Checking in with chickens

vets feature poultry

More and more of us are keeping chickens in the garden. Chris Woodroff looks into the pros and cons of poultry.

Before getting the birds, make sure you have some form of secure accommodation for night-time.

Be it the taste of fresh eggs or the wish to have a bit of the rural idyll in your back garden that inspires people, keeping poultry is on the increase, and has been for the past four years. Not only do hens supply newly laid eggs, they help control pests, fertilize the lawn and are a source of interest as they scratch and cluck around the borders.

Chickens come in all shapes and sizes but my personal preference is for ex-layer hen. These brown chickens do not look much when collected but after a few weeks they feather up and settle in to garden life. They’re vaccinated against local chicken diseases and are designed for egg production. For best results, get at least three.

Before getting the birds, make sure you have some form of secure accommodation for night-time. Just this week one of our nurses, who lives in a town, had four chickens killed by a fox. A solid hen house or a mesh run is fine – make sure the sides of a run are 1.5m high and the bottom is dug into the ground or heavily weighted as predators can go both over and under a fence.

Many types of chicken feed are available; it’s important to keep this in a secure, lidded container as excess feed lying around brings in vermin – a risk to the birds and an excuse for the neighbours to complain. On the subject of neighbours, cockerels are understandably not popular and are not necessary for egg production.

In terms of routine husbandry, worming should be done via feed over seven days every few months and treatments can be purchased from feed merchants or vets. Make sure you choose a product that kills worms rather than just preventing them. Probably the most important routine, especially during summer, is mite and lice control. Chicken mites will live both on the bird and in the building so treat the birds and the henhouse.

Chickens are rewarding and entertaining pets, and with good security and regular parasite treatments, they offer many years of eggs and enjoyment.

By Chris Woodroff BVSc MRCVS, Severn Edge Veterinary Group

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