Keeping chickens is becoming a popular pastime as people realise how good home produced eggs can taste. Chickens can make great family pets and they are fun to watch as they scratch about clucking gently in your back garden. Many people like to keep different breeds of chicken for their bright colourful plumage and personalities and we have a helpful guide to get you started.
If you are planning on keeping over 50 chickens you will need to register with DEFRA's (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) Poultry Register. This allows DEFRA to monitor disease outbreaks such as Avian Influenza. You must also keep a record of any medicines you give to your chickens if you sell or give away your eggs.
- Visit our chicken Housing advice to learn more
- Visit our chicken Products section for a range of suitable and secure chicken coops, arcs and runs
- View our chicken Health advice to learn about common illnesses in chickens
If you want to have your own eggs you need to buy your chickens at “point of lay” which is when they are around 16 – 21 weeks old. At this age your chickens are known as “pullets” and once they are a year old and have started laying they are called hens.
- Chickens do not lay eggs all year round. In late autumn and winter chickens moult their feathers and stop laying until the daylight starts to lengthen after the solstice on 21st December. Different breeds vary but generally you can expect your chickens to lay from January/ February through to September/October.
- Don't be surprised if your pullet starts to lay little or malformed eggs – they will soon get used to laying and their eggs will become more uniform and bigger! Layers pellets are usually fed to your pullets to provide them with all the nutrition they need for egg production.
- The maximum amount of eggs a chicken can lay is one a day, seven per week but some may only lay just a couple a week.
- Chickens are at their egg laying prime for the first two years. After this, their egg laying decreases as they get older.
- View our chicken Feeding advice to learn more about layers pellets
- Visit our chicken Products section for our wide range of chicken food
A broody hen is a chicken that decides to sit on her eggs, hoping to hatch them. A fertilised egg normally takes 21 days to hatch but if you are not hoping for a brood of little chicks and just want eggs to eat, a broody hen can be a problem.
If you don't have a cockerel then your chicken's eggs will not be fertilised, however your broody hen won't know this and will sit for weeks on end if you let her. She will stop laying herself and her body temperature will rise to help her incubate her eggs. She will also be very protective and peck at you if you try to move her, so wear gloves!
Broody hens can be extremely dedicated and will neglect their own needs and can seriously compromise her own health. Broody hens require less food and water than normal but some broody hens will not move from their clutch of eggs for food and water at all.
- Collect your eggs regularly and try not to let any build up in one nest box. Keep an eye on your chickens so you can spot if one in particular does not want to leave the nest.
- You can try slipping some ice cubes under your broody hen to cool her off. This should lower her body temperature and break the broodiness.
- Alternatively, remove your broody hen from her nest box and place her in a separate enclosure where she can not get to her eggs. You can keep her in a cage with a wire bottom that is open to the air (ie stand it on some bricks) which will help cool her underside and stop her brooding instincts.
- If all else fails gently dip your broody hen's underside in a shallow dish of cool water (you can melt ice cubes in the water to keep it cold). This may seem a drastic measure to take but a broody hen can be amazingly stubborn!
- View our chicken Housing advice for our range of chicken coops and runs
- If you would like to hatch some chicks you can encourage a hen to become broody by placing some artificial eggs within a nesting box.
- Once your hen is broody you will need to make sure she has easy access to food and water, usually by placing a small waterer and feeder close to her nesting box.
- Some breeds of chicken have a reputation for going broody more than others – Silkies are well known for their broodiness, as are Pekins, Australorps, Brahmas, Cochins, Faverolles, Orpingtons, Plymouth Rocks, Sussex and Wyandottes.
- Visit our chicken Products section for artificial eggs, waterers and feeders
If you want to breed chickens a cockerel is a must but before you consider buying one remember they are noisy birds and can upset your neighbours with their cock-a-doodle-doing. You will only need one cockerel – if you have more then they will compete for their hens’ favours and fight, sometimes inflicting serious injuries to one another.