Until the 1950s many people kept chickens in the garden or on smallholdings, mainly for eggs and food.
But now more and more families are keeping them as pets. If you are thinking about investing in a few feathered friends, then the RSPCA has an excellent website which tells you enough and even more than you need to know about caring for them.
Here are a few of the salient points covered under various headings – to find out more simply Google RSPCA and add the word ‘chickens’ – you’ll find it all there.
Firstly chickens need constant access to clean and fresh water in the chicken house and drinkers should be cleaned regularly. They must be able to get water when it gets icy. Chicken houses should be warm, dry and well-ventilated. The house – and everything inside – should be cleaned frequently and disinfected to remove parasites. Food and water should be provided in the house.
The floor should be covered with a dry material, (e.g. wood shavings or straw), to allow foraging and dustbathing (particularly important when it’s wet outside). This must be topped-up or replaced when needed.
And of course there should be enough space for your chickens to exercise, stretch their wings and carry out normal behaviour. As a guide, roughly 12 square metres should be enough for 30 birds. Although this depends on the size and numbers of chickens and layout of facilities.
Perches should be about three to five centimetres wide with rounded edges and height should suit the size of the birds. And they should provide enough space for all the chickens to comfortably roost at the same time (from 15 centimetres per chicken), and enough space between perches to let them get up and down without injury. Egg laying hens need quiet, enclosed nest boxes. They should be draught-free and lined with clean, dry, comfortable nesting material (e.g. straw or wood shavings).
In an outdoor area, keep the grass short. Long strands can become trapped in the chickens’ digestive system. This should be big enough to allow wet, muddy or barren areas to be sectioned off to recover and to minimise the risk of disease, while still allowing enough space for chickens to roam on good pasture. Provide overhead cover such as small trees or purpose built shelters to give protection from the sun, bad weather and wild animals, and encourage exploration. Chickens should have access to dry soil where they can dustbathe and forage.
Feed or water provided outside should be sheltered to keep it clean and dry. Avoid attracting rodents and wild birds. And the RSPCA recommends that people keep at least three hens which get on well together. Cockerels should not be kept together, unless they have grown up together and get on well.