Chicken-keeping for Beginners

We’ve been keeping chickens for 5 years now. We started with 3, got two additional ones, lost the original 3, and we’ve just added 6 rescue chickens into our mix, so we currently have 8. They’ve lived in two different spots: behind the shed and at the bottom of the garden, and they also wander around the garden when we’re out and about. They’re inquisitive, cheerful and feisty, and I miss their silly little faces when we’re away from home. I thought it would be interesting and useful to share our experiences. Disclaimer: I’m no chicken expert, and there are lots of different ways to house/care for chickens. This is what we do, and what has worked well for us and our girls. There are links to products similar to what we use – not affiliate links, just links. Other products are available!

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Our new rescue hens on their first day at home

Our chickens sleep in a wooden coop with two nest boxes. We started off with three chickens but thought we might like some more eventually, so we bought a coop big enough for 5-7 birds. We have this sort of coop, with two nesting boxes. When we had 3 chickens we found that one of our them liked to sleep on the perch and two liked to snuggle down in a nest box. Here is a manufacturer picture to show you what the coop looks like:

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There’s a tray that pulls out easily (the red dots in the picture are its handle, and the living room is upstairs with a door that closes easily, shut by that metal handle. Because of our setup – we’ve not had any predators at all and the girls live securely in a big metal run – we don’t actually shut them in at night, but it would be very easy to do so. The roof and the nesting box roof both open so it is easy to clean the coop and remove eggs – our girls always lay in the nesting box. Our coop has a slightly different construction – its roof opens from front to back, rather than from the side like this one, but I can’t imagine that makes much of a difference. The roof felt came off once but it was very easy to nail it down again, and the whole thing is quite sturdy. The building instructions were a bit cryptic but we found it quite easy to assemble the whole thing, and it didn’t take more than an hour or so. I like that the living space is upstairs in our coop – that means the chickens can sit underneath when the weather is bad, and that their food is dry (our feeder lives underneath their living area). We don’t have that run bit attached anymore but before the chickens moved to their current position we simply left the run door open as we had that inbuilt run connected to a bigger run, which in turn was connected to a fenced area about 1m high.

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This was our first run – it attached to the run built into the coop, and was 3m long. We fenced in an area around this run not long after, c. 1m high, with chicken wire to the sides and netting on top. These are our original chickens, Henrietta, Hillary and Harriet.

When we decided to move the chickens from near the shed to the bottom of the garden we thought about what kind of run to construct for them – we wanted to give them more space to roam and also be able to sit with them. In the end we went for this sort of thing. Ours is 3x6m as we’ve got a lot of space, and the girls seem very happy with it.

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Manufacturer’s picture again. We keep our coop under that sun/rain roof.

It’s been such a good investment, and I would heartily recommend it to you. I love being able to go into the coop to spend time with the girls – we keep old garden chairs in it, which gives us somewhere to sit and then girls can perch on them when we’re not around. One of them even sits on our lap! It was easy to assemble and is very sturdy, and hasn’t get blown over in the wind. We intruder-proofed the run by overlapping the chicken wire from the sides on the ground by about a foot. This is folded outwards and weighed down with old tyres (we get these for free from our local garage). We put cardboard underneath and then filled the tyres with compost, and we grow flowers and peas and beans in them – they climb up the structure and are easy to remove come autumn, and the chickens didn’t actually manage to eat any of it. Sweet peas were a particularly nice crop to grow – they’re so pretty growing up the trellis. We’ve also put a grapevine up against one end – the plant is outside the run but grows inside, above chicken height, so hopefully we’ll get some grapes one day – or at least shade for the chickens.

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Our run in winter, with Herodotus enjoying a wander outside. The tyres have been moved away from the coop so we could lift up one side but are usually snug against it. You can still see sunflower stalks from last year, as well as our coop and garden chairs inside the run.

What else do you need? Feeders and water drinkers! We like this kind:

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They’re easy to fill, easy to clean, and easy for the chickens to use. We have two of each now that we have 8 birds, though one did us perfectly well when we had 3.  There are feeders/drinkers that attach to the side of the run, but we’ve found these ones perfectly adequate. We keep the feeder under the coop to shelter it from the rain, and so far that’s worked well.

We feed our chickens layers pellets and the occasional treat of corn and fresh vegetables – they’re particularly fond of cabbages and avocados. Last year we accidentally grew a potato plant from potato scrape we gave the girls, and yummy potatoes they were, too! The chickens produce delightful manure that we use on our compost and in the garden, and they can clear any area in no time at all. They need fresh drinking water everyday, and you will need to change their bedding regularly, at least once a week, but more often the more chickens you have. This makes excellent compost. We use a mixture of woodshavings and straw for the bedding (we buy the straw but get the woodshavings for free from our neighbours who run a wood business. Your local tree surgeon might have shavings for you).

I love having chicken company when I’m in the garden. We were really worried about letting them wander around but they’ve never attempted to fly off – we don’t cut their feathers. They just wander around and scratch and nibble things, and they’re very easy to herd back into their run. They get on well with our cats and dogs – the cats are a bit scared of them and keep their distance and Archie the beardie likes to sniff them and herd them. Lulu the dalmatian is a bit too exuberant for them, and likes to run up to them and make them flap, so we tend to keep her inside when the chickens are outside. But we’ve not had any scary incidents!

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Horace and Herodotus enjoying a rummage around the garden

I really can’t imagine not having chickens now. I enjoy the eggs, but I enjoy their company even more – they’re so cheerful and inquisitive, and I’m fascinated by how they communicate with each other. They’re all so different, just like cats or dogs or humans, and they’re clever, too. Herodotus will sit on your lap if you sit in her run, and Horace enjoys pecking your shoelaces. They’ll eat your slugs and your weeds and help you prepare areas for planting veg or flowers. And the eggs are fab. I’m half hoping and half dreading that all eight of them will lay every day – we might have to start selling our eggs if they do!

I hope you’ve found this little post helpful – please get in touch if you have any questions or would like to chat chickens!

Herodotus mid-moult last summer, contemplating jumping up on my lap

2 Comments Add yours

  1. We have the same chicken run it works perfectly. We only have two chickens now as foxes have taken some. We now leave a radio on outside when the chickens are roaming around the orchard….touch wood that seems to work.

    Like

    1. Oh the radio is a great idea! We’ve been lucky so far but I worry about predators all the time

      Like

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