Keeping Pet Chickens

Image by Jenny Hill

Keeping chickens as pets is extremely rewarding and nowhere near as daunting as it first appears.  Chickens can be very affectionate creatures and they all exhibit their own unique personalities over time.  In this article we are going to look at many of the common questions and concerns that people have when looking at keeping chickens.

Are Chickens easy to look after?

In a word, yes!  Having kept many different animals over the years I can confidently say that chickens are one of the easiest pets to look after.  They are very self-sufficient and as long as they have constant access to fresh water, food and shelter they will happily look after themselves all day. They learn very quickly and within a few days they will know where their food and water is and where they need to sleep, chickens will naturally go to bed when it starts to get dark and they don't tend to wonder too far from home.  They tend to move as a flock so if your chickens have the run of the garden where one goes the others will follow.

Image by Siora Photography
Are Chickens expensive to keep?

Chickens are no more expensive to keep than a Rabbit or Guinea Pig.  The initial set up outlay will be the most costly as the chickens will need a secure coop, an enclosed run and feeders for their food and water.  There are many different coops available ranging from £100 to more than £500 so it should be easy to find something suitable in your budget.  The run needs to be a fenced area at least 3 foot high and the cost of this will depend on the size of the area and materials used.  Feeders can be purchased for less than £10 and as long as they are protected from weather should last years as chickens don't destroy and chew their things like small mammals and parrots do.  Prepared food like Layers Pellets is available from all good pet and farm shops, prices vary but the average is £10 for 15kg and this will last 4 hens around a month. Clean bedding must also be provided, this can be any combination of hay, straw, saw dust, shredded paper etc.

Farmer with Organic Eggs
Will I get many eggs? Can I sell them?

Different breeds of chicken lay different numbers of eggs throughout the year with the average being about 200 per year per hen.  Chickens only lay in the spring/summer with egg production generally stopping between October and April.

The law in the UK regarding selling eggs is quite strict, a basic run down is you can sell to friends/family and people on your property without a problem but you can't sell them in a shop or at a market without registering.  Please follow this link for the correct guidance -

How much noise do Chickens make?

This depends on a few factors, male chickens or Cockerels are very vocal birds, the whole point of their crow is to show everyone that they are the loudest and therefore biggest thing around, contrary to popular belief cockerels don't just crow in the mornings, they crow at any time of day every day, during the spring they crow all day long, this will quickly make you quite unpopular with your neighbours especially in a built up area, some Councils don't allow the keeping of cockerels for this reason so please check before purchasing one.

Female hens are by no means quiet but they don't make anywhere near the racket of the cockerels.  Hens talk to each other all day long using a variety of sounds and only really make a loud noise when alarmed or distressed, bear in mind a chicken will become alarmed quite easily for a number of reasons (strange cat in the garden, birds overhead, got distracted by a flower and now can't find its friends) so if you have particularly fussy neighbours this could also present a problem, generally a few chickens (3 or 4) won't make enough noise to be an issue.

Do I have to have a Cockerel in my flock

No not at all, many people belive that every flock needs a Cock as the Hens won't lay eggs without one, this isn't true.  A Cockeral is only needed if you wish to have one or are breeding, hens will live very happily without a male.

Learn more about raising chicks here -

Image by Julian Dutton
How many Chickens should I have?
Image by chatnarin pramnapan

How many Chickens you should get depends on how much space you have for them to live in.  A good size flock would be anywhere between 8 and 20 but this would require a large amount of space and a fair amount of food and cleaning. Chickens are extremely sociable creatures and are much happier with friends than alone, a solitary chicken will be very distressed and will often stop eating or drinking and will quickly die from loneliness.  For a standard back garden setting we would recommend 4 to 5 hens.

Can I mix my Chickens with other breeds/animals?

Yes and no, Chickens will live happily with any other chicken of any breed or persuasion and they will also live happily with birds of other breeds as long as there is enough space to do so.  Chickens need different sleeping arrangements from Ducks, Geese, Guinea Fowl and Turkeys so putting a goose into a small chicken coop with a few hens would be a bad idea and would lead to fighting and injury.  In a free range or large open setting, all these birds should coexist quite peacefully.

I would not recommend mixing Chickens with reptiles or mammals.  Chickens are not vegetarian and will eat small rodents, lizards and slow worms.  Chickens also like to peck at anything they can, epically the eyes of rabbits, Guinea Pigs and tortoises, Chickens will also have a pop at your pet cat or dog so it is advisable to never leave these animals together unsupervised.

Image by Sarah Halliday
There are foxes in our area will they get our Chickens?

Unfortunately the humble chicken is on everyone’s menu and foxes are a real threat to our hens.  Generally foxes come out to hunt at dawn and dusk so as long as we are around to shut the chickens away every night they should be ok.  Foxes won't rip open a coop to get at a chicken but they will take easily accessible birds.  The easiest way to protect your birds is to keep them in an enclosed aviary type set up.  Most fox attacks occur when the Chickens have gone to bed but we haven't shut them away properly, this is most likely to happen in the winter when it gets dark by 4pm and you're not home from work to shut them in.  In urban built up areas foxes are out at all times of day so chickens must never be left on their own outside.  As long as you are vigilant and take precautions your flock should be ok.  Cats don't really pose a threat to chickens, they're just too large for a cat to bother with, smaller breeds like Bantams may be at risk from larger cats however.

Image by Sunyu
Image by Sophie Mikat

There are literally hundreds of different ways to house some chickens, from off the shelf flat packs to ambitious DIY projects, what’s correct depends on the space available, budget and woodworking skill.  We are currently writing a full article on the different types of housing options so click HERE for more information.

What should I feed my Chickens?

All good pet shops and farm shops will sell a variety of food for chickens.  The 4 main foods that come in sacks are:

·       Chick crumb - this is for just hatched chicks and contains everything they need to grow in small enough pieces for them to eat.

·       Growers Pellets - These pellets are for growing birds and contain a lot of protein to make sure the bird is fit and strong.

·       Layers Pellets - This is your staple diet for birds 16 weeks and over, it contains a lot of calcium to help with the egg production.

·       Mixed Corn - This is a more natural diet but can be low in certain nutrients and crushed oyster shell will also need to be provided to help aid digestion.

All Chickens also enjoy most types of fruit and veg as well as nuts and seeds.  Steer clear of citrus fruits and potatoes and never feed chickens on kitchen scraps, especially if their eggs are entering the food chain.

Strong tasting foods like garlic won't harm your hens but will taint the taste of their eggs.

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I already own Chickens, can I add more to the flock?

Yes you can but bear in mind that Chickens have a strict hierarchy within their group and new comers will be attacked by you current flock so that they know their place.  These fights rarely lead to serious injury but can be quite nasty and will need to be monitored and injuries cleaned.  The best time to introduce a new bird is dusk when the chickens are going to bed, they won't fight overnight and it'll give a good 8 hours for them to start adjusting. In the morning there will be some trouble as the new bird(s) will need to learn who is in charge and what order they can eat in, things should settle down in a few days to a week.  It is best to introduce new birds when you have some time to supervise them, don't shove a new bird into the coop and then go to work for 8 hours, Chickens can be very vicious, especially when broody and around mating seasons.

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