Choosing Your Set-Up
OK, so you have decided that hen-keeping is for you, have made note of their requirements and now it's time to think about your set-up at home.
This page is designed to give you pointers, things to think about when you start to plan your set-up.
Most people start their 'set-up' plan with choosing a part of the garden for the hens.
Here I would like to 'pause' the process and give this a different approach.
Hen keeping is fundamentally about 'ground management' in the garden, small scale farming to be precise. Whether that is because their run will be static or because you plan to move them around the place.
Let's look firstly at these two options of runs;-
Great in terms of planning with sympathy with the rest of your garden. Hens kept in one place and the garden kept in one piece.
However, this means creating a management system that will keep your ground healthy for your hens. It is not ideal for them, but it is not impossible with a bit of work to keep things under control.
The first issue to consider with the static house/run is the amount of 'free space' the hens will have, THIS WILL AFFECT YOUR STOCKING DENSITY regardless of buying a house for 8-10 hens - you may only have suitable run space for 4 hens.
Being realistic about the life you will ask hens to lead in this regards is very important for their well being - and your breakfast - stressed hens don't lay!
DEFRA do give stocking rates for commercial purposes, and because there is nothing in terms of 'pet' hens, these are the same rates used for houses on the market. However, most people will not be culling their birds once they reach their first moult thankfully.
So please bear in mind that what looks green and lovely when you first build it, will soon be very different after hens being on the ground a matter of weeks. Hens are active, their feet can cause serious compaction on top of which they are constantly doing their droppings and flattening that into the very ground they will naturally through instinct want to peck about in. With a static run there is no means of resting this without removing the hens.
Hard wood chips are a great product to use in static runs, avoid straw, hay and soft woods as all can become breeding grounds for bacteria and fungal issues which can be lethal to hens. Laying turf down is great, but will become a very expensive hobby as they will devour this in very little time at all. The hardwood chips will allow the hens to scrat, and can easily be lifted out and replaced, or thoroughly washed through on a regular basis.
"Peck Blocks" - place these around the run for the hens to peck at all day - remember to always put one more than the number of hens that you have in the run. These are highly recommended because they allow the hen to exhibit her natural behaviour - which is how feather pecking type habits form - when there is no mental stimulus for hens in confinement.
Throwing in tufts of grass and other vegetation, along with a nice damp log full of woodlice is also great for them. Don't forget to take them out before the start to rot, and refresh them. Swopping logs over whilst storing them in a dark, damp spot in the garden is a great routine for confined hens.
Be prepared if you are to have them in a static area to be responsible for the provision of mental stimulation for the hens throughout their lives.
Another important factor for the static run is drainage - considering the amount of rainfall we now seem to experience - it is important for the health and welfare of your hens that the ground drains away surface water as well as can be achieved.
The most important part to consider - is not the size of the house you have, but the amount of 'wandering about space' you have in your static run. Hens have two legs, they are not designed for a static life.
Imagine living your whole life on the tube train, occasionally getting off on a platform, but only to get back on the train.
It is perfectly possible to keep hens in a static run, with a commitment to managing the ground effectively.
Now we move onto the mobile set-up. This affords a greater degree of ground management for the hen keeper, and in turn a greater degree of stimulus for the hen.
Ideally the stocking density again needs to be low, allowing the hens to have plenty of space to move about in their run. Given the run is mobile, one can safely assume it is not going to be huge.
We use all 'mobile' houses, but they do require machinery (or World's Strongest Men) to lift them, some are meant to be for people to lift, but I don't have the wingspan of an albatross, or a very good deadlift.
The key to good ground management with the mobile runs is to find the balance between the hens using the ground well, but not poaching or destroying the plant life totally. There are too many variables for me to give an example of how often to move, your hens and your ground will indicate to you. My suggestion would be at least once a week, and not back onto ground they were on the week before.
In the ideal world of mobile housing, one would have sufficient space to keep hens off ground for at least 12 weeks, this would prevent many issues (of which I include major issues with parasites), and allow the ground to recover and new growth emerge.
The reality is very different for most mobile housing users, and so adopt the best policy that you can to protect your ground and your hens.
Mobile units come in all manner of shapes and sizes, I personally like them with a covered end run opposite their coop, where food/drink can be placed and the hen has daytime shelter outside in the fresh air.
Please bear with me as I complete this page - currently a 'work in progress' (bit like my ironing pile) 8th May 2013
If we can assist in the meantime, with anything to do with housing, then please drop down on Saturdays or contact us here 01757 638925 or firstname.lastname@example.org