Beginners Guide to Keeping Hens

As with any pet, deciding to keep hens and chickens is a big responsibility, you need to have the knowledge, correct environment and the right feeding and healthcare supplies for each poultry breed, to ensure your hens are being kept happy and healthy at all times. Looking after chickens and hens can be a fun and rewarding experience, however, you must ensure that they are kept in a safe and suitable environment, where they have their daily needs catered to. Find all you need to know about keeping chickens, from health tips to feeding, egg gathering and more here at Direct4Pet.

When you’re starting out in the henkeeping world, arguably the most important key is to not be afraid to get up close and personal with your hens and to treat them just as you would any other pet, give them the love and attention they deserve. For a beginner, it can be overwhelming keeping hens for the first time and not knowing the answer to a lot of common bird keeping questions could leave you feeling lost and looking for answers. Questions such as what do chickens eat? Where should I keep them? How many chickens should I get? Will likely crop up as you find your feet. That’s why we’ve put together an easy-to-follow beginners guide to keeping hens and chickens so you can care for your feathered friends correctly.

Are chickens easy to keep?

Keeping chickens and hens can be a seemingly easy job if you’re equipped with the right knowledge, tools and a working routine. Being aware of what food will benefit them the most, the best environment for them to live and how to care for any potential health risks will ensure you establish a regular routine that is beneficial to both you and your hens. 

Generally speaking, chickens take care of themselves, they tend to stick together as a flock and know when it is time to feed and sleep, therefore, all you need to do as an owner, is to ensure their coop is clean and they are well fed.

How many chickens should a beginner start with?

It’s recommended that if you have no previous experience with chickens that you start with keeping two or three hens, as hens alone (not cockerels) will allow inexperienced owners to - get to grips with the egg collecting, feeding and coop cleaning routines. While it may be tempting to just start with one bird, it’s imperative that bird keepers do not start with just one hen, as chickens are very sociable animals and prefer to be part of a flock than alone. 

Once you’re well accustomed to the routine of looking after your chickens, you can then start to think about expanding your flock. If your goal is to produce a lot of eggs, two hens, on average, will produce between 10-14 eggs per week, so it’s important to make sure you are capable of facilitating more than this if you wish to add more to your flock.

Hen feeders and drinkers

Now that you have an idea of what to expect when keeping your hens, it’s time to choose the right feeding and drinking essentials for your flock. Choosing the right feeder or drinker is also dependent on what you think is best for your hens. From trough feeders, to hanging or tray feeders, each feeder comes with its own unique set of benefits and features. Keep reading as we walk you through our variety of hen feeders and drinkers and their differences, each available to purchase directly at Direct4Pet.

Guan Poultry Plastic Feeder £14.19 and Guan Chicken Eco Drinker £10.19

The simplicity of Guan’s Poultry Plastic Feeder is great for when you’re first coming to grips with caring for your hens. Tough and durable, this plastic feeder hopper is designed to be filled from the top, with a semi-transparent design allowing you to easily view the feed level. It can hold up to 4kg worth of feed with an anti-waste grille to prevent food being wasted and handy detachable legs so that the food is kept off the ground, away from any dirt and feathers.

In addition to this, the Guan Chicken Eco Drinker is made from the same tough plastic material and can be used both freestanding with detachable legs or hanging with the handle, giving new hen keepers the flexibility to find what works best for their chickens. Able to hold up to 5 litres of water, this eco drinker also features a semi-transparent tank for easy visibility of the water and water level, so you know when to change and refill.

Eton Cottage Garden Trough Poultry Feeder £28.99 and Eton Cottage Garden Bucket Poultry Drinker £39.99

If you’re looking for something a bit more stylish for your coop, the Eton Trough Poultry Feeders and Bucket Poultry Drinkers are perfect. Made from zinc plating to protect against rust and other adverse weather reactions, these attractively painted feeders and drinkers will add a pop of colour to any coop. 

Ideal for small flocks of hens, this trough feeder features a caged top to prevent any squabbles at feeding time, giving each chicken their own place to feed comfortably. The bucket design of the poultry drinker also makes it easy to fill and return to the coop and has a unique shaped design that will inject a sense of fun to your growing coop.

Best food for hens and chickens

Choosing the best food for your hens and chickens is imperative to ensure they live a healthy life and produce good quality eggs. Without a nutritious, healthy diet, many bird keepers may experience signs of distress from their coop, which often translates in  unwanted behaviours such as picking at their feathers or deformed eggs. 

A hen’s diet should be made up mostly of grains and cereals, rich in vegetables and fruits such as corn and leafy greens and mixed with grit such as oyster shell to promote bone health. A good quality pellet that is rich in essential protein and nutrients should be the base of your chicken’s diet and they can then be enriched further with the addition of vegetables, fruits and treats.

Natures Grub Fruit & Berry Treat Mix 1.2kg £11.29 and Agrivite Chicken Lickin' Oyster Shell Grit £6.99

A good choice for beginners when choosing food for hens, is the Natures Grub Fruit and Berry Treat Mix. Offering the perfect blend of cooked and whole cereals including naked oats, micronised barley and wheat with the addition of dried fruits, sunflower seeds and micronised peas, this feed also contains oystershell to help create good quality eggs from your hens. 

If you’re looking to ensure you get the best eggs from your hens it’s important that their diet is rich in mineral-filled grit, such as oyster shell or limestone, to encourage strong eggs to be formed. The Chicken Lickin’ Oyster Shell Grit from Agrivite is a soluble grit with slow calcium release that not only encourages good quality, consistent egg shells but can also increase the bone strength of hens.

Be sure to browse our full range of poultry food and treat options on our website to find the right food for you and your hens.

How to collect your hen’s eggs

With a healthy diet and a good living environment your hens should start to produce excellent quality eggs that you can then collect and enjoy! There are a few things you should know in preparation for gathering your hen’s eggs:

  1. On average, hen’s lay around one egg per day, however they may lay more in very hot or very cold temperatures, as they will likely spend more time inside their coop.
  2. Be sure to collect the eggs frequently to prevent a build up which could lead to cracking of the eggs.
  3. Discard of all eggs that have cracked during the laying process as they will now be harbouring bacteria and are not safe to eat.
  4. Always make sure to wait until the hen has left her laying spot before collecting the egg. If the hen is stubborn and won’t move from her spot, try shooing them or gently reaching under to get the egg - be aware they may protest against this by pecking or squawking.
  5. Be sure to gather the eggs in a cloth or container that won’t put any pressure on them to ensure they do not break.

The best time to collect eggs is in the morning, however, beginners should remember to check in the evening too, as some may choose to lay at night. Hens often begin cackling loudly when laying eggs, which is a good sign to look out for to indicate that there are new eggs to collect. It’s also important for beginners to remember to wipe down eggs with a cloth or egg wash powder and store in egg trays to keep fresh either on the counter or refrigerator for up to one month.

When washing your eggs, hen keepers should use warm water, as cold water can shrink the egg and encourage bacteria to develop. Wash your eggs gently and quickly using either water alone, or with the combination of egg wash powder such as the Egg Wash Powder Low Foam Formulation (£54.99). This unique formulation helps to remove any dirt, kill bacteria and prevent any viruses from penetrating the eggshell.

Once your eggs are washed it’s time to store them, ideally in plastic trays or cardboard egg boxes such as the Eton Plastic Egg Trays (£10.79) which can each hold up to 30 eggs and the Eton Egg Boxes £7.69 which hold up to a dozen eggs and come in packs of 24.

How to care for your hen’s health

Being aware of the potential health risks of your hens is important when deciding to keep them for the first time. It’s common for hens and chickens to start demonstrating odd behaviours such as feather pecking due to a lack of protein, stress or boredom. A Barrier Anti-Pecking Spray is a great, natural, non-toxic spray that deters feather pecking and includes a natural disinfectant to help soothe and protect vulnerable areas.

In addition to this, as with any other pet, hens can also contract worms and lice. Parasitic poultry worms and lice are common amongst chickens but are easy to prevent and treat, they can affect your chickens in various different ways depending on parasite type, infestation level and the health of your flock. A great way to treat them is with an In-Feed Worming Mixture that has been specifically developed for domestic poultry keeping and can treat all of your hen’s at once and is effective against all types of parasitic worms, larvae and eggs.

Browse our full range of poultry healthcare products to find the right supplies to cater to your hen’s specific healthcare needs.

Ready to start keeping hens?

Now that you’re aware of all the essential information about how to correctly keep hens and the right products you need to help you along the way, browse through our full range of poultry specific products here at Direct4Pet to get you started on your hen keeping journey!