Keeping Chickens – the basics

Have you been thinking about keeping chickens?  With January coming to a close, why not start planning now and be ready to start collecting fresh eggs from your garden later this Spring?  If you can spare ten minutes each morning and evening, and an hour at the weekend, that’s all that’s required timewise to get started.

I’m already getting lots of emails from people considering keeping chickens, but they’re not sure where to start.   My guide below answers the most frequently asked questions.

Chicken Coops

Food From An Irish Garden (45)

The purpose of your Coop is to keep your poultry safe, warm and dry at night.  It should have a roosting area, adequate ventilation and at least one nesting box.  As a general rule of thumb, allow 2 sq ft per hen.  With this in mind, you can choose to convert a garden shed, build or buy a coop.  Here at Hunters Lodge, we mostly build our own coops but if you would prefer to buy a coop there is a huge selection available to you – from flatpack to hand-crafted.  Petmania sell a flatpack range that offers great value but are more suited to 2-3 chickens in a very sheltered garden.  Poultry coop specialists like Old McDonalds in Carlow offer a “made-to-measure” service to provide you with the perfect, long-lasting coop for your garden.

Eggs at Hunters Lodge

Chicken Runs

A chicken run is a secure area in which your chickens can forage.  The coop is usually situated within the secure run.

You can choose a chicken coop that has a run attached to it or you can build your own.  If you are building your own run, use the best chicken wire that you can afford.  Standard chicken wire will suffice but foxes can eat through it (sadly I learned this the hard way) so the stronger the wire, the better. Remember to set the chicken wire at least 18” below ground level – this will stop predators from digging underneath your run to get to your chickens.    

Feeding & DrinkingPhoto 16_White silkie and chick

Providing a well-balanced nutritious diet for your chickens is not difficult.  Your chickens should have a good quality chicken feed, plenty of fresh drinking water (at least 1 litre per 4 chickens), grit and a small amount of oystershell (for laying hens).  You can choose to supplement their diet with some healthy household scraps like lettuce and leftover vegetables if you like. If you provide your chickens with these things, you will be rewarded with healthy, happy hens and lots of fresh eggs.

Remember to store your feed in a vermin-proof container

Welfare & Hygiene

To keep your chickens in good health, it is very important that you clean your coop and change the bedding regularly.  If you don’t change the bedding, you will very quickly get a build-up of ammonia which can lead to a respiratory infection in your birds. The most common beddings used are wood shavings or straw.   Expect to pay in the region of €6 to €9 for a bag of shavings/strawchip but one bag will last quite a while for a smallscale poultry-keeper.  Cleaning your coop should take no time at all if you clean it regularly.Eggs (5)

Bad husbandry could leave your chickens susceptible to Red Mite, Northern Mite and Lice.  These are easily preventable and treatable with over the counter products.  You can get great advice and the relevant products from Irish Companies with lots of poultry expertise such as  Old McDonalds Farm & Feed Store.   These companies will also give you advice on worming your poultry and have excellent online stores.

Hatching Your Own ChicksChicks by Fiona Dillon

The arrival of chicks is always one of the highlights of the year here at Hunters Lodge. If you are fortunate enough to have a broody hen, she will do all the work for you when it comes to hatching.  If not, you can always use an incubator.  When choosing your incubator you will be presented with three choices: manual, semi-automatic and automatic. Which one you choose will depend on your time and budget (remember if you choose a manual incubator, you must commit to manually turning the eggs at least twice a day).  The incubation period is 21 days for chicks. Traditionally, chicks were kept in a Brooder under a lamp.  Nowadays, the lamp is often replaced with an Electric Hen – an electric plate on legs that the chicks can sleep under, thus replicating Mother Hen.  These plates also have the advantage of using a lot less electricity than a lamp.  Miniature feeders and drinkers are available for chicks and be sure to feed them a good quality Chick Crumb.  For the first week I use old newspaper on the Brooder floor to avoid very young chicks eating shavings.


Quail eggs by Fiona Dillon

Quail eggs are packed packed packed with goodness!

When I get calls about where to go next from poultry-keepers who want to expand a little, I always suggest quail.  Very easy to keep, they start to lay when they are about six weeks old and they are brilliant layers once they have 11 or 12 hours of daylight.  Their eggs are great in little lunch boxes and they are said to have three or four times the nutritional value of a chicken’s egg – now that can’t be bad!

And remember, it’s a myth that you need a Cockerel for your hens to lay eggs so start with a few “point of lay” hens and leave the cockerel until you decide you’d like to breed chicks.  Unless of course you are longing to be woken with the joyous sound of cock-a-doodle-doo……….!

“Food from an Irish Garden” in bookstores now or available through Orpen Press

Photos by Fiona Dillon

To book Fiona for a talk/demonstration on sustainable living email or phone 085 1057314.

2 thoughts on “Keeping Chickens – the basics

  1. Very handy reference for the newbie, Fiona – thanks for posting. I hope to get my first chickens in April as soon as the snow clears – it’s too cold now to be building a coop and run. Can’t wait to get started!

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