Questions on keeping hens
Here are some of the questions we have had over the years about keeping hens in a garden. Personally I simply do not understand how people have become so detached from the animal world, causing them to think chicken keeping is somehow strange and difficult. But here are the commonest objections you get, and how we have dealt with them in the past.
Don’t they attract rats?
No! Rats are not interested in poultry at all. They are interested in food left behind and scattered around by human as well as hen.
Once rats feed on spilled feed, they then become interested in eggs and they become a nuisance. But there are some things you can do to avoid that situation!
Firstly, sleep your hens off the ground. If there is daylight between the floor and the hen hut, you are probably never going to see a rat. They like the cover of an overhang, where you cannot see them.
Secondly, feed the hens only enough for the day and then clear away spilled and remaining food, locking it up in a sealed, rat and mouse proof container.
Get the food right and the rats that live around you anyway, will not be a problem.
Thirdly, make sure your hens are clean, that you clear their poo, and the smell of chickens will not attract any rats.
Don’t hens smell?
Not at all, well they do – just a bit but it’s a pleasant smell. Unfortunately, smelly hens are the fault of their owners. They need to be regularly cleaned out. Chicken poo – of which there will be a small mountain from a pair of hens, starts to smell.
Similarly their feed, if left to rot will smell.
It is important that if you live in the city you work harder with your hens than in the country, just to keep the neighbours on track.
In truth, hens are very easy on the nose if looked after properly.
Hens actually spend hours cleaning themselves and they are very hygienic. Very little care is needed to keep both hens and the neighbours happy. There is no real reason why they should be noticed at all.
Don’t they spread disease? If you buy your hens from a reputable source, you should get an inventory of inoculation. This covers both the animal itself against hen diseases, and also against communicable diseases such as salmonella. Poultry diseases do not affect people on the whole and as long as a basic regime of feeding, worming and cleaning is maintained there should be no health problems at all.
Avian flu is pretty much non existent in the UK, and you are more likely to have a passing goose dropping infected material than catching it from your hens.
That said, it is good to have a regime of cleanliness, especially where children are concerned. If you can have some form of protective clothing, an apron or better still an overall, you will protect yourself from avian faeces going on your clothing, and you will protect your hens if you are handling other animals too.
Then always be sure you and your children wash their hands properly. These simple steps make assurance doubly sure.
Aren’t hens very noisy?
You can be sure that if you get a cockerel he will keep the whole world awake. Cockerels are noisy birds, particularly in the middle of the night. If you live in earshot of other people, the best thing to do is simply don’t keep a cockerel.
Hens make a pleasant series of chuckles, and that’s all. Cockerels are beautiful birds to look at, and I suppose they are a bonus for the ladies – but you don’t need them. Hens make louder noises when laying, but that doesn’t disturb anyone, and besides, they lay in the morning – but not first thing.
Aren’t hutches going to spoil the view of our gardens?
Living in an exclusive area can be difficult, your neighbours could be the complaining type; they might even be jealous. But, speaking as a gardener myself, they would be right if you created a shanty town of hen boxes. They would be right if the hens flew over the fence and poo’d on their lawn!
However there are things you can do.
Rather than making a very rustic home for your hens there are a number of very swish looking structures for poultry on the market, not the least are the Omlet Igloo range. There are also some very beautiful traditional structures out there too.
A well thought out hen house and run will add value to the garden and consequently the house. Make the run big enough for the hens, about 10 sq metres for a couple of birds and move it regularly so they don’t scratch everything up and you will have a very presentable and productive garden.
Won’t they fly into my garden?
My first encounter with chickens was not filled with glory. I prepared a run for them and went and bought the hens from an agricultural market. I had no idea what I was buying and some of the hens I have bid on were rabbits! How i got them home I cannot really remember, but they settled well into the hen run and hut I had made an my allotment. Next morning, to my horror and the annoyance of the people on my neighbouring plots, the hens were out of their run and eating all their precious seedlings.
I learned the lesson pretty quick that if you trim the flight feathers on one wing the birds cannot get over the fence in the first place. This process doesn’t hurt the hens, it’s just like going for a haircut.
Don’t they fight, aren’t they dangerous?
Chickens will hold their own against pet dogs and cats if attacked. But that said, hens are gentle birds that do not go looking for trouble.
Cockerels are a slightly different matter. They will fight to protect his harem, and will fight to keep his strut against any other cockerels around. The simple answer is not to keep them at all!
It’s their way. Hens never attack anyone or anything unless seriously provoked.
Won’t the fox get them?
Possibly! Foxes kill hens a lot in the country and the town, though generally speaking, the town fox tends to be more interested in our dustbins than anything else. If a fox is after your hens you need to doubly secure the run and make sure the sleeping quarters are fox proof. In particular, modern plastic hutches are fox proof to a great degree.