So, in part one, I talked about the things we found most useful in our first year of keeping hens. This time, I thought, ‘what about all the other stuff?’ so, here we go. When deciding if hens are right for you, there are many things to consider. In another post, I’ll write my hen routine down, as maybe it might give you some ideas as to what is involved.
“Do I need to get up early?” Probably….They are generally very easy to look after and most of the time you’ll be cleaning up after them and enjoying their crazy antics. Unless you have a huge garden with no neighbours or neighbours with hens, you will need to get up early to let them out, especially in the summer.
There are electric door openers, but the best time to see if something is wrong with your hens, is when you let them out. In the summer, I get up at 5.30am and then as the summer draws on and come winter, I get up at 7am. They wake up as soon as it gets light, we have the windows blacked out, but the wild birds usually give the game away!
“Are hens noisy?” My hens are for the most part, very quiet. They were in my garden for at least 3 months before anyone (aside from my direct neighbours who we consulted before getting hens) actually asked me if I had chickens, as they thought they heard some! But on the odd occasion that a hen feels the need for public speaking, it’s quite loud. I tested their range once, by walking round to the back gate when one was ‘bocking’ at the top of the garden (where the house is) and it sounded like a goose! Thankfully we have a lake with geese, ducks and such on our estate, so bird noises are part and parcel of living here!
They make quiet noises, chatty little clucks and funny cooing noises all the time, but they are quieter than the local sparrows, magpies and crows!
“Will they bother my neighbours?” My neighbours are generally pretty understanding and I take measures to ensure that the girls won’t kick off at 6am, although sometimes, it does happen.
I find doing things like sprinkling sultanas in the grass for them to find or some mixed corn helps to keep them amused long enough for them to stay quiet.
They also have learned to associate a little tune I whistle for them with food or exciting stuff, so if one starts to shout, I whistle and it distracts them, usually keeping them quiet. Sounds silly, but it works. I would say, with any animal that has the potential to be noisy, it’s always best to have a chat with your neighbour, just to make sure they won’t be overly upset by your new additions. We also checked with the council too as an extra precaution.
“What about the poo?” Next, the cleaning up. Hens poo a lot. It’s also worth remembering that birds don’t wee, it’s all mixed together and can be quite smelly. Approximately, every 10th poo, you’ll get a sticky green, yellow coloured poo called a caecal dropping, as well as looking gross, it also stinks.
Generally though, the droppings are fairly easily picked up. I use a plastic trowel and an old dustpan. I use the brush and dustpan to clean up small dust piles, as the hens enjoy emptying the flower beds onto the path….. A handy link all about poo!
“Can I use the droppings on my plants?” If, like me, you have a small garden with a bit of grass, it is important to pick up regularly after your hens, as droppings left on the grass will burn it. Hen droppings are fab as they have a high nitrate level, which, once rotted, makes excellent compost, but if you try to use it on your plants when it’s fresh, you can burn your plants.
I have a plastic skip which I use to ‘poo pick’ and once I’ve tipped the droppings into the compost bin, I wash it out with the hose and tip the water on the flower beds or veg patch…. this seems fine.
The hens will need a thorough clean out once a week, although it’s wise to stay on top of the cleaning and clean their housing regularly.
“Is cleaning them out hard?” Our housing has pull out muck trays, which are great. I put fresh newspaper in the tray and tip the old, soiled newspaper into the compost bin. This saves time and usually, I only need to scrub the much tray once a week.
The nest boxes need to be poo picked once the girls have been let out, otherwise your lovely eggs will be laid into poo. Just saves you having to clean it off!
Essential cleaning tools are
- a paint scraper – for dried on poo and mud
- a dustpan and brush with a trowel – for poo picking and pile collecting
- a skip/bucket/container – for transportation and collection of poo
- some form of animal safe disinfectant – to give the house a weekly once over
- a bucket and a scrub brush – for cleaning the feeders and drinkers
- Diatomaceous earth or similar mite prevention powder – I prefer the earth as it kills all the beasties that my bother your birds and it’s 100% safe and natural.
Other than these things, you can use your imagination, find a routine that suits you and stick to it. So long as you aren’t lazy about cleaning your birds out, it’s a doddle!
“Are they fun to keep?” A sense of humor is essential. Hens have a great sense of humor. They can make mischief out of anything! Just when you think your veg patch is safe, they’ll find a way in!
Remember that hens can jump pretty high, they can dig and they really aren’t stupid and you’ll be fine. Distraction seems to be the key to avoiding havoc (with our hens anyway!) so giving them plenty to do and think about, will keep them out of mischief. They all have individual personalities and you’ll have great fun finding out which is the bossy one, the shy one etc….
“What about our cats?” We have 3 cats as well as our 8 hens, and generally it’s understood that the hens are in charge. Our cats were 9 and 10 years old when we got our hens and the cats really didn’t know what to make of the hens when we got them. But after being chased down the garden a few times, the cats saty out of the hens way. Neighbourhood cats show an interest and will spy on the hens from a far, but I’ve not seen any other cats in our garden for ages…..
“What happens when one gets ill?” Hens are generally tough as old boots. But, when you notice one isn’t right, she usually really isn’t right and so some quick thinking and a bit of book knowledge can help immensely. It’s also worth looking in your area to find a vet with hen knowledge, as although hens are popular pets, some vets still have limited knowledge of them or are just not willing to acknowledge them as pets. The British Hen Welfare Trust – list of hen friendly vets. Here is a link for the BHWT website’s hen friendly vet list. But do some research!
A good chicken book can help, we found the Haynes Chicken Manual very useful and you can find near enough anything on the net!
But as with any animal, try not to panic, don’t be afraid to ask for help and do what you can. You’ll very quickly find your feet and feel confident to deal with most things.
I’ll be writing a part 3 soon. I’ll show you our routine for caring for our hens. I’m sure I do more than is required, but that’s just how I am! It comes from working with horses for 20+ years and being slightly OCD!!
Thanks again for reading.