In recent years many families have adoped a hen or two to keep in their back garden as a pet. What could be better than fresh eggs! Giving a home to an ex-battery hen can be rewarding but isn’t for the faint hearted. If you’re thinking of giving a home to a lucky clucker, here are some things to consider:
Home Sweet Home
You can convert a regular shed or outbuilding, build your own coop, or buy a purpose-built hen house. You also need to decide on your preferred system: keeping the hens in a smaller house with attached run, frequently moving it onto a fresh area of lawn or ground or building a larger permanently-sited aviary type enclosure. Most new coops and runs will have manufacturers’ stocking rates; buy a hen house to accommodate more hens than you want.
Room to Move
Depending on the size of each chicken, they will need a MINIMUM of the following, but please give them as much space as you can. Hens are social creatures and need enough space to ensure good social interaction. By restricting space, you are inviting unhealthy behaviour and stress in your flock.
• Floor space inside the house – minimum of 30 square cms per bird
• Perch space – minimum of 25cms per bird
• Outside run – ex-caged birds need minimum of 1 sq m per bird, ex-free range hens need a minimum of 2 sq m per bird, plus the ability to free range each day.
Friend for Their Life
Most ex-battery hens will go on to enjoy a long and happy free-range retirement. However, they have worked hard for almost 18 months so some will have a shorter lifespan than others.
Initially ex-battery hens will not know how to shelter and may stand outside when it’s wet and windy, so you may need to physically put them in the coop if the weather is inclement.
Food Glorious Food
Hens need speciality food that gives them enough of the nutrients they need. Ex-battery hens are used to finer food so start them on layers ‘crumble’ before moving to ‘pellets’. It is fine to feed a small amount of mixed corn in the afternoon; this will guarantee they go to sleep with a full crop.
Never not overfeed your hens with treats or scatter food on the ground as this will attract mice and rats and may adversely impact egg production. They do LOVE a few mealworms from time to time and get excited, making a cute clucky noise when they see the bag!
If you want to keep backyard hens, you can find more information and advice here: www.bhwt.org.uk