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how to keep chickens in the garden

Self-sufficient hobby farming and chicken raising at home has taken flight over the last few years. Whether part of the ‘pandemic hobbies’ craze or due to the steadily growing number of celebrities showing off their own feathered friends, it seems that chickens are in vogue. If you want to join the 1 million domestic fowl owners in the UK, here’s how to keep chickens in the garden as a beginner.

An intro to backyard chickens: is it worth it?

So, we know that keeping chickens in the garden has gained momentum in the last few years, but why is this so popular?

Unfortunately, one sentence isn’t going to cut it, as you might have guessed, the reasons depend on the person. For one, if you’re a city dweller who misses their rural roots or wants to get a taste of the sustainable, country lifestyle without living out in the sticks, chickens are a great excuse to muck in and learn about agriculture.

Obviously, many people take the agricultural side to different levels. Some prefer keeping chickens solely as pets, whilst others breed them for eggs, meat or sale. Whatever your motivations, poultry raising can be especially rewarding as you take on responsibility and watch your feathered friends grow and develop. The bonuses are a free-flowing supply of eggs, fertiliser for your raised bed planters, for example, and a nice bit of company.

a homeowner keeping chickens in the garden

4 considerations before keeping chickens in the garden

Before you dive into the wonderful world of poultry raising, and we share our top tips on how to keep chickens, you need to make the following considerations. After all, it requires a fair bit of commitment and elbow grease to ensure your birds have the best quality of life.

1.     Space

If you have a garden that is on the small side, you might ask yourself: “Can I keep chickens in my garden?” Well, it depends on how small. For a single chicken, it’s recommended that they have at least 1 square metre of space to walk about in the coop, and then extra space for a run if you can squeeze it in.

If your garden is on a slope, you might also want to think about levelling it off with a retaining wall, so you can keep your chicken coop on a solid and level platform. This way you can avoid placing their home at the bottom of a hill where it is more likely to get waterlogged after rain showers.

2.     Time

You might also be wondering how much time and effort goes into keeping chickens in the garden. As a ballpark figure, it will usually take up to 30 minutes of your time as a single chore, which you will need to repeat twice per day. For more complex tasks, like building a chicken coop or installing a chicken run, it could take up to a week. And this doesn’t even get into medical care such as worming or treating depluming mites.

3.     Breed

Another key consideration is the chicken breed. Ask yourself: Why do I want to keep chickens? What am I looking for in poultry raising, eggs, pets, and companionship? The answers will direct you towards which breeds are right for you.

For beginners, the best chicken breeds – and easiest to take care of – are one of the following:

  • Rhode Island Red
  • Golden Comets
  • Australorp
  • Leghorn
  • Sussex
  • Plymouth Rock

Whichever you choose, make sure to do your research before taking them home!

4.     Cost

As always, the budget will underpin any outdoor project. And while you can make money from keeping chickens in the garden by selling their eggs to the neighbourhood or the chickens to other breeders, there are relative costs to consider such as fencing.

Your one-off costs will include:

  • Coop – £200-£500, depending on whether premade or DIY build.
  • Feeders / drinkers – £10-40, depending on complexity.
  • Chicken fencing – £50+, depending on how much and the type of fencing you require.
  • Toys / activities – £5 – £150.
  • Chickens – £5-50, depending on breed.

Other expenses might be:

  • Feed – £10+ per 20kg bag.
  • Bedding – £3-13 for a month.
  • Health supplements – £60 for a year or so.
  • Medical attention – variable depending on vet / insurance.

5.     Companions

You might also want to think about companions. There are various animals that live very happily alongside chickens such as rabbits, ducks and even some dog breeds. If you have a pet that gets anxious or even aggressive when other animals are in the vicinity, perhaps this is your sign to rethink keeping chickens.

a chicken coop in the garden

How to keep chickens as a first-time owner: 5 tips to get you started

With the preliminaries covered, here are our tips covering the key aspects of poultry keeping.

1.     Chicken housing

A secure, safe and clean enclosure is a must for any prospective chicken owner. This will protect your birds from predators and keep bird flu and worms at arm’s length. Your chickens’ home will comprise of two parts: the coop and run.

Coop

The coop is where your chickens roost at night and lay their eggs. It should be well-insulated, properly ventilated, and designed to keep your chickens warm in winter and cool in summer. Regular cleaning of the coop is crucial to maintaining a hygienic living environment, which will in turn keep them happy and result in tastier eggs.

You can either purchase a premade coop or have a go at a DIY build if you have the time, skill and resources. You’ll be surprised at what kind of objects you can upcycle into your birds’ new home!

Runs / fencing

The run area offers space for your chickens to roam, scratch, and forage during the day. Adequate fencing is essential to keep them safe from potential threats and your choice of material is crucial here. Ensure the fencing is secure and that it covers both the top and bottom to prevent predators from digging underneath or flying in from above. This also means opting for a windproof fence that can weather the elements.

2.     Pest control

Maintaining a healthy environment for your chickens also involves effective pest control. These creepy crawlies will drain the chickens of blood and make them weak and unwell. Regularly inspect and treat your coop and surrounding areas for common poultry pests such as mites, lice, and ticks.

Often this will be as simple as cleaning out the coop and run every few days, but you can also provide a dust bath filled with wood ash or a similar product, so the birds can dislodge pests from their feathers.

3.     Compost and fertiliser

One of the biggest advantages of having chickens in the garden is the potential for compost and fertiliser. As the animals walk around, poop and break down the wood chip and other materials in their enclosure, you create a micro-climate that generates heat in the winter and fertiliser for your plants. Add the manure to your garden and you’ll see life thrive in every corner.

4.     Chicken feed

Proper nutrition is vital for your chickens’ well-being and the quality of their eggs. Invest in a balanced and nutritious chicken feed suitable for their age and purpose, whether it’s laying eggs or growing meat birds. Supplement their diet with fresh vegetables and access to clean water to ensure they thrive.

5.     Love and attention

Beyond the practical aspects of chicken keeping, don’t underestimate the importance of providing love and attention to your feathered friends – they’re social animals! Spend time interacting with them, as this not only strengthens the bond, but also allows you to detect any signs of illness or distress early on. Happy and well-cared-for chickens are more likely to lay eggs consistently and lead contented lives in your garden. Plus, who can say no to chicken cuddles?

Let your inspiration take flight

By now you should have a good grasp on the basics of how to keep chickens. By carefully addressing the aspects we’ve outlined above, you can ensure that your journey into keeping chickens in your garden is a rewarding and successful one, bringing a touch of the countryside to your urban or suburban life, and some happy feathered companionship.

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