So I asked a few people what it meant to them
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 in town. As long as they are fed and housed properly egg laying garden hens will reward you with lovely fresh eggs. These are a few tips gained from my own experience keeping laying hens that may help 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 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. With a safe run preferably positioned 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.....
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. You can 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. The correct balanced diet is discussed in the following section.
Grain encourages chickens to exercise by scratching the ground to find the grain. Grain is high in energy and fibre. However, is relatively low in protein, a bit 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. Laying hens require large amounts of calcium to form the eggshell. The layers pellets for 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 is probably necessary to supplement the diet of your laying hens with grit that contains ground oyster shell.
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 cost 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 mouldy.
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 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, this would usually be 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 here from the food for garden hens shop
Laying hens 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 can be fed to them. 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, 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 my hens ensuring my poultry 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 a lot 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.
Floor Space: Allow a minimum of 12 inches12 inches for each hen not including nest boxes.
Perches: Perches should be two inch wide 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 in cold weather they often like to huddle together. 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 messed on.
Nest boxes: A nest box for egg laying 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.
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 for hens. 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 points listed here and your hens and chickens will stay healthy and happy in bad weather.
Fill a bucket with cold water and place the eggs in the water. The rotten eggs will float, the eggs on the turn will lift of the bottom and the fresh eggs will stay on the bottom.
When you crack an egg into the frying pan. A really fresh egg will have a yolk supported on a firm white, the older the egg the more the white will spread around the pan. Just like supermarket battery eggs.
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.
These three breeds of laying hens are also easy to look after in a domestic garden. A mix of all three will provide a lovely mix of colours in your egg basket. Welsummers lay a nice dark egg, but are a nervous and noisy bird and might disturb the neighbours. More about these breeds of poultry here.
I find Ex Battery hens the friendliest and most grateful and the best layers, laying many light brown eggs. They are an ideal breed to keep in your garden because they have been reared and kept in cages and are used confined space. It really is a treat to see them enjoy a first ever dust bath.
Factory owners, "can't call them farmers" kill the clipped beak, miserably kept hens or sell them as pet food or worse when they are about one to two years old because they are nearing their prime.
Looked after, kept clean, housed and fed correctly in your garden, ex battery hens will reward you with fresh eggs for another six years. Battery hens are a good reason to keep your own laying hens, never again having to buy factory eggs.
One of the most important things to provide for chickens in freezing weather is fresh water, remember to break up any ice that forms on top. Check the water two or three times a day and change it if it gets muddy.
Laying eggs during winter.
Hens need 14 hours of sunlight to keep laying 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 where they are going 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.