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Welcome to our page on chicken care and chicken health. We regularly cover different topics about poultry keeping,from looking after newly hatched chicks to what to do about hens with a cough. If you have a particular topic you'd like us to talk about, please e-mail us at:
Q. I've heard you can hatch chicks using a broody hen - what do I need to know?
A. - Putting fertile eggs under a broody hen is the easiest way to hatch chicks and can be fun. You cannot "make" a
hen turn broody but you can tell that one of your hens is broody as she will spend all her time sitting on eggs in the nest box or sitting in a corner of the coop.
- Before deciding to go ahead, consider how you will manage the additional hens once they hatch - they don't
stay little for very long! Also consider that 50% of the chicks are likely to be cockerels, so depending on where
you live you need to think about whether you will be able to accommodate this.
- Fertile eggs can be bought online or may be available locally if you don't have any of your own. They don't need
to be the same breed as your broody hen but consider the size of your hen before purchasing eggs - how many
can she sit on ? Six to eight eggs is enough for an average hen.
- Put the broody hen in a separate coop on its own and observe where she likes to sit. Do this before purchasing
the eggs as sometimes moving the hen can cause her to stop being broody. Put the fertile eggs under the hen
and leave her to it! Provide food and water in the coop - the hen will leave the eggs a couple of times a day to
eat and drink. The rest of the time the hen will just sit there in a trance-like state - this is normal. Hatching takes
21 days - the hen will detect any of the eggs that are not progressing and expel them from the nest. Do not put
them back in.
- Once hatched, the hen will care for the chicks - there is no need to provide heat lamps. You will need to provide
chick crumb and water for the chicks in dishes that they can reach - ensure water is not too deep so they cannot
fall in. The hen can eat chick crumb as well.
- Feed chick crumb for 4 to 6 weeks. If you want to give the chicks & hen a treat - hard boil an egg, peel the shell off, mash it up, put on a saucer - they will love it.
Q. I've heard that sometimes hens need their wings clipped. When is this necessary and how do I do it ?
A. The only reason to clip a hen's wings is to prevent it flying out its pen, so if you have a large covered run, a high fence or docile hens that don't try to escape, there is no need to clip the wings.
If you do find certain hens have a tendency to fly out the pen then clipping will solve this. Only one wing needs to be clipped and as only the flight feathers are clipped this will not spoil the appearance of the hen. Clipping a hen's wing is like cutting toenails - it does not hurt the hen at all.
To clip the wing, if you are right handed, hold the hen against your legs using your left hand, at the same time using your left hand push the left hand wing of the hen out - so that it appears to look like a fan (fans out) - you will now see the primary flight feathers and secondary flight feathers - it is the primary flight feathers you need to trim, the longer ones (the ones at the front of the wing, outer edge, nearest the birds head) using a pair of scissors, cut about 80% of the feather(s) off, it will not hurt the bird, it is like cutting your toe / finger nails. Job done. If you are left handed hold the bird in your right hand and fan the feathers out with your left.
There are some very good videos on U Tube showing wing clipping.
Q. I've noticed my hens are laying less eggs. What can I do?
A. There are a number of things you can do to improve your egg supply, starting with choosing the right type of hen. Hens such as the Hyline, Lomond Brown and Isa Brown have been specifically bred to ensure a good egg supply. At the other extreme, traditional pure breed hens can be more inclined to go off lay particularly in the winter months.
Replacing your hens at the right time is also important - if you want to maintain a good egg supply, Hylines need to be replaced every 2 years if you want to get 4 - 6 eggs per week, per bird. In that time frame the birds will most likely moult (old feathers fall out, new feathers grow) the birds will most likely stop laying whilst they moult.
Light - Hens lay eggs because of the amount of light that enters their eyes, so in the winter months when there is less light, the hens may well lay less or stop. You can encourage the hens to continue laying by providing artificial light - LED lighting is best - but any light is OK, mains electric or solar powered. For max egg production a hen needs 14 - 16 hours light per day.
Q. What do I need to do to look after my hens when the weather is hot ?
A. - Make sure your hens have enough water
Hens will drink more when its hot so consider adding additional water bowls and ensure they never run out.
Avoid the build-up of algae by tipping out the bowls and refilling completely, rather than just topping them up.
- Provide shade
On outdoor covered area will be welcomed by your hens on hot days. A simple wooden structure is all that is
needed - an old table can work well.
- Consider ventilation
Think about the ventilation in your chicken coop - if it seems very hot and stuffy, ventilation can be improved
by cutting out a couple of small sections on any side that doesn't face the rain and covering with mesh
- alternatively, simply drilling some large holes will help.
Q. With low night-time temperatures, is there anything I need to do to keep my hens healthy?
A. There is no need to provide heating in hen houses – hens are pretty hardy and will bunch together in colder weather to keep warm. Ensure as far as possible that there are no leaks and drips from the roof of your coop and that doors close properly, but do not cover air vents to keep out the wind. During cold or wet weather hens may spend a lot more time inside the coop, so fresh air flow is important to keep your hens healthy.
Q. What about food and water?
A. Frozen water bowls are the main problem when temperatures are low. Hens need a constant supply of fresh water, so check water bowls first thing each morning and if frozen, refill with fresh water. Alternatively, if you have a power supply nearby, heated drinkers can be purchased to get round this problem. Hens do not like to venture far in the snow, so if necessary consider moving outdoor feeders and drinkers closer to the door of the coop.
Q. Can I mix together hens of different breeds and ages?
A. Yes you can mix hens of different breeds, it is best if all the hens are approximately the same size, otherwise you may find that smaller hens get bullied.
You can mix hens of different ages, provided the new / younger hens being introduced are fully grown (or nearly) , otherwise likely to get the same problem as mentioned earlier - bullying
Q. What is the best way to introduce new hens?
A. Bullying is the issue we are dealing with here, you will most likely get some, if lucky none.
There are various ways / things you can do - introduce the new hens to the coop when it is dark, the other hens will be at rest.
If you have a large run / enclosure and a spare coop with run, put the spare coop with run in the enclosure and put the new hens in the coop with run - this allows the old hens and the new hens to see each other but not make contact - leave new hens in coop with run for about a week.
If you can move all the hens, old and new, to some temporary location - where none of them have been before - shed, garage, out building - because it is a new place the older dominant hens will feel less dominant.
If the hens can free range or you have a large enclosure this can help, any one being bullied can run away.
Put in another feeder and drinker, spaced apart, makes it more difficult for dominant hen(s) to guard
Don't let bullying put you off getting new hens -- I am mixing hens all the time!
Q. What Should I feed My Hens
A. A good quality layers pellet or mash should contain all the nutrients, vitamins and grit that a hen needs to lay an egg with a strong shell, inside the egg the contents will be good as well - but if you would like to make the contents even better with a deep yellow / orange yolk then let them have access to some grass, they will enjoy pecking at the grass and eating it.
Q. Treats -- to feed or not
A. I am asked quite often about feeding treats - such as sunflower seeds - yes, why not, but as I say to people, remember your hen(s) are working hard to lay you eggs, so not too many treats which could affect their appetite and so reduce their required intake of layers pellets.
Treats are also a good way to train your hens, should you wish to get them to come to you or you want to shut them in the coop -- put some treats / seeds in a tin, shake the tin, give them some 'treat' -- in a short period of time they will come to you when they hear the tin being shaken -- bribery & corruption works well !!!
Q. What is red mite?
A. Red mite is a very small spider type creature, one on it's own is hard to see, but when / if you get them they are in their hundreds and you can see them.
They like to climb on the hens and bite them, similar to a mosquito - which irritates the hens -- if you have a bad infestation it can stop the hens going in the coop.
Q. What to do ?
A. There are many powders and potions on the market, you can use one of them.
The red mite like to live in nooks and crannies. If you have a roof that lifts up, then between the roof and the frame that the lid rests on or if a door then on that frame work. Check perches and nest box area.If you have a felt roof they could be between that and the wood.
Q. What do I do ?
A. I get a paint scraper and squash then. Lift out the perches, using a small paint brush put some creosote or old engine oil in the area the perches fit / lock on to the side of the coop.
Red mite can be persistent, if you are unlucky, keep the paint scraper handy