If you have never kept hens before and are thinking about getting some ex-commercial hens (majority of these questions apply to getting pure breed or hybrid hens from a local breeder as well!) to keep in your back garden or on your allotment, there are a number of questions to ask yourself:
How many hens should I start with?
What do I need before they arrive?
Who will look after them if I am ill or want to go away on holiday?
What are the pros and cons to me keeping them?
How much money is this all going to cost me?
Any hidden costs?
We would suggest that people start with a minimum of three hens. Commercial hens have been through a lot in their very short lives already, and we have to warn people that sometimes the shock of coming out of the cages or Barns are all too much for these endearing little hens. If you have a very small garden three hens is enough, if you are lucky enough to have an enormous garden I would still say start of with a smallish number - just in case keeping hens doesn't work out for you.
What do hens need? They need somewhere to sleep (a hen coop), somewhere to exercise and enjoy themselves scratching the ground, digging around for bugs and worms (run or free range in garden if you are there to supervise), a dust bath (hens love dust bathing - a baby bath or a box filled with a mix of soil and play sand is a good idea), a feeding area which has feeders and drinkers, somewhere to lay eggs (most hen coops have built in nest boxes).
They need clean drinking water and a good quality feed (this should be either layers mash or layers pellets - both these contain the same nutritional values, just one comes in a pellet form and the other is much more powdery and finer.
Hens need daily care, need someone to let them out of the coop on a morning, lock them away on a night time (to keep them safe from predators), perhaps let them out of the run during the day to free range. Something worth mentioning here is hens cannot tell difference between what they are allowed to eat and what they aren't so if you have a cultivated lawn or bedding plants you need to have this fenced off - lawns are things many of us have had at one time, but rest assured you won't have one after a few weeks of having hens on them. So...... who will look after your hens in the event you are ill or want to go on holiday. If you have a family member, friend or neighbour you THINK will look after them, make sure that they will be able to do this before you get your hens.
There are lots of pros to keeping hens - they are endearing little creatures who will, in a very short period of time, wrap themselves around your hearts. There is no guarantee to getting eggs on a daily basis from these ex-commercial hens, however if you don't expect much you will love it when your hens do lay eggs. Hens help educate the younger children of the family about where eggs come from (I do think its a brilliant idea for children to have pets as they educate them about the cycle of life) and ex-commercial hens are often responsible for showing family friends and neighbours just why they shouldn't be buying cheap caged hen eggs.
Downsides of keeping hens, is that they are a responsibility, they can become ill and need a vet, need care every day - come rain, shine, sleet, wind or snow. There are certain things which come along with keeping hens - they need worming regularly, may need the attention of a vet sometimes in their lives, parasites (Ok we've discussed internal worms - but what about the external ones - lice, redmite, fleas).
So - if you are still keen to take on ex-commercial hens - how much is all of this going to cost. Well keeping hens can cost as much or as little as you like. If you are buying a brand new, ready made hen coop and run they can cost a few hundred pounds. It has to be said here that a lot of ready made coops /runs are advertised as being suitable for 6 hens - well make that 3 hens - because very often the runs that come with these coops are miniscule, (OK bigger than they are used to in a battery cage) but all hens should have a decent amount of space to run around in. Feeders and drinkers can be bought for between five and ten pounds each. A hen coop can be any structure which has perches for the hens to roost (sleep) on, nest boxes for them to lay eggs in - so an old shed can be used - it just needs to be waterproof and windproof. Feed can be around £8 a sack.
Hidden costs - well like any living creature at some time or another your hen may require the services of a vet - there will be a consultation charge to pay and if you require any medication this will go on top. This bit is a like asking how long is a bit of string, until it happens you have no need of knowing costs. You will need to worm your hens at least twice a year, you may need a redmite product to clear up redmite in the warmer months (this parasite doesn't live on your hens, but lives in the woodwork of the hen coop and climbs onto hens when they are roosting to feast on blood and then return to the woodwork where they live.
Hopefully none of this will have put you off keeping hens - the main purpose of this is just to ask yourself if you are cut out for keeping hens.
I am a great believer in research, research, research. Go to the library, get some poultry keeping books and have a read of them. The more research you do prior to getting your hens the better.
This is a copy of an article published on the Down the Lane forum by one of our Team