How to keep chickens: a beginner’s guide
- How many chickens should I get?
- What is the best breed of chicken for me?
- Is it good to have a rooster with your hens?
- When do hens start laying eggs?
- What is the best way to house chickens?
- How often and when should I clean the chicken coop?
- Should I heat the chicken coop in winter?
- What to feed and not to feed chickens?
- How and where to buy a chicken?
- How to treat a sick chicken?
- Extra tips on how to keep chickens
Based on the number of eggs
Do you want to keep chickens for their yummy eggs? Then count how many eggs your family consumes in a given week. You can figure this out, for example, by writing down how many eggs you buy at the supermarket each week.
A chicken lays an average of 200 eggs a year (a laying hen: 300 a year). It’s a common misconception that they lay an egg each single day. An average chicken is capable of laying about 3-4 eggs per week. So normally 4-6 chickens should be plenty for a family of 4. If you also like to give eggs to friends or family once in a while, then it may be a good idea to take 1 or 2 extra chickens.
Based on the space available
Chickens enjoy being able to move around freely. They like to scratch and dig all day long. So 3-4 square metres per chicken is preferable for scratching around. If you have 5 chickens, you’ll need a scratching area of 15-20 square meters.
Not enough space? Go for a smaller breed of chicken, they only need a scratching area of 1,5 square meter per chicken.
- Do you have enough space in your garden? Smaller breeds generally require less space to scratch around.
- What do you expect from them? Are you after lots of eggs or do you want to keep them for company or for meat?
- Do you want a chicken that appreciates petting and cuddling or is that less important to you?
- Do you prefer white or brown eggs?
- Is it important to you that your chicken looks nice or special?
The brown or black laying hen
- Lays about 300 brown eggs per year
- Strong resistance
- Easy to keep
- Ideal for starters
- Lays about 100 white eggs per year
- Beautiful to look at
- Withstands very low temperatures
- Very small and requires little space
- Lays about 170 brown eggs per year
- Beautiful and fully feathered chicken
- Calm and friendly, so it’s a good option for families with children
- Small and needs relatively little space
The North Holland Blue
- Lays about 140 brown eggs per year
- Good quality and quantity of chicken meat
- Very large chicken (>3 kg)
- Resistant to low temperatures
It’s a common misconception that chickens don’t lay eggs without a rooster. However, the presence of a rooster can have other advantages:
- Chicks! Unless you remove the eggs from the coop every day, because you prefer not to have little chicks.
- More structure and hierarchy within the flock.
- Hens become calmer and bicker less.
- You’ll be woken up early by the rooster's beautiful crowing (unless you prefer to set your alarm at a decent hour ... 😉).
A shelter and a scratching area
Fresh drinking water all day long
To feed your chickens, you’ll need the following:
- A food container is recommended to keep vermin such as mice from crawling into the chicken feed. They can carry germs.
- A chicken feeder trough
- Chicken feed (grain mix)
- Daily: collect eggs, remove droppings from the coop
- Weekly: clean the feeder troughs, drinking bells and perches. Check whether the bedding needs to be replaced or not.
- Monthly: clean the nesting boxes (twice a month during winter)
- Half yearly: replace sand or soil in the outside area and disinfect everything
Should I heat the chicken coop in winter?
Safe for your chickens:
- Vegetable leftovers
- Fruit leftovers (may also be overripe fruit)
- Stale bread, rice, yoghurt
- Fresh meat
- Dried, crushed eggshells. Make sure they're unrecognisable, otherwise they might start pecking their own eggs.
Be careful with:
- Too much of the same food e.g. stale bread, fruit or meat
- Bad or rotten kitchen leftovers
- Raw potatoes and potato peels
- Banana and kiwi peels
- Citrus fruit
- Uncooked rice
If you want to be sure your chickens are healthy and lay a lot of eggs, it’s better to buy purebred chickens from a breeder. This will also allow you to enjoy them for years to come. If you buy your chickens online, you don't really know what you’re buying. You may pay a little less, but you could end up with a less healthy and less strong chicken.
How much does a chicken cost?
Purebred chickens from a breeder cost on average between 10 and 15 euros. If you figure out how much you pay for eggs at the grocery store, then you’ll see that raising chickens will save you money in the long run. However, there are also housing, feeding and maintenance costs to consider.
- Prevent boredom by hanging a lettuce or apple in the coop. Your chickens will enjoy pecking at it for a long time.
- Different levels in the coop is more interesting than just a flat space. Chickens like it and it gives them different opportunities to have a look at what’s going on around them.
- Do your hens lay their eggs scattered all over the coop or don’t you know where to find them? Then place a dummy egg where you want your feathered friends to lay their eggs. Chickens are more likely to lay eggs where there are already eggs. Remove the eggs every day but leave the artificial one in place.
- Get your children involved in caring for your chickens. Collecting eggs and feeding chickens teaches your child how to be independent and it’s fun too.
- If you want tame chickens you best buy them when they are young. Then they’re easier to tame.
- When you’re planning to introduce a rooster to your flock, then it’s best to do this right from the start. Once the flock is established it’s difficult to add new birds.
- Dried mealworms are a delicious snack for your chickens.
- Once you’ve brought your chickens home, put them immediately on a perch inside the coop. This will help them find their sleeping place. Always check your chickens return inside the coop for the night. To be sure, you can leave the coop door closed for the first few nights.
- Do you have an open top chicken run (e.g. fenced off with wire)? When you buy a chicken, always check to see if it has its wings clipped. Some chicken breeds need this to prevent them from escaping.
- As chickens get older, they lay fewer eggs or even no eggs at all. The average life span of a chicken is 5 years. Within their first 2 years of life, most laying hens will be at their peak production.
- Would you like to keep rabbits and chickens? Ensure that they both have a private enclosure. This will prevent them from eating each other’s food and it also makes sure chicken droppings won’t stick to your rabbit’s feet.