Six things to know about keeping chickens in your garden
If you're interested in keeping chickens, then the good news is that if you've got a decent-sized garden, there's no reason (space-wise) why you can't keep them there.
However, there are certain things that you should know before you go ahead and make the preparations. So, here are six top tips of what you need to know about keeping hens in your garden.
1. Register them (perhaps)
The good news is that if you live in England, Wales or Scotland, your chickens only need to be registered with the Great Britain Poultry Register if you have 50 or more of them (though voluntary registration of smaller flocks is encouraged). Beware that Northern Ireland has a different system, however, and if you keep any chickens at all you must register them there.
Visit the appropriate government websites (Gov.uk or NIDirect) for more information on how to apply - and, at the same time, do check your deeds or letting agreement, just to make sure that there's no restriction on you keeping chickens in the first place.
Keeping chickens in your garden means that you need to provide them with shelter. Chickens over the age of two months can live in an outdoor coop, which is best positioned in proximity to your house (for ease of access), but ideally away from boundary areas where the noise or smells might cause a nuisance to your neighbours.
You can pick up a basic chicken coop from some DIY stores, or there are plenty of online specialists offering a wider range of chicken coops, runs and houses. Just make sure you check the details and choose one that is designed to accommodate the number of birds that you intend to keep.
Alternatively, if you're handy with a saw and a screwdriver, building your own coop needn't be so hard. There are various useful online resources that feature chicken coop plans to view and download, alongside lists of the materials that you'll need. Relevant materials, such as chicken wire and timber, can be easily obtained from stores, or you can actually build a coop for your chickens from scrap supplies, such as pallets, if you want. Just make sure that what you create has plenty of run space, so the chickens can get their exercise, and provides them with an appropriate level of comfort, including separate areas for nesting and roosting.
Your coop not only needs to provide shelter but security. Chickens have a lot of natural predators, including foxes, dogs and even hawks, so you need to ensure that they are well protected. The chicken wire needs to cover the coop completely and the holes in the wire should be no larger than one inch. Keep an eye out for any cracks in the boards or loose fixtures too.
4. Nesting boxes
If you're keeping chickens for their eggs, you'll need to include nesting boxes in your coop. They are simple structures that give the chickens a warm, comfortable space to lay their eggs, allowing you to collect them later at your convenience.
5. The right diet
Chickens are omnivores and will eat just about anything you give them, but you should only feed them the right foods. A good diet can improve the chickens' productivity, even increasing their egg production by a significant amount. Hen pellets are designed with productive chickens in mind, meaning that they have the right balance of protein, minerals and energy, and the chickens should have access to these all throughout the day. Throw in some table scraps for some diversification to their diet.
6. Be aware
As with any animal, it helps to know what diseases they may be prone to. Chickens are vulnerable to a few different illnesses, one of the most notable being Salmonella. If you think that your chickens have become infected, you should immediately contact your local vet for advice.
Though the overall cost of keeping chickens in your garden means that you're unlikely to save money compared to buying your eggs in the supermarket, it can still be an incredibly rewarding experience so long as you're well prepared and capable: delivering you eggs, of course, but also giving you some excellent companions and bringing a little extra life to your home.
Author: The GLD Team, 26 February 2014 (fact-checked and updated, 11 January 2019)
Photo credit: Konrad Dudek