Any chicken owners out there?

Hi I’m thinking of getting hens and I wondered if anyone knew if any local chicken keepers’ groups and/or an avian vet before I take the plunge.
Or if anyone already keeps chickens and has any tips and advice for urban hen keeping I’d love to know! Thanks

No personal experience but have had friends in Penge who had chickens. Their advice to someone else was to ensure the chickens could be kept a good distance from neighbours as the chickens were often active, and noisy and unsociable hours in the morning. They eventually had to get rid of them.

I wouldn’t bother because your neighbours will be complaining about the smell before too long. Too many foxes about that will try their damnedest to get in the coop and kill everything without eating any.

That said I know a few people locally who have urban chickens and thereby a supply of fresh eggs daily. Nothing beats a poached egg laid that morning.

1 Like

My grandmother used to keep chickens. It seemed to be quite easy. She gave them food and something to help them make the egg shells.

Our neighbours three doors along keep chickens. It’s quite nice to hear them clucking away in the morning.

I’ve got some, will post some info later, but feel free to DM if you have questions after that. @Foresthillnick had some also so might also be able to advise

Wow thanks for all the replies everyone. Yes definitely worried about foxes and the hens’ noisy clucking. Any solutions gratefully received.

Ok @smiris here goes, this might be long…also I’ve only had mine since September last year so a relative novice, though I did research for at least one year beforehand…

Run

At a minimum you will need a run for them to potter about in the day and sleep safely at night, that is safe from predators.

We currently have Avian Flu in the UK, which means chickens are under lockdown - they have to stay in their runs, the runs must be fully covered to stop bird droppings getting in, mesh on the side must be small enough to stop wild birds getting in. This started in November or December and will go on until at least early April. I mention this as it’s an important factor in the size of your run, as if you had them now they would have had to spend a minimum of 4 months in the run without access to your garden or allotment plot.

In London, foxes and rats are your biggest issues. Chicken wire is good enough to keep chickens in, but not good enough to keep foxes out, who can chew through it. You need weld mesh that has a minimum rating of 16g (stronger wire goes down in numbers so 14g is better, but 19g is not suitable). I found the best place to order from was https://www.hillsofdevon.co.uk/ . You then need to decide on the size of mesh holes, I think 1/2 inch by an inch biggest to make it rat proof, but double check that!

I built mine with wood from Wickes - I would not recommend, lots was warped etc but was during lockdown I started building so didn’t want to return and made do - made if difficult.

You can buy premade structures etc. Quite a few metal ones on ebay, I think the structures are generally ok, but you need to replace or strenghthen the wire.

To fully for proof the run, you need to either have a wire skirt coming our at 90 degrees from the base of the run, or dig wire down the sides quite a way down. Alternatives can be having an electric fence or paving the floor area. Paving the floor area or laying it with rat proof wire are the only ways to be sure to stop rats getting in (I do not do either though and don’t have issues with rats, this far anyway). If you pave, I think you need to add something to that as hens like scratching around.

You will also need a dirt bath as this is how they wash themselves - they will make their own, or if on concrete etc you will need to make one for them.

In terms of the mess, chickens seem to poo half their body weight daily, so I clean it up daily. I think if you only clean weekly you can get a build up of smell, especially if it’s wet. I do the same in the coop.

Roof - I think you can either use tarpaulin (which is what I use) or those plastic type solid panels. I suspect the latter, whilst more expensive, are better for longevity.

Keeping the run dry will play a bit part in keeping it non, or less smelly.

Space

There is much debate about space. I think the following is generally accepted:

All figures do not include space in the coop and are per hen:

1m sq - absolute minimum
2 sq metre - what a lot of people seem to go for
4sq per hen - what ‘free range’ chickens technically have
10 Sq metres - Organic hens.

Basically the more space, the less bullying and less issues. I have 20 sq metres, which means I could have 20 hens based on the minimum, but the run would be smelly, I would have bullying and stress and therefore more health issues (I believe), so I went with 5 hens, which may increase in a few years.

Make sure they have some perches and some shade. I bought a £15 kids wendy house to put in there.

Coop

Most people will tell you a coop is required, though a few people don’t have one. I have 5 hens. 3 sleep outside everynight, and 2 sleep inside the coop. I can only allow them to sleep outside if the run is fox proof, otherwise they would need to sleep in the coop at night also.

For a while I left the coop door open at night, quite a few people do this, but I got a bit paranoid about potantential rats getting at the two that sleep inside. I started opening and closing the coop manually each morning \ evening, but realised in summer \ winter this migth be more difficult to do in line with sunrise \ sunset so I now have a door timer that opens and closes at a time I set.

My understanding is wooden coops are much harder to get rid of red mites if the hens get them, whilst plastic coops are easier to take apart and clean to get rid of them. Plastic coops are quite expensive though.

Food and drink

They need their water changing at least daily. It’s best if you can hang the water up so other animals can’t reach it but also so they don’t kick dirt into and poo in it (they have no self control…)

Food wise, I invested in a Grandpa feeder. I did this as they seemed to be the one feeder consistantly recommended for stopping rats. Basically the hens have to walk on it to open it, rats and mice are not heavy enough to open it, and it’s metal so they can’t chew through it. I’d invest in this above almost anything else! If you have something rats can access or spills lots of food, you will get rat issues an your neighbours will not be happy…

Hens

You can but chicks, but generally this is risky unless they are sexed at birth, as good chance at least 50% will be cockerels, and you are not allowed those in London basically (there may be the odd exception but I would go with that). If you do go down this route, you will need to have a plan with what to do with the cockerels - not many people want them so unless you can find a rescue who will take them, you will need to cull them.

Generally people buy hens at POL (point of lay) meaning they are ready or will soon be ready to lay eggs. Hens (or pullets as I think they are called at this age) are sexed now so no chance of cockerels (hopefully anyway).

You can also rehome hens from battery farms through organisations like https://www.bhwt.org.uk/ and https://freshstartforhens.co.uk/ . There is some debate around this, and my take is these birds need some extra tlc so I decided it wasn’t something I wanted as a first time keeper, though many do.

If buying POL from a breeder, you will have Hybrids and Pure Breeds (and within these Large Fowl and Bantams - smaller versions of some). Essentially Hybrids lay more in the first few years and generally die younger, Pure Breeds lay less, and sometimes not at all over Winter, but live longer and lay for a longer period of time.

This is a lot already, people take different approaches, hopefully the above is a useful guideline. I’ve forgotten loads I’m sure…Of yeah get some ACV to put in the water sometimes!

As I said, feel free to DM me!

Al

8 Likes

We kept chickens for years in Forest Hill - just to clear a few points up.
They don’t smell if you clean them out regularly which you should do for their wellbeing anyway.
They don’t make a whole lot of noise - cockerels do but hen’s tend to cluck a bit and have a bit of a fit when laying an egg - that’s it and I found it quite nice. I asked my neighbours and they said they could just about here them but it was nothing compared to London’s background noise.
Foxes will kill them if they can. We lost some and it is horrible but if you are meticulous about locking them away then it should be fine.
Left to run wild they will destroy a garden, they will scratch and pack at everything.

@oakr has laid out all the essentials but I’d like to add that the joy they gave us made it worthwhile and the eggs were fantastic.

5 Likes

Absolutely! I think I’ve laid out a few things you need, but my kids love getting the eggs, stroking the hens etc. I’ve also found they have quite nice little personalities, they are not like having a dog or a cat, but they are more interesting than I imagined.

2 Likes

Al this is totally amazing and so useful that I have printed it. I will keep you posted if and when I go for the hens. Maybe we could start an SE23 poultry club. Thanks again.

3 Likes

We’ve had hens for years. We have an Eglu with a run large enough for them and high enough for me to walk in to do the clean-up. It’s not cheap, but the quality of the products is excellent and they’re fox-proof. We’ve also got various branches, etc, in the run for them to fly up to and perch.

Do NOT leave them outside the run by themselves, unsupervised. We lost a hen to a fox last Easter, broad daylight, when I was at the far end of the garden. It took seconds. Gone.

We fill the floor of the run with wood chips (B&Q). Chicken poo is great for the compost heap. The eggs are very good, especially poached. And hens (as said above) do not make a racket except when they’re telling everyone about the egg they just laid or if there is a fox poking around. It’s cockerels that make noise in the morning, not hens. There’s no reason to have cockerels unless you’re seriously going into the chicken and egg business.

Looked after, hens don’t tend to get ill. They’re either alive and well, or feet pointing skyward. There’s not much in-between, in my experience. Some breeds are more prone to becoming egg-bound, which kills them without much warning.

It can be quite distressing watching how aggressive hens can be towards each other as they sort out the pecking order. But they sort it out.

One warning: hot summer days are a bigger threat to them than frosty winter nights (assuming they’re tucked inside). There are a number of tricks for dealing with that. We use shade and - get this! - an old electric fan we used to use indoors.

Kids will love having chickens. They won’t do any of the mucking out, of course, but they’ll love it. Our daughter did.

4 Likes

3 Likes

My neighbours have chickens; I can honestly say that I find the noise from their kids on the trampoline louder than the chickens.

2 Likes

Great pics. Thank you. I had no idea there were so many people keeping hens locally.
I’m looking into getting a second hand Eglu and three hens to start off with. The kids want a puppy but hens will be a lot cheaper!

2 Likes

Hi just to let you know that we took the plunge. We now have three hens and it couldn’t be easier and is actually surprisingly fun. The kids love it and the neighbours haven’t even noticed. Thanks again for all the advice.

6 Likes

Congratulations! I’m so pleased you and the kids are happy now you have them!

Are they at an egg laying stage yet? The yolks will look so different if they have some greens and a few bugs etc to eat!

Next time I order some worming pellets, I’ll give you and @AndyS a shout as it’s always too much for my small bantams (needs to be eaten in a week and then goes off before the next time).

1 Like

We have just got three birds here in Portugal - only one seems to be laying though. One was and stopped and the other one produced the smallest egg I have ever seen and then nothing. So we wait and see but it is nice to have them around again.

@oakr - I take it you meant worming pellets??

1 Like

@Foresthillnick yes worming, have edited!

@AndyS , @smiris or anyone else, I will order in the next few weeks some worming pellets with flubenvet in it. Last time I don’t think we got through 1/2 a 5kg bag so if anyone else wanted some we could order a bigger bag and split it, I’d be happy to drive some around. Something like this (I don’t care about the brand).

https://www.farmandpetplace.co.uk/shop/products/poultry/poultry-feed/chicken-feed/marriages-layers-pellets-with-flubenvet-poultry-wormer-5kg.html

If interested DM me.

As as aside, something else I never knew, chickens love sunbathing.