Choosing Your Breed

When choosing what breed of chicken you might like to keep you need to think about a few things;

  • Are looks important or are you mostly interested in the number of eggs?
  • What is you weather like?
  • Do you have enough space for full-size hens or would bantams be better?

If looks rank highly then you are obviously going to want to find the most aesthetically pleasing breeds for you. There are many ‘fancy’ bantam breeds that have attractive feathering. They usually don’t lay as many eggs (and the eggs are smaller) but they look lovely in your yard.

Watch out for : Feathered feet that can be a drag (literally) if you live somewhere that is often wet and muddy.
Very cold weather can be hard for these smaller breeds to cope with – extra considerations may be needed with the coop.

If you are interested in eggs than a breed such as the Rhode Island Red may be a good choice; they are a good size, hardy in all weathers, and lay eggs almost daily.

A Chick Flick.
Chickens exploring outside their pen and having a fun time. They are about four and one half months old. They are starting to get their combs. No eggs yet. Three Rhode Island Reds, Three New Hampshires and one Buff Orphington.

How to Get Started With Chickens

Starting from ‘scratch’ with chickens?

The basics you will need are a coop, feeder, waterer, chickens.

They will need bedding, feed, regular cleaning a nestbox for every 3-5 hens (even though they may cram themselves into the same one) and predator proofing.

Being predator proof may mean putting their coop inside a larger run, with top to bottom galvanised steel wire (chicken wire is useless) and wire going down underneath some way if you want to try to prevent diggers and rats (you do).

In return for all this your chickens will give you something entertaining to watch, enjoyment, and work – if you are lucky you may also get some eggs 🙂

They need to be safe, have space to peck and enjoy themselves; a chance to sunbathe when the opportunity arises, places to dust bathe in etc. etc. Chickens are sociable so you will need more than one – three is a common starting number (space permitting you will likely end up with more once you get hooked). Three hens laying 4 eggs a week on average (more or less depending on breed, age and time of year) is enough for most families egg needs.

Chickens in Winter: Happier Hens

It’s already been below freezing here and winter hasn’t even got started yet. Whilst I do worry about the chickens over the coldest periods, at the same time I don’t really worry at all. I know that doesn’t make sense. Really what I mean is that I shouldn’t be worried – chickens can cope well with cold weather, better than they can when it is boiling hot at any rate. They are quite well equipped naturally so even though my instinct is to be a bit concerned I know I shouldn’t worry too much. Here are the things I do to try to help them along a bit :

Firstly I check their coop over and make any needed repairs before the weather gets too bad. They want ventilation, but they don’t want any major drafts whistling around them.

I also attach thick, clear plastic over the chicken run as a wind break – it becomes a bit of a sun trap as well. Over the years I have tried other things; bamboo fencing, and corrugated plastic roof – neither have lasted particularly well through the strong winds we have every year it seems. The clear plastic has seemed to work the best so far.

I add some extra bedding to give them a little extra insulation. Also the nest boxes are padded out more. Whilst most of my hens roost I do have one who nabs herself the corner nest box on cold nights – I guess she is the cleverest of the bunch!

winterwheatI have never gone as far as insulating the coop walls – although that is an option for me it has never really seemed necessary.

They love their winter treats of warmed mash (and sometimes scrambled egg). I don’t add a heat lamp because I don’t trust them (I would be worrying more about it catching light than I do about them being too cold). However we don’t get as much snow and freezing temperatures as other areas do.

What I do think is important though is keeping the water from freezing – a heated dog water bowl worked well for us last year. We did put Vaseline on their combs when there was a weather warning for freezing. It is supposed to help protect against frostbite. Mine didn’t get any so it may have worked. I’m not sure I want to wrestle with our rooster again to get it on though – we shall see….