often.
If you are not growing your own vegetables, most greengrocers will be happy to let you have leafy vegetables that are just past their best, for free or quite cheap.
What to feed chicks.
Chicks need a special diet, normally in the form of specially formulated chick crumbs.
Day old chicks, pullets and point of lay hens all need slightly different feed mixes as they grow older.
Naturally hatched chicks will learn from the mother hen and will eat most of the food listed above, just add specially formulated chick crumbs to the feed.
Incubator hatched chicks, It is best to continue with the formula the breeder has been feeding them, ask the breeder what food they are feeding the chicks and continue to feed your new chicks the same food, usually chick-crumbs that provide the nutrients needed.
Make sure to keep all poultry feed in a secure clean container away from rats and mice. I use a galvanized dustbin to store all my feeds.
The feeds can be purchased from the food for garden hens shop
They actually enjoy vegetable peels, bananas, apple cores, carrots, broccoli even spaghetti and porridge. In fact, almost any wholesome food, vegetable or fruit you eat yourself, if you can eat it so can they and you can feed them this daily, as long as its part of a balanced diet that also includes the mixed corn, layers pellets and grit I have listed above.
In fact I have found over the many years I have kept layers and birds for the table that one of the many benefits of keeping chickens is that most of my kitchen waste and stuff I grow in my garden can be fed to them ensuring my flock get a varied and balanced diet and saving me some money too.
Avoid feeding your chickens any raw green peels (such as green potato peel) and citric fruits such as oranges and lemons all fatty foods or foods with lots of salt in it, also sweets (to much sugar) and processed food (to much of everything that is bad) If it is bad for you it is bad for your hens.
A chicken has about 8000 feathers that keep it warm, even in freezing temperatures. Providing they have good shelter they won't need extra heat in cold weather, but they will need a little extra care and attention during cold and wet weather. The things that can cause problems in cold or wet weather conditions are damp, muddy soil and drafts so there are several things you can do to keep your chickens comfortable and healthy in the winter.
Pay attention to the 6 things listed here and your hens and chickens will stay healthy and happy in bad weather.
Too many to list here, but I like Light Sussex they are good layers of light brown eggs, Marans are good layers of dark brown attractive eggs and Rhode Island Reds lay a good number of brown eggs.
Laying eggs during winter.
Hens need 14 hours of sunlight to lay eggs. You can extend the laying season in the winter months by increasing the light they get with a 40 watt bulb on a timer, but the yield will still be less than summer.
If you do set up lighting, make sure it switches off well before it gets dark. If you leave it until it's dark and the light suddenly goes off, the hens won't be able to see to get up onto the perches to roost and be stranded on the cold ground.
I never use artificial lighting "the egg factories do" just to squeeze a few more eggs out of my chickens. Let them rest through winter just as nature intended.
Floor Space: Allow a minimum of 12 inches x 12 inches for each hen not including nest boxes.
Perches: 2 inch wide perches with rounded edges, hens sit down when they sleep and a fairly wide perch helps them balance. Perches should be 12 to 16 inches wide per hen. They might not use all of the space as they often like to huddle together, but the extra space will allow hens that are lower in the pecking order and being bullied to roost away from other hens.
The minimum height for a perch is about 12 inches. If you can and have the space, gradually step up the perches to about 36 inches as some smaller lighter hens prefer to roost high-up. Never position one perch directly over another as hens defecate whilst roosting and the lower hen will get sh.. on.
Nest boxes: should be positioned below the height of the perches so the hens don’t roost in and soil them. Use straw not hay to line them due to mould spores in hay that can cause problems. Provide one nest box for every four hens with a minimum of two.