For the love of chickens

Hens the first few days

For the first few days we kept the hens in the run to slowly acclimatise. It was a pretty bright September day when they moved in, and everything was new and unexplored.

Despite having been “Free range”, our girls were missing feathers and undernourished. Nothing compared to some of the images you’ll see, and the great work rehomers do -before after after photos are extremely heartening- but enough for us to question the words “free range”. The hard-hitting documentary “Land of Hope and Glory” sadly reveals what it most often means and after 18 months – scarcely half a hen’s life, they’re all for the slaughter anyway, while the male chicks fare even less well.

We’d purchased an Eglu Go Up and a run extension. I can’t stress enough how important it is to spend a morning/day setting this up prior to your feathery beauties arriving. And for a few days as instructed we kept the hens in the run. We’d love to know their pasts – had they spent much, if any time outside? Had they ever felt grass beneath their feet? And we had other questions about what their lives were like before, although I imagine there were some things we were better off not knowing!

It sounds odd, but I couldn’t believe how much you could hear their stomachs gurgle as they drank their water, or the amount they pooed! And the very first egg simply appeared in the run, not in the nest box, like some magical artefact. We created perches from fallen branches from the local wood and they happily leapt, flew and sat on them, just as they happily stood on one leg without the slightest wobble (that’s not to say this doesn’t happen when their concentration is down – like when they’re preening on a branch and occasionally they’ll just trip over things!).

In an upcoming post I’ll highlight the stuff we’ve purchased and found essential and non-essential for our hens. We’re not experts, but we know a lot more than we did. We probably wasted quite a bit of cash on stuff we didn’t need early doors, so it’d be nice to save someone else a bit of cash if possible. However, as a starter for ten, hens need the same basics we do – food, water and shelter. Ensure you have a pre-constructed coop and remember foxes can jump and scale boundaries that are 6-7 feet high, sometimes during the day. Ensure as minimum you have layers pellets and corn. Pellets are their main food source and corn is a treat, which should be fed to them in the evening (at a ratio of 20% corn to 80% pellets). Mixed grit is what they use in place of a stomach to grind up their food and strengthen their egg shells (this is important to prevent eggs breaking inside them, which I believe is usually fatal). Also ensure they’re getting enough calcium – mealworms and/or liquid calcium in their water are good for this. You’ll need at least one water point and one feeder. Hens like any other bird, pet and/or companion animal need looking after. If you have ex-batts they’ll need more looking after than regular hens as they haven’t had the best start in life. Once they’re settled and are happy to have you in their flock, the pay-off is incredible!

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