I hope you enjoyed the first post in my chicken keeping series last week. This one is the next (and last) preparation post before the fun bit-choosing which hens you want.
Before that though, you have decided you want to keep a few hens and you have chosen the coop.
What do they eat? What else do you need?
Along with the coop, you will need a drinker and feeder. There are many options to choose from but for a small number of animals, a feeder like this one will be fine.
You just fill it up from the top each day and the chickens peck around the bottom to release the food from further up.
Regardless of number of hens, for the drinker, I would honestly go for the largest one that will fit in your coop. Why? Well, in periods of hot weather, if you have a small drinker, you will be constantly refilling it.
If you are around for most of the day then that is fine. If you are at work, you need to ensure the animals have sufficient water while you are out.
My first hatch chicks this year are now 11 weeks old and, in the last really hot spell we had, I filled their small drinker six times in one day. Off I went to the feed merchant to buy a bigger drinker.
The food you need depends on the age of the bird as the nutrients added are age dependent.
Chicks eat chick crumb which is a kind of finely milled pellet. You can buy it medicated or not and they need this until they are around eight weeks old or, if you are here, until you run out of chick crumb.
Technically, if it is not the medicated sort, they can eat chick crumb until they start to lay but I believe it is good practice to give a layers pellet eventually.*
There are two main types of food for adult chicken (an adult is classed as such when the animal is between 16 and 24 weeks old). One is layers mash and the other layer pellets. They are essentially the same food in different forms. I find pellets are less messy and we get it in bulk but it is personal reference.
Wherever you get your chicken food from (country stores, pet shops etc), you will always see corn next to the pellets.
Chickens love corn. They love it. If there is a constant supply of pellets and corn to choose from, they will always choose the corn.
It is basically the chocolate equivalent for poultry. It s however a treat. We don’t always give it but, if we have any in, it is usually given as a snack in the early evening or a treat if it has been a really bad day weather-wise.
It is commonly thought that hens eat anything (they do). They are omnivores so they will, given the chance eat insects and other animals should they happen to fall into their path.
As for kitchen scraps, in the UK, it is illegal to feed kitchen scraps to hens. DEFRA describe kitchen scraps as anything that has been in your kitchen-unless you reside in a vegan household which I think it both funny and ironic.
There are ways around this though. If you have an allotment, you can give your hens freshly picked fruit and vegetables and, you can buy your hens treats like pumpkins and squashes and cut them in the garden before giving them to your birds.
Whether everyone adheres to these rules is unknown but I feel I am duty bound to tell you the law.
The other thing hens need, layers especially is grit. At our farm, they usually pick it up naturally off the floor but if they egg shells become a little soft, we know it is time to give them a bit of oyster shell grit which is also available in the places you get the food.
The hens peck the grit and it is stored in the gizzard (part of their stomach) which helps to grind food down.
That is essentially all you need. There will be a further post on what you need in your chicken medicine box and it will also cover worming which needs to be done regularly.
Next week is the fun bit. Which hens to choose.
*Just to confuse things, there is something called growers pellets which I know people must use (or why would it be manufactured) but I have never used it.