Welcome to the world of hens, ducks and geese!
Before buying any pet it's worth reading a book or two and doing a bit of research.
Hens are very easy to look after, and are a low maintenance pet as long as you are set up correctly. Ideally you need to secure your garden, they are not escape artists but if there is a gap in a hedge they will not respect the boundary. If you have land for the hens to roam, fencing is not as important, hens have a limit of 80m that they can roam from their house. Once a hen is homed to her house its highly unlikely she will ever leave!
Its a good idea to chat to the neighbours too. Hens are not noisy or smelly but your neighbours may panic when they see half a dozen chucks in the garden for the first time. Bribing your neighbours with your surplus eggs is a good way to get holiday cover for your hens too!
If you are thinking about adding a cockeral to the flock, you will certainly have to speak to any neighbours first. People in the country find the noise of a cock appealing but in urban areas the noise may be seen as a nuisance.
You need to ask your self the question 'why do I want hens?'
If it's for the eggs then you will need to look at hybrids, such as Blackrocks, Sussex and Speckeldys. If you are wanting to help some old caged hens then you would rescue the ex-batts or you may want something to look exciting in the garden, then you may go down the pure breed route and choose funky hairstyles like the Polish hens.
Whatever the reason is, discuss it with the family first, it's far easier to get all the hens or ducks at once rather than adding them at a later date.
Choosing your hens
Choosing the breeds;
Ex-batts - Loving fun hens, cheeky - they are not victims but can twist their owners round their little fingers and act like one!
We keep them here for a month before we let them go to make sure they are fit and healthy. Ex-batts are usually 18 months old once they are rescued so they have already layed their first year of eggs. We would expect them still to lay for another 3-4 years. Ex-batts are not in need of too much extra care compared to a 'normal' hen, just make sure you have plenty of extra bedding in their coop to compensate for loss of feathers (these will grow back) and a few extra treats to help 'feed them up'.
The life span on an ex-batt varies. From my own personal experience you would expect anything from 6 months to 6 years from these beautiful hens.
Hybrids are the family favourites! They are reasonably priced, come in a mix of colours and have the temperament of a little lap dog.
Hybrids lay eggs for fun and enjoy doing so. Toddlers can chase them around the garden for hours and the hens will still be be calm, they love families.
Blue Ranger and Amber Star
Pure Breeds add colour and character to the garden. They may not lay an egg every day, but their different appearance makes up this this. Traditional breeds such as Welsummers, Light Sussex and Marans may lay 220 - 260 eggs per year, but you’re more ornamental Polish, Silkies and Apenzellers will only lay 150-200 small eggs. You would care for the pure breeds in the same way as the Hybrids, with the only difference being that breeds such as Polish and Silkie need a little more care taken over winter months. Silkies for example do not appreciate getting wet!
Choosing your hens
Only buy vaccinated hens. There are so many birds in the Uk and all these birds are potential carriers of illnesses. Vaccinated hens will save your hens getting too poorly if they come into contact with a disease. A vaccinated hen may end up showing mild symptoms, but will not develop the full blown version. You will need to ask what are they vaccinated against? A breeder who actually does vaccinate should name their vaccines off the top of his or her head. i.e the three most important are Mareks, Infectious Bronchitis and Salmonella.
Clean eyes, beak and bum! Don't be afraid to have a good look at your hens before buying. I am never offended when a customer inspects a hen - if anything it means the hens are going to the right home. A mucky bum may mean worms and runny eyes or beak could be bad ventilation or a respirtory illness.
Know the age. Do not buy an 'older' hen. You will not know health care history and could potentially bring a problem into your flock. The only exception to this rule is the Ex-batts or if the breeder is replacing breeding stock (in which case an older hen should be very inexpensive)
As a quick guide when choosing what age is suitable the following explains housing and feed etc for different ages
Hens need friends When choosing your new flock make sure everyone is very compatible. You would not buy 3 exbatts and a polish hen for instance. The Polish would get bullied. Hens are the most loving loyal pets, but if the 'balance' is not right you'll have a unhappy coop. Our general rule is 'everyone needs a friend'. You would also avoid mixing very young hens with older hens. Always talk to your breeder, and be prepared to swop a couple of breeds around if you are going for an exciting mix! At Happy Chicks we house all pure breeds together in certain age groups and then all hybrids, and in another separate area the exbatts. So..... if you want 6 hens and a mixture of rescues, good layers and great looking birds you would take two from each pen - then everyone is happy!
Adding birds to an existing flock. We all get addicted after a while and go on the hunt for more lovely ladies. Adding hens to an existing flock can be a bit tricky if you don't follow the next few steps;
The 'pecking order only last a few days, once the 'new hens' agree with the originals that they are not 'top dogs' then all will be fine. If in doubt - choose the one that’s wanders up to your feet and looks you in the eyes saying 'take me home'!!
Take a look at our hens for sale........
Tom having a wander around the field!
Housing is normally the first thing you would do before buying your hens or ducks. Take your time, you will have your hens for many years. It will upset them to change house at a later date if you have made a bad choice. The quality of the housing is very important. As with everything that becomes popular - there are lots of 'cheap' versions of everything. We have had countless families turn up at our farm first thing in the morning after a bad nights weather has blown away their hen house and they need a new one quick!. You need a robust, draft free, snug environment. Hens live outside all year round, their house need to be suitable to do this too.
First of all the size, we work on 6 hens per sq metre. This means there is plenty of space for them to perch in the night, but more importanttly when the bad weather does hit us, it keeps them warm. Hens control their own temperature, and the way they do this is perching together. Their body gives off a huge amount of heat and they can keep each other warm.
Our selection of our housing
Nest box and perching
Hens will need perching. Approx. 6 inches each. Hens need this to get a good airflow around them. This keeps them healthy and again helps them regulate their own temperature. Ducks do not need perching, they will just sleep in a corner of their house.
Eggs are normally laid in the nest box, this can just be a handmade box, its normally about 12 inches square and put in the darkest part of the house with some straw or shavings in. Hens and ducks will naturally go into this to lay. Try and make sure you don't have any birds getting into a bad habit of sleeping in the nest box as this will mean you'll have to wash your eggs when they are laid. If a bird sleeps in the nest box, chances are they will poo there too!
When it comes to cleaning the house try and make life easy as you can for your self. All our houses have removable perching and nest boxes, so if you were to put a couple of sheets of newspaper under them with some shavings on top then once a week just pick up the newspaper and throw in the compost (with shavings and poo on). This means you have no cleaning to do. Keeping hens is not hard work and we want it to be a pleasurable as it can be.
Nest box and perch
Fox proof run
Nobody knows they have got foxes until they have poultry. If you are the sort of family that are busy and out and about, may come home from work after dark, then you need a run. Just for peace of mind more than anything else. If you are invited to a wedding for example and you will be out for many hours day and night, you can relax knowing your hens and ducks are safe.
A fox proof run also has a roof on it, a lot of people have a small one of these if they are out for a long time and then let the hens into larger more open area during the day. Or you could choose a large walk in run.
A fox would normally only come dusk and dawn, so as long as you let the hens out once its daylight and shut their coop once its dark (hens will take themselves to bed half an hour before dark) they will be safe. Housing in an ideal world would be positioned near/under a tree and facing away from the wind and rain.
Feeding & daily routine
Hens and ducks eat pretty much anything!
But if you want them to lay eggs you'll have to make sure they are on the correct diet.
Hens and ducks should have unlimited access to layers pellets. They will not over feed on this. Hens may have 125-150g per day and ducks about 20% more. This means they get their '5 a day'
On top of this you can give them 'scraps' from the kitchen. Foods such as salad and veg, make a great additional treat and mean you are giving them extra vitamins - which you will in turn get in your eggs. Its variety in diet that’s going to make your eggs taste nice. Hens fed solely on pellets will lay eggs that taste the same as supermarket eggs. Hens that have the odd bruised apple or strawberries that are a little past their best are going to provide you with the best tasting eggs. Try not to fill them up on bread and wheat based products. Hens and ducks rely on eating a certain amount of protein to come into lay, and filling them up with stodge is only going to delay your eggs. The odd bowl of spare rice etc will do no harm, but don't do a deal with the bakers and stuff them with cake!
Birds also need grit. This helps them digest food in the gizzard and also helps with putting a good shell on the egg. We mix one third grit to two thirds feed and find this works very well. Some people just leave a separate bowl out with grit in it all of the time.
Chicks ned chick crumb for the first 6 weeks, this had added protein and is a smaller more soluble size. Most chicks crumbs contain an ACS, this is an anti-coccidiostat that prevents against coccidiosis. Ducklings can't have this as its harmful to them but I would really recommend it for chicks.
Chicks and ducks that are 6-14 weeks of age should be on growers pellets. This is a normal size pellet but a bit more rich in protein than the layers.
Hens and ducks are easy, but still need a little attention everyday. Have a look at the average daily routine to see whether you could accommodate this into your life.
Let the hens or ducks out of their coop. Make sure their feeder is full and they have fresh water. Have a quick look at your flock make sure they are all pecking around like you would expect.
Now’s the good time- Collect the eggs! Eggs are usually laid mid-morning, so by the time you come home from work all your eggs should be there. Now's a good time to give them their afternoon treat which could be a handful of corn each or some kitchen scraps like salad and veg peelings.
You can either do your 'mucking out' weekly or daily. If you were to do it daily then you could just scoop up last night’s poo from below the perches and then you are done. Or weekly you would scoop out a bit more poo and make change the shavings.
Just pop your head in the coop and make sure they are all in bed. Hens will go to bed about 30 mins before its gets dark. This is the time now to shut the coop (if they are not in a secure run).
During the winter you may not see your hens very much. Poultry can't help but sleep in darkness and if you work, there is only the weekend when you'll be at home with day light. So make sure in the darker months when they may be confined to a smaller area that you have to hand treats such as cabbages etc to keep them busy and entertained.
This is where it gets very exciting!! Keeping poultry is addictive and people quite often hatch a few chicks or ducklings as a family project.
There are a few ways of breeding
We have a range of manual to fully automatic incubators suitable for poultry and small birds. They can also be hired, just ask for details.The incubators are straight forward to use but certain factors can affect your success rate. It is possible to candle the eggs after several days; this is a process where you can shine a candling torch onto the eggs to see if a growing embryo is forming. However dark shelled eggs are quite difficult to see through and the more times the incubator is opened the less chance of chicks. The forming embryo needs perfect levels of humidity and this will be compromised if the incubator is opened more than necessary. A day before hatch day set up your brooder to maintain heat levels.
Once pipped the process of hatching can take several hours. Do not open the incubator as the humidity can be affected resulting in a chick stuck to the membranes. Keep the chicks in the incubator for a few hours until they have dried off and while other chicks are hatching. If the incubator is opened too regularly then the other eggs will be effected.
Once the chicks are dry place into your brooder with chick crumb and fresh water, maintain correct heat levels for first four weeks. These are: day 1 32 degrees, one week 27 degrees, two weeks 24 degrees, three weeks 20 degrees, four weeks 16 degrees. Obviously, don't just remove the heat source one day, when you decide they are fine without, raise it up so there is less benefit from it each day for 3 to 4 days. If using a heat lamp the 250 watt bulbs are very expensive to run, and when it will produce enough heat it makes sense to change it to a 100 watt bulb, and drop the lamp considerably to keep the temperature correct. We now recommend the eco brooder which supplies heat from a ceramic plate and uses just 19 watts. This is suitable for up to 20 chicks. Where you place your brooder is very important, avoid areas next to the source of a draught, and next to a source of heat which changes (like radiators). Ideally the area the brooder is in will be warm, so there isn't a big difference immediately away from the source of heat you use. Brooders or heat lamps can be used, but it's essential you check the temperature regularly and adjust the height of your heat source when necessary. Incorrect temperature will kill young birds. Whether your area is a full shed, or a cardboard box in the house, the basic principles are the same, heat source in the middle, drinker and feeder outside the immediately heated area to encourage the chicks to walk to them and get some exercise, bedding on the base which isn't small enough to eat or dusty (large woodchip like we sell is perfect for all ages). The base of your brooder cannot be shiny or slippery, or they will get 'splayed legs' by slipping. If you have a tiny feeder and drinker try to make it so the chicks cannot climb into them, they love standing in their food so they scratch it with their feet like they were outside uncovering bugs in bark, but unfortunately they also cover the food in their droppings, which leads to problems. So their feeder should be very small with a scratch ring, and raised slightly off the ground when they are big enough to reach in. They will do the same with their drinker if they can, which means a wet, cold chick, so if the water container gives them access to get wet, fill the available area with marbles to just leave some to drink, their feet getting wet is no problem. Regular handling is fine, they don't have to stay under their heat source constantly, and if they do get cold they will make a very high pitched cheep, and if placed back in straight away they will warm back up under the heat almost instantly.
Care of chicks and ducklings
As well as heat and special feed chicks need company. They should not be kept as a single bird, if your hatch has resulted in only one then we can supply birds of a similar type and age for company. We sell chick crumb which is suitable for chicks and ducklings. Chick crumb is very valuable to young chicks, its not just smaller and easier for them to manage, the protein levels are higher as you would want for a youngster, and in most cases the feed contains medication. This is very important, the ACS (anti coccidiostat) helps protect the youngsters from coccidiosis, which they are very vulnerable to whilst growing, however this is unnecessary and potentially harmful to waterfowl, so avoid crumb with ACS for ducklings if possible. If nothing else is available they are better to have crumb with ACS than no crumb. Keep your young chicks on crumb until 4 to 6 weeks then move onto growers feed, and from growers onto layers at 12 to 14 weeks old. It's easier for them if you mix some of their next feed with the one they are on over three days. So when changing from crumb to growers, day 1 1/3 growers in with crumb, day 2 1/2 growers and crumb, day 3 2/3 growers with crumb. If you have some crumb left and you're not planning to hatch more, its fine to continue with 1/3 crumb in the feed until used up. Same thing again when changing from growers to layers. Its not unusual for their daily intake to slow down when changing to layers, as long as they are still eating it's not a problem. Also once off heat keep your chicks indoors until around 6 weeks of age, depending on time of year and weather conditions. Using common sense is needed when letting them out for the first few days, if the weather forecast is bad for later in the day they are best just kept inside for the whole day, until you are happy. They can be left to completely free range from 10 weeks, but whatever their age, the first time it rains they will be amazed and just stand wondering what's happening. Obviously this leads to colds and illness if they get soaked and stay wet. So their first experience of rain you will need to put them in their house for protection. Ducklings need heat for the first 2 weeks in summer or 4 weeks in freezing cold conditions and at around 5c less than chicks. At approx. 3 weeks your ducklings can go outside in summer, 5 weeks in the worst of winter.
Broody hens with chicks
This is possibly the most magical thing you''ll ever see - Mummy hen wandering clucking at at a dozen chicks who are following her around. Try and separate mum and chicks so she can rear them without worry for the first couple of weeks. No need for heat as the chicks will sleep under her warm tummy. Let the broody hen eat the chicks crumbs as well as the chicks as she will need the protein boost. Broody's live off next to nothing over the 3 weeks they sit on their eggs and will need to gain strength quickly to look after the new brood. Once Mum and chicks are strong they can be reintroduced to the flock, she will turn into a nasty hen if another hen even looks at her chicks the wrong way, so just bear with her whilst she is a bit hormonal and over protective. She will be 'mum' for about 6-8 weeks before the chicks then are fully self-sufficient. The cockeral is never a threat to the chicks.
For goslings, feed is the same as ducklings, but if they are free range and on enough grass, they will move to an almost entirely grass diet after 8 weeks, they need heat for 1 week in summer, 2 weeks in winter.
Oooh! the all important question! How do you sex your chicks! I have possibly sexed over 100, 000 chicks and still make mistakes. There are some sex-linked breeds which are easy to sex on hatch. But most others are sexed at about 4-6 weeks and there is no hard and fast way to tell you what to look for. Its purely experience.
Hatching and growing your own hens is a fantastic experience for all ages and people involved, and one children remember forever. We are happy to help at any time.
Ducks and Geese
Normally when we refer to hens, we means ducks and hens. Ducks are very similar to their feathered friends. The only exceptions are;
Geese on the other hand are a little different. Geese are not naturally aggressive but if reared that way can be great guard dogs.
Geese reared by a family will be loving and great pets, but they will seem upset if someone they don't know comes into their paddock. They will spread their wings and maybe hiss. They may appear aggressive but its normally just a scare tactic and they would not dream of approaching you. If they do, spread your arms (so your 'wings' are bigger than theirs) and they will back off.
Geese can be fed solely on grass, you might want to give them a small amount of food in the morning (layers pellets), especially if its laying season. (Jan - May). They will lay about 50-70 eggs per year - great for custard. We do not house our geese. They live outside. Even though we have had foxes in the past, because of the numbers we keep, we have never had a fox take a goose. They are hardy enough to stay outside and for the first few years they had access to shelter, they didn't use it.
Some of our customers do want to house their geese, when that's the case, a kennel, pig arc or shed is suffice.
Both the geese and the ducks will sell do not need a pond to swim on, but if they had access to one they would use it. What they want is a place to dip their heads, so a child’s sand pit is more than enough for them to do this and have a splash about!
Once you have got used to the ducks, give us a call and we can discuss your next few birds......maybe a Rhea called Tom!