How hard is it to keep chickens

Lately I have been asked how hard is it to keep chickens by a number of people. My answer: Easy!
Keeping chickens is massively rewarding not only for the eggs but to see them wandering about and enjoying dust baths whilst making those country sounds is a delight. As many of you know I like to bake and the cost of this is reduced enormously by keeping chickens and having fresh gorgeous eggs daily.
When we started keeping hens we got a few fancy looking ones – bluebells, sussex and of course a few of the reds – now we have mostly reds ( they are the best layers)  with one or two others that grew up with us.
That’s the best part you see, once you have hens it’s likely that at least one will be broody every year (won’t come out , sits on eggs) giving you to the chance to replenish your stock with chicks! There are lot’s of great books available for keeping hens – One in particular that I like is ‘Keeping Chickens and other poultry’ by Vivian Head.
So to give you an idea of cost etc:
We built our own hen hut with a door we could easily open to rake out the straw when cleaning – we clean it out a few times a week. Total Cost: €100 -€150 inc posts,wire,hinges.Wood was re-cycled wood – we paid carpenter mate 50 quid.
Our neighbour – a farmer,  gives us a bale of straw every year which we keep in our rather ramshackle shed – I think you can buy same though for about 50 quid. Try your local farmers co-op noticeboard.
lost eggs
It’s important to get them into a routine of laying in the hut otherwise you will wander across a lost nest of eggs and have no idea how old they are. We only let ours out to roam after 11am.
We get 4-6 eggs per day allowing us plenty for brekkie and baking plus enabling us to give visitors a lovely gift of fresh free range eggs when they leave.
hens like friendsMost of our neighbours’ fowl were killed by foxes last winter- they are wondering how us ‘city folk’ have managed to keep them at bay – we ll we do have dogs but they are on the other side of the house..
When we built a small pond we used extra tough metal sheets (for reinforcing the concrete yet allowing it to bend) and we had leftover sheets ( they were about €8 each) which we used for the bottom of the hen coup perimeter, then we just used normal chicken wire for the rest.
One tip- when we had chicks we attracted hawks, magpies and buzzards looking for an easy snack so we put a light green netting over the top (at head height) so they cannot get into the hens.
hens-freerangeWe have a rooster – a total gentleman- he allows the girls to eat before him but then he does have 7 super  ladies so why wouldn’t he?
Some of our chicks have been male so we have had to give them away – we don’t like to kill them – there is always someone who will take them so ask around.
feederFoodwise we spend about 10-12 euro per month on layers pellets which supplements their free range diet of worms, insects etc..
Tip: We hang the feeder off the ground under the hut which keeps the food dry and away from mice.
Chickens are social creatures and enjoy being around humans. If You have a small space consider 3 hens rather than 2 as it makes it a bit more social for them to. You do not need a rooster for hens to lay eggs.
snipe-henhutWe did of course have to train our dogs not to be interested in the hens- my other half is excellent at dog training- as you can see! They no longer even look twice at the hens.
All animals get sick occasionally and we have lost a few over the years to egg binding ( hen produces an egg but cannot lay it – we took her to the vet but she didn’t make it) some were taken by other animals and there’s the odd unexplained death.
One thing we do keep at hand is medicine for a cough-like affection that can happen to them if their water gets contaminated with for eg mice peeing in it. Do not be deterred. It is rare and fixed easily. It’s important to keep the ground they live on clean/rotated so parasites cannot build up.
sociable-creaturesThere are regular fowl markets in places like Gorey, Enniscorthy and some garden centres ( like Springmount) hold a family fun day with fowl for sale every so often. If in doubt ask your local garden centre as they usually know the same people who keep chickens, or your local co-op or check out the local newspaper ads. (It is hard to get this info online still).
 So is hard to keep chickens? No. Is it rewarding – very much so!