A beginners guide to keeping chickens (part 2)

by sophie on November 4, 2009 · 21 comments

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This is the second of two posts that make up a Beginners Guide to Keeping Chickens. If you missed it you might want to check out part 1 first.

How much contact time do chickens need?
Chelsea asked how much time we spend with our chickens every day.  Unlike cats and dogs, chickens don’t seem to crave human company and interaction overly so there’s no need to worry that you need to be able to give them lots of “quality time” (so long as they’re kept disease free and have all the food, water and shelter that they need). Chickens are friendly, inquisitive creatures and do like to know what you’re up to but in the grand scheme of things they’re much more bothered about whether they get to free range or not.  Ours are on their own for 8 to 10 hours a day while we’re at work. They happily keep themselves busy in their run for this time but are also very excited to be let out to free range for an hour or so when we get home.

Are they noisy?
If you only have hens then there’s no need to worry about that signature, neighourhood-rousing cock-a-doodle-do. But it’s only fair to warn you that hens can still be a bit noisy. We were getting up at sunrise in over the summer months to let our chickens out into their run so that they didn’t wake the neighbours with their chatter.  They’re only really loud enough for immediate neighbours to hear, but definitely loud enough to wake a light sleeper. There are all kinds of things that you can do to try and limit how early they wake up such as covering their hutch with dark tarpaulin to fake night-time. Touch-wood our neighbours haven’t complained and once the rest of the world is up and going about its business then the odd “I’ve laid an egg, aren’t I amazing” noisy announcement is drowned out the noise of
cars, people etc.

What about going on holiday?
The chickens are fine on their own for the weekend provided that you leave them ample water and food and that they’re safely shut away in a fox-proof run (knowing this was one of the tipping points that finally made us give chicken-keeping a go).  If we’re away for longer than overnight then we ask a friend to pop in and feed them and collect the eggs.

And that’s about all you need to to do!
The chickens aren’t hard work at all. Like most pets, little projects do crop up from time to time, especially if you’re a softy like me and want your girls to live in luxury.  We spent several weekends during the summer trying different ways of keeping them out off my precious vegetable patch before we came up with a solution that worked.  More recently we’ve realised that keeping the chickens on grass over winter
just isn’t going to work. The ground gets turned into a muddy quagmire and you have to hop in your PJs over damp, dewy grass to let them out every morning.  So this weekend has been spent building a more weather proof permanent corner for their run with the floor covered in plastic chippings.  And I’m sure come the colder months I’ll be out there at 7am taking them hot ‘chicken porridge’.  Then I’ll be wanting to rescue more chickens and build a “walk in run”. You get the picture…

chicken runSo there you go – chickens are pretty low maintenance as far as pets go.  They’ll also have you completely trained and right where they want you within a matter of weeks.

Where to find out more
This Beginners Guide to Keeping Chickens has a part 1
The Omlet website has a good basic guide
The Omlet Forum is the place to go to for advice or for answers to more complicated questions
The Battery Hen Welfare Trust have a detailed guide to Caring for Ex-Battery Hens


Johanna November 5, 2009 at 02:20

surely people wouldn’t complain about the noise of chickens – I quite like it (perhaps because I had chooks in the backyard as a kid) and much prefer it to noisy traffic

johanna November 5, 2009 at 18:25

i have long been thinking of keeping hens in my front garden… just because it’s a bit of a wasted space, really. and i love eggs. i have been worried more about the smell – living quite close to our next-door neighbours, wouldn’t that be a problem?

kathryn November 6, 2009 at 04:15

Thanks for all this really useful and *reassuring* information Sophie. It all seems very do-able. We don’t have space in our current place – but sometime in the not too distant future I’ll be getting some chooks.

chelsea November 6, 2009 at 21:12

Thanks – It’s so wonderful to hear all this from someone who actually keeps chickens and is kind enough to take questions! I know I’ll be back to this when I finally do get a few peeps.
It’s also great to see that picture of your run. Those must be some happy hens!

Arwen from Hoglet K November 7, 2009 at 10:34

I love your comment about them training you, and it sounds like they’ve done a good job if your first morning job is letting them out. It’s great to know they’re ok for the weekend too.

Sophie November 8, 2009 at 17:38

Johanna – I’ve heard of a few grumpy neighbours complaining. The problem is that chickens can be up making a noise well before there is any traffic noise to disguise it. They aren’t excessively loud mind you – probably only loud enough to annoy the kind of people who are easily annoyed (if you see what I mean!).
Johanna – hens would be such a good use for a front garden! I have a colleague who has two neighbours with chickens, one of which smells and one doesn’t. I think it’s all down to how many you have and how clean you keep them (ours are cleaned out once a week and don’t seem to get smelly). We also get this fantastic stuff called bokashi bran which we sprinkle into their dropping tray which seems to keep everything smelling sweeter between cleans.
Sometime in the ‘not too distant future’ sounds very promising Kathryn. Let me know if there’s anything else you (and Trilby the cat) would like to know.
Great to hear that you are thinking about getting a few chickens too Chelsea. Just leave a comment here or email me if there’s anything you’d like to ask.
Arwen – yes, we’re completely under their little chickeny thumbs. I think we even let the girls out before we feed the cats and put the kettle on for a cup of tea. All worth it though for the eggs and excellent company they provide.

Monica November 20, 2009 at 07:06

I live in Wiltshire, just down the road from you and have been thinking about keeping chickens. You answered one of the questions I’d had – what if I’m away for the weekend? (I frequently go into London for a night or two.) This has given me new found motivation to get a couple chickens in the new year and see how it goes.

David December 17, 2009 at 05:07

I raised between 35 and 50 chicken each summer as a kid. So you ask, “how much personal time?” Some days it was simply a matter of setting out their food. Other days I’d spend an hour or so playing with them. It’s kind of like playing with dopey cats, the don’t have a a lot of interaction, but it can be fun to chase them around the yard.

IdahoGirl May 14, 2010 at 14:15

Thanks for the info. We just got our chooks yesterday and are so excited. I like what you did with the bed. We’re thinking about doing something more permanent like that rather than moving the coop around all the time.
What do you do about keeping the run area tidied? I’ve thought about wood chips rather than just the dirt they are over right now, but wondered how it would cope with all the poop and how often I’d have to replace stuff. I’m fine with cleaning out the coop, but wonder how long I can keep bedding if I use something similar to what you did in your picture.

Neil April 3, 2012 at 22:11

Plastic chippings! ive not heard of these before, dont the girls eat them? oh and YES they do have you trained within weeks, ive had mine 11 days and am what i can only describe as a slave for them. But thats well earned when the odd one comes over for a cuddle. Lovely post thanks for taking the time out to do it for us newbies.

Sophie April 4, 2012 at 16:30

Aaaah, I’m glad to hear that you are so smitten with your girls already Neil. They are lovely pets.

The girls don’t eat the plastic chippings (they’re quite big), but I must say that we’ve now moved on again since I wrote this as the chippings did start to disintegrate a little bit and become difficult to keep clean. We’re now using something called aubiose which is a really absorbent horse bedding material, and we use it on the inside floor of their run (which is all kept dry with a clear tarpaulin), and in the nesting box). You can scrape this bedding out fairly easily every few months and replace it with a top layer of fresh bedding, and also sprinkle some poultry safe disinfectant powder around every so often (if you live in the UK we have something called stalosan).

Hope this is helpful!

www.ibewlocal69.com June 7, 2013 at 15:45

Hi, just wanted to tell you, I loved this blog post. It was helpful. Keep on posting!

Zena June 7, 2013 at 22:26

Thank you so much for some staight-foward answers to many of my own concerns. We have bought a coop and are just deciding how many ex-battery chicken to home for the space we have. I think 3 will be good from reading your comments. I like the idea of letting them out morn and eve and free roaming only when we are around – however I’d be interested to know how this work for you in the winter month when it is so dark mornings and evenings – a great site for this newbe, many thanks!

Doot June 16, 2013 at 08:20

I helped to care for hens at a community garden for five years and really missed them when I gave it up. I have now taken the plunge and bought a hen house! It’s still in bits but, being made of lovely wood, smells divine! It’s in my front room….. Next weekend, I’m getting two p.o.l chooks and we are all very excited. I live in a terraced house, with a small back garden consisting of a slabbed patio and the rest gravel. Should I take some of the gravel up so they can scratch in the soil? Also (sorry, you’d think I would know all this!) should I clip their wings? Hopefully, they will have been vaccinated. I’m a newbie to this site, but I’m already hooked! My granddaughter, Lauren aged 9 and into mythology, has decided the girls will be called Vesta and Venus!

sophie June 17, 2013 at 18:32

Hi Doot, take a look at some of the links at the end of the post re. your questions. The Omlet forum is an especially good place to ask questions and you’ll get lots of opinions rather than just one. Enjoy your new girls!

Tracy July 28, 2013 at 19:59

Is that bark you have down for them?

June October 12, 2013 at 07:34

Hi, my chickens are free range all of the time but we are in the process of building and growing a garden…which as I am sure you are aware the chooks take great pleasure in tearing up and munching everything in site. Because of this we have now put them up the side of the house, still free range with coop and run (for lock up over night), with dirt/sand box and hay placed up the entire area they have, its a great little spot but I cannot help to feel a pang of heartache that they do not have the entire run of the backgarden and also as much interaction with me. Will they understand the difference in environmental enrichment and the lack of interaction?

elaine March 19, 2014 at 20:02

hi have had my two rescue chicks for 3 week and am completly hooked i do the same as you as we work full time and let them roam when were home whats a bit of chicken poo among friends :) your post is very helpfull dont fell as guilty leaving them through the day now x

David April 12, 2014 at 06:11

Hi I’m looking at getting some chickens I don’t have a grass area but there is a lot of plants my fiancé and me Arnt green fingered! But I was looking at taking some plants out and putting chickens there I’ve seen you used plastic to keep it fairly clean we’re would I get this from?

georgina harmon September 11, 2014 at 08:42

thankyou i have found your beginners guide really helpful. i am now going to look at the omlet guide.
thanks again

stewart October 9, 2016 at 12:59

What a lovely blog and wealth of information for the many newbies – that love the thought of having chickens – but don’t know where to start. You simply uncomplicated the process.
nice writing.

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