If possible, move the coop into a shaded spot of the garden, maybe under a tree or in the north-facing side of the garden that doesn’t get as much sun. This means that it will be nice and cool when the girls want to go to bed in the evening, or if one of them wants to go in to lay during the day. The Eglu chicken coops are so easy to move that you, on a really hot day, could effortlessly move it around the garden as the sun moves.
2. Don’t leave the water for too long
Your chickens will drink more in summer. To minimise the risk of algae in the water, as well as dust and dirt from the chickens, change the water at least once a day in hot weather. Place the drinker in a shaded spot on the run and make sure it’s really cold when you put it out.
3. Don’t overfeed your birds
Dried corn and grains take longer to digest than pellets or fresh food, which wastes energy and heats the body unnecessarily. The chickens will not need to eat as much in hot weather, and if they were to get hungry during the day, your garden will be full of bugs and fresh green material at this time of year.
4. Don’t leave your chickens alone for too long
When it’s really hot outside it’s important that chicken owners keep an eye on their flock to look for signs of overheating. An open beak, panting and wings held away from the body are signs the chicken is hot. If you think one of your hens is really struggling, try dipping her bottom in a bucket of cold water. This will cool her down for a bit and allow the body to reset.
5. Don’t depend on water
You can leave a small paddling pool or shallow containers out for your chickens to cool down in, but it’s unfortunately not very likely your hens will use them. It might be better to create a mud bath in a corner of the run; chickens are much more likely to approach mud and sand to cool down than water.
6. Don’t play with your chickens
Interaction with the chickens might lead to more movement for them, which increases their body temperature. If you want to spend time with your chickens, or need to pick them up for health checks, do so early in the morning or late at night when it’s cooler.
7. Don’t cover the run completely
Covering your chicken run with a lot of covers might seem like a good idea to create a shady spot, but if you don’t let air circulate, it’s likely to become a boiling tunnel of warm air. It’s extremely important to have ventilation, so that fresh air can move around. This goes for your coop as well. The Eglu’s cleverly designed ventilation system allows air to circulate in the coop at all times, keeping it nice, cool and fresh even on the hottest of days. Choose a few darker covers to give your pets shade on the run as well.
8. Don’t leave the eggs
You’re probably getting fewer eggs than normal during the warmest weeks of the year. That’s completely normal, chickens don’t lay as much when they are hot, and some go broody and stop laying completely. Although the eggs won’t go off if you leave them in the nest box of an Eglu for a day, eggs in the nest can encourage broodiness and result in egg eating, so it’s good to collect all as soon as you discover them.
9. Don’t put off cleaning
It’s always important to keep the coop nice and clean for your girls, but maybe even more so in summer. Parasites and pests are stronger when it’s warmer, including red mite, so make sure to use a bird safe disinfectant and cover roosting bars and perches in mite powder to prevent problems at least once a week.
10. Don’t treat all chickens the same
If you have a flock with mixed breeds or have had chickens in the past but now own a different breed, remember that different chickens need different care. Some breeds are much better than others at handling heat, and some really struggle. Read up on the breeds you’ve got here, and take extra care of vulnerable birds.
We often get asked which is the best cover for an Eglu run to keep pets comfortable all year round. Read our simple guide below so you know how to help your pets in all weathers!
These shades are a thinner cover material which offers protection from the sun, without creating a tunnel where heat can build up inside the run. These are smaller than the winter covers to allow better airflow through the run for ventilation. Move the summer shade around the run to suit the time of day and your hens’ routine. You may wish to change this for a Clear or Combi Cover in summer when there’s rain on the way!
The Clear Covers allow for sunlight to flood your pet’s run, while also offering protection from rain. This makes them ideal for spring and autumn, so the run is light and warm with sun, but also protected from unpredictable wind and rain.
Get the best of both worlds, with shade from the sun on one side and light coming in the other, as well as full wind and rain protection on both sides. The Combi Covers are half dark green, heavy duty cover for extreme wind and rain protection, and half clear cover to let in sunlight and warmth and to let your pets see when you are bringing them treats!
Heavy Duty Covers
For strong, hard-wearing protection against the worst of winter choose heavy duty covers. Even when the temperature drops to single figures, the rain and wind batters your pets home, or a deluge of snow covers your garden, the dark green, impenetrable heavy duty covers offer sturdy weather protection. Your chickens or rabbits will be able to hop around the Eglu run in complete peace, without getting cold, damp or wind-swept!
Extreme Temperature Covers
Chickens and rabbits are very efficient at keeping themselves warm in cold weather, and the Eglu’s twin wall insulation will assist them by keeping cool air out and warm air in, but when temperatures plummet below freezing for multiple days in a row, they may appreciate a little extra support. The Extreme Temperature Blankets and Jackets add another insulating layer, like your favourite wooly jumper, without compromising the ventilation points around the coop.
Chicken manure is one of the best things you can use to improve the soil in your garden. Once composted, chicken droppings are full of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and other important nutrients, and increases the soil’s ability to hold water. This means more beautiful flowers, and bigger and more delicious vegetables!
Collect your chickens’ droppings and compost for up to a year before using the manure.
2. Pest Control
Chickens spend their days scratching around the garden in search of yummy treats. They love finding beetles, grubs, caterpillars and ticks. Sometimes they even go for those pesky slugs! This is an extremely environmentally friendly way of getting rid of pests, with the added benefit of happy and content hens!
Want to create a new bed in the garden? No problem, get the chickens in to do the job for you. If there’s one thing they do well it’s tilling and turning. Spread some chicken feed where you want the soil to be moved and aerated, or leave a pile of leaves that you would like spread over a resting bed, and you can be sure that the chickens will have sorted it in half the time it would take you to source a rotavator.
4. Free Weeding
In a similar way, if you want to clear a bed of weeds or grass, get your chickens on it. They will munch on weeds and dead matter you haven’t already removed, leaving the fun bits of gardening to you!
Although clever, chickens are however not able to differentiate weeds from the plants and seeds you actually want to keep, so it’s best to keep them off flower beds and veg patches where you are growing things you actually want. Use a good fencing to limit the chickens to certain parts of the garden.
5. Added Calcium
One of the best things about keeping chickens is the delicious eggs they provide you with. But did you know that eggshells can be highly beneficial to your garden? Eggshells are made of calcium carbonate, and are a perfect way to introduce minerals to your soil. Calcium is essential for building cell walls, making sure the plants stay strong and healthy.
Grind up your shells with a mortar and pestle and spread on your compost, or straight in your bed.
6. Great Company
With chickens around you will have even more reason to spend time in the garden. It’s so much fun seeing them scratch around and hear their friendly chatter, and they are great company for any keen gardener. People even claim that being around chickens relieves stress and leads to better mental health.
So what’s stopping you? Chickens are the perfect pet you and your garden needs.
It’s red, it looks like a spider, it lives in huge colonies, and it creeps out at night to suck your chickens’ blood. As nightmares go, this one’s pretty alarming – until you realise that it’s one that you can easily wake up from. The creature in question – the Red Mite – is less than a millimetre long, and it’s not difficult to banish from your chicken coop.
The Red Mite is able to live – and feed – on a variety of hosts, including humans, given half a chance. But it is it’s fondness for wild birds that brings it into contact with one of its favourite targets – your chickens. If there are birds in the garden, there are probably Red Mites too.
Know Your Enemy
The Red Mite, Dermanyssus gallinae, is a parasite that hides in dark corners of the chicken shed and scuttles out at night in huge numbers to suck blood. When fully grown, they are about 0.75mm, with spider-like legs. Before feeding, the mites are greyish-brown rather than red – the colouring comes from the blood they suck. Once engorged, the mites scurry away back to their hiding places. They are patient, too, and have been known to survive for up to 10 months in empty chicken sheds.
Infested hens will eventually develop scabs and wounds, suffer from anaemia (caused by blood loss and manifesting in pale wattles and combs), and may begin to lose feathers. Egg production will plummet, too. If the hens are young, in severe cases the blood loss and physical shock can prove fatal. One of the problems of diagnosis is that the mites are often in hiding when you examine the bird, rather than sitting in plain view (like a louse or flea, for example). These physical signs in the bird should prompt you into action though, and checking the mites’ potential hiding places is straightforward.
If the mites appear to be living on your chickens full time, rather than disappearing in the day, you might have an outbreak of Northern Fowl Mite. Same issues, different beast – and the advice given in this article applies to these bloodsuckers too.
How to be Mightier than the Mite
Because they normally feed at night, you may not spot the mites at first. You can, however, look for their hiding places. Corners and crevices in wooden henhouses are a favourite, and under roosting perches. Once discovered, you need to zap the mini vampires with a hen-friendly anti-mite liquid or powder. There are two types of product aimed at eliminating the beasties – ones that you spray or dust on the hen house and its fittings, and another that you apply directly to the birds.
All bedding should be removed from an infested coop, and the whole structure should be washed with hot water – a power-hose is a good weapon in this battle – before being treated with an anti-mite preparation.
Once the mites have been banished, prevention is the best way of keeping control of the situation. Regular washing of the chicken shed and any other concrete, plastic or wooden areas of the chicken run will help. This is particularly important in the warmer summer months, when the mite population tends to boom.
Some chicken breeders have reported good anti-mite effects from carbon dioxide, either in the form of a ‘dry ice’ fumigation or direct spraying, but there is not yet any formal veterinary rubber-stamping of these procedures.
Another fool-proof way of banishing Red Mite is to keep your hens in a coop that doesn’t have lots of corners, nooks and crannies – i.e. something plastic rather than wooden. Plastic chicken sheds are easier to clean and keep hygienic, and the Queen of Coops is the Eglu.
So, you can’t keep the wild birds and their mites away, but you can easily stop them regaining a hold amongst your flock. Once the nightmare is banished, both you and your hens can sleep easy at night.
Most hens lay their eggs with minimum fuss. They might make a bit of noise to announce their egg-laying achievement, but will soon return to the daily business of exploring and scratching for food. Some hens, however, are a bit more moody. Broody, to be more accurate.
A broody hen is one who sits on her egg with every intention of staying there until it has hatched – no matter whether the egg is fertilised or not. This is very useful if you want to hatch some chicks, but otherwise it can be a problem.
The cause of broodiness is linked to body heat, backed up by maternal instincts. Hens who are cooped up together in a hot henhouse may suddenly heat up to a level that makes them think “I’m going to hatch an egg!”. Certain breeds seem more susceptible to broodiness than others, with the Silkies and Cochins being particularly moody-broody.
Signs of Broodiness
A broody hen undergoes a personality change. The most obvious sign of this is her refusal to leave the nesting box. She will sit there with the air of a bird who will happily wait until Doomsday for the egg to hatch. This misplaced dedication will also make her grumpy and liable to peck or cluck angrily if you try to move her.
When you do manage to oust her from the box, she’ll simply head back there again and resume her brooding. Once she feels established in her new maternal role, she will fluff out her feathers and may begin to self-pluck her chest feathers to line the nest.
How to Stop a Hen Being Broody
Appearances can be misleading. The hen may look as though she will sit in the box for eternity, but in reality she will only stay there – usually – for three weeks. This is the length of time it takes a chicken egg to hatch.This means, if space allows, you can simply let her brood for 21 days, and then the mood will lift and she will return to business as usual.
Having said that, you need to make sure the hen gets food and drink during this time, and this may involve forcibly removing her from the nest box and shutting it off until she has taken refreshments. Wearing sturdy gloves is a good precaution when doing this, to make sure you don’t get pecked.
Dipping the hen’s rear end in cool water is a common way of bringing broodiness to an end. Again, the condition is linked to body heat, so a sudden cooling of the rump will usually do the trick. The method is unsubtle – you take the hen and dunk her hind portions into the water for ten seconds.
A related anti-broody trick is to place a packet of frozen peas or sweetcorn kernels underneath the hen in the nestbox. Crushed ice cubes in a bag will do the trick, too. This has the dual impact of cooling the chicken down and making life in the nest box too uncomfortable for brooding.
Sometimes a simple obstacle such as a plant pot or a couple of bricks will have the desired effect. If the hen can’t access the nest box, she can’t sit there and brood.
Some owners use a so-called ‘broody enclosure’ to break the habit. This is a wire cage or crate, in which the chicken is placed along with food and water. The wire is slightly uncomfortable, and will also help cool her down. After three days, this gentle form of solitary confinement will usually break the broody habit. The signs that the brood-mood is over are obvious – the hen will stop fluffing out her feathers and will stalk around the cage, rather than sitting and brooding.
Then again, you could purchase some fertilised eggs and let the broody hen get on with it. If you want chicks, this is by far the easiest, and most natural way of producing them – under the fluffy belly of a broody hen.
Roosting high up in trees comes natural to chickens, as that is one of the safest places to rest if you’re a chicken in the wild. And doing so on gently moving, or even swinging, branches makes you an even more difficult target for predators. So instinctively your birds should be happy to jump straight up on their Chicken Swing!
With that being said, chickens are vulnerable and clever creatures, which means that they can be wary of new things. They don’t like being the first to try something, so if you’ve got your flock a new toy and are disappointed they don’t seem particularly interested in it, you might have to help them take the leap!
Setting Up The Chicken Swing
The Chicken Swing is cleverly designed to make it as easy as possible for chickens of all ages to use it. The base of the swing has a texture resembling a corncob, which makes it more grippable than a smooth plastic surface.
Make sure you place the swing free from any obstructions such as walls, mesh or other things on the run. Choose a sheltered spot under cover so the hens can do their swinging no matter the weather!
Eventually you ideally want the Chicken Swing to sit above the chickens’ heads, so that they will be able to swing without the risk of bumping into one of their friends. It’s no problem for a chicken to jump up a few feet, but to make it as easy as possible in the beginning, start with the swing close to the ground. The Chicken Swing is lightweight enough that if it were to hit one of your hens, it won’t hurt them.
You won’t need to train all your chickens to get on the swing. They are flock animals, so if you get one of them to show the others how it’s done, there’s a high chance the others will follow shortly!
Letting your chickens have a go
So choose your most adventurous chicken and place her on the swing, which at this stage should be hanging very low to the ground. Give her something delicious straight away, so that she associates the swing with yummy treats. Do this a few times until you feel she’s comfortable perching on the swing. At this point, push the swing slightly to get it moving. Reward the chicken every time she swings towards you. Push a bit more every time you’re trying, and start lifting the Chicken Swing higher and higher above the ground.
If the chicken at any point seems stressed or anxious, stop the training, let her down and go back to basics. It’s important that she only has good feelings associated with the swing!
It’s not guaranteed that all chickens will warm to the swing, it’s just a fact you have to accept. Young chickens are in general more likely to take risks and learn new things, but personality plays a big part, so you’re not automatically going to succeed just because you’re introducing the swing to chicks. However most chicken will, after some persuasion, absolutely love swinging, and it’s worth a bit of work when you see your girls queueing up for their go!
Most chicken keepers limit their attentions to hens and eggs. Roosters – or cockerels, as they are often called in the UK (and definitely not to be confused with roasters!) – are simply not on their tick list. After all, roosters are territorial, keen to defend their flock of hens, and famously noisy first thing in the morning.
But they are also beautiful birds, and if you intend hatching your own chicken eggs, your hens will certainly need the attentions of a rooster.
There are several cockadoodle-dos and cockadoodle-don’ts to consider if you are thinking of adding a rooster to your flock.
First, the good stuff
Cockerels look fantastic as they swagger across their territory. Their huge combs and wattles quiver like jelly, their pointy rear-end feathers and ‘mane’ of spiky neck feathers are wonderfully showy, and their posture suggests someone who has just strutted onto the dancefloor to show off some amazing moves.
But it’s not all about beauty. Roosters always have an eye out for danger, and will fight off any intruder they think they can tackle. The bird is not silly enough to attack dogs or cats, but it will make it clear to them that they are not welcome, through body language and alarm calls. This gives the hens time to flee for shelter, and the rooster will beat the retreat too, if things start to look too dangerous.
A rooster will add harmony to a hen flock, making sure none of his birds are bullied, and keeping everything in order, a bit like a hands-off, benign sheepdog.
If you want to hatch chicks, hiring the services of a rooster is the only way forward. Fertilised eggs are still edible, as long as you collect the eggs on a daily basis. Any fertilised egg taken away from the warmth of a broody hen will not develop into a chick.
And the downsides?
If you live in a town or village, noise might be an issue with the neighbours. In many places in the USA, roosters are banned for this reason. However, if your bylaws don’t place an outright ban on male chickens, you’ll have the law on your side. But what about those irate neighbours?
The irony is that people who keep roosters – and many others besides – love the sound of early morning cock-crow. I raise my hand, as the author of this post, and admit to loving the sound of a rooster at daybreak – and I live in a village with half a dozen cockerels battling it out first thing in the morning. It’s a much better sound than car engines and slamming doors as people prepare for the working day. If people can live with the sound of road, rail and air traffic, surely they can get used to the wonderful sound of a full-throated rooster?
Sadly not, in many cases, and a crowing cockerel can be the subject of arguments and recriminations. So, so if you have nearby neighbours, it’s an issue you can’t ignore. Start off by speaking to everyone who live near enough that they will hear a cockerel crowing in the morning and see how they feel about the idea. You never know, they might be really excited about the prospect of a new alarm clock!
There are ways to keep roosters quiet before everyone has got out of bed. Some people swear by anti-crow collars, Velcro strips that restrict airflow to the rooster’s voice box. They don’t hurt the birds or affect their breathing, but they transform the noisy COCK-A-DOODLE-DO! into a much quieter clucking sound. If you have a large rooster you may also be helped by a coop with a low roof. Roosters must stretch their neck to crow, and if the coop roof is not high enough to allow him to stretch the neck fully, he will have to wait until you let him out.
With that being said though it’s worth noting that roosters naturally crow, and if you (or your neighbours) can’t stand being woken up at the crack of dawn, you might be better off sticking to hens.
The rooster is not just a chicken version of a sheepdog, he’s a guard dog too. At the sight of any intruder, he’ll let you know. This is just the kind of vigilance you’d expect from a bird once declared to be the messenger of the sun god. And that’s a lovely image – he’s not crowing to annoy anyone, he’s crowing to announce the arrival of the life-giving sun. Who could say no to that?
If you keep chickens, you already know what a happy, healthy hen looks like. If anything changes, it’s a sign that all is not well in the henhouse.
The commonest problems are not due to diseases or parasites, but stress. If the henhouse is overcrowded, dirty, or too hot, or if the birds are feeling harassed, they will become stressed. The symptoms include egg-eating, aggression to their neighbours, loose droppings, lethargy, and a sudden interruption to their egg-laying.
The cause should be obvious enough, once you stop to look. Too many birds in one house? No shelter from direct sunlight? No room to exercise? Nothing but wet mud? These things can be sorted out by rearranging the hens’ environment, extending the run, and getting a bigger hen coop. Check the hens’ diet, too – are you feeding them a good, fortified chicken feed, supplemented with some corn
? Poor nutrition is a gateway to other health issues, as it weakens the birds’ immune systems.
Infectious Bronchitis – The Commonest Chicken Disease
There are many diseases that can afflict chickens, but thankfully most of them are uncommon. Anecdotal evidence shows that Infectious Bronchitis is the one that small-scale backyard hen keepers are most likely to encounter.
Hens suffering from this ailment will have a quiet, rasping, wheezing cough, sneeze or snore. The first signs of the problem are usually a loss of interest in food. As the disease takes hold, the hen will develop a ‘runny nose’, with discharge from the nostrils and eyes.
The bronchitis is caused by an airborne virus, and the best remedy is vaccination of the flock. Any infected birds should be isolated and kept somewhere dry and warm, making sure they eat and drink well. Some will die, but most pull through.
Note: the symptoms described here are also associated with other diseases, including Infectious Sinusitis, Newcastle Disease, and the deadly Aspergillosis, Pullorum and Bird Flu. The Omlet Chicken Guide has more details.
Bumblefoot – The Commonest Chicken Injury
A leg or foot wound that becomes infected can result in Bumblefoot. The wound will not always be obvious, but the biggest clue is a limp, or the tendency to stand for a long time on one leg while the other hens are scratching and pecking for food.
After a few days, the limb will swell, at which point you need to act fast. Taking the bird to a vet is the best bet, as the wound will need thoroughly cleaning, and minor surgery may be involved if the problem is severe. Untreated hens can die.
Not all limps are the result of Bumblefoot, though. Hens sometimes land awkwardly after the chicken version of flying. Broken toes and legs are quite common too, and these will require a splint. But if there is no visible surface wound, Bumblefoot is unlikely to set in.
So, look out for the limp – that’s your first clue that all is not well.
Common Chicken Mites
Chicken parasites are common, but not usually life-threatening. The commonest ones are the mites, of which there are several species.
Red Mite, or Chicken Mite – These nasties hide away in the henhouse, in corners, under perches and elsewhere. Anti-mite powders and liquids can be applied to the coop, and keeping things super-clean at all times will discourage the tiny red bloodsuckers.
Northern Fowl Mite – these are a bit bigger than red mites, and live on the birds rather than just dropping in for a quick bite. Remedies are available, and need to be applied to the bird itself.
Scaly Leg Mite – This variety causes a hen’s legs to become rough, sore and weepy. Antibacterial scaly-leg treatments are the only way to tackle the problem; although rubbing in a little Vaseline can ease the discomfort.
Depluming Mite – This variety burrows into the feather shafts, causing swelling and producing a discharge on which the mites feed. The hens will then begin plucking their own feathers to relieve the discomfort. The mites spread quickly, so the whole flock and henhouse will need treating.
Quick action is the best way of tackling these ailments. Each morning, carry out a quick visual health check. Any of the following should be taken as a warning sign:
Rabbits and chickens are two of the nation’s favourite pets, and while there are many things that set them apart, they also have a lot of similarities, and if you are careful and manage to cater for their different needs, they can actually live together in harmony.
Both chickens and rabbits are very sociable animals that like spending time together with others, and it doesn’t matter too much if the company is of another species. They also have similar requirements when it comes to space, temperature and attention. Apart from that, having the two live together will also be more space efficient for you, as you won’t have to create two living quarters, but can focus on one larger area instead.
There are however things to think about if you’re considering keeping rabbits and chickens together – just putting them together in a run and hoping for the best will probably not end well. Chickens may carry diseases that are latent and symptomless, but that will make the rabbits ill, and they are also by nature scared of fast-moving things (animals included), and having speedy rabbits racing around their feet might create a lot of stress if they are not used to it.
So while it’s not problem free having the two live together, it’s definitely possible. Here are some things to think about:
You are more likely to succeed if you start introducing the animals to each other when they are young, so that they are raised together and don’t really know a life without the other. Start by keeping them on different sides of a fence or a run, so that they can get used to each other (Omlet’s partitions for the Outdoor Pet Run will be perfect here). Move on to keeping them together, but in a very large enclosure, so that no one feels threatened by the other species. Make the enclosure gradually smaller, until they are all in the run where you are planning to keep them permanently.
The chickens might try to peck the rabbits while they are getting used to the fast movements. This doesn’t hurt a fully grown rabbit, and it will pass after a few days, but never put a baby bunny in with a flock of adult hens, as they are much more vulnerable.
Give both a place to retreat to. Chickens and rabbits are both nervous and vulnerable animals that will benefit from having their own space to return to when it all gets a bit too much.
They also have different requirements. Chickens need perches to roost on at night, and rabbits will need plenty of hay in the hutch to both curl up on, and to eat. Keep this away from the chickens to avoid contamination. You will also need to feed them separately; chickens will try to eat everything, and rabbit food will make them ill.
Rabbits are known to be extremely cleanly animals, a reputation you rarely hear about chickens. To keep your rabbits happy you will therefore need to clean the run and the hutch and/or coop more often than you would if you only had chickens. The rabbits will not be impressed with chicken poo in their home!
Make sure there is plenty of room for all. Having two species in one place might be space efficient on the whole, but make sure the run is big enough and equipped with toys and hiding places to entertain and calm your pets. The Caddi Treat Holder is a perfect food toy for both rabbits and chickens, and the Zippi shelters will be perfect as a den for a tired bunny, or a lookout tower for a curious hen.
If you’re planning to have rabbits and chickens living together, we would definitely suggest neutering male rabbits. Even if he doesn’t live with female rabbits, unneutered bucks are notoriously known for mounting everything that comes in their way, including feathered friends.
It’s never a good idea to keep one single rabbit in a flock of chickens, or vice versa. Despite being part of a group, they will feel lonely and stressed without a friend of their own species.
Many of us know what it’s like. You start with a few chickens, thinking you’re just going to try it out, but once you realise what amazing pets they are and what delicious eggs they lay you will probably soon think it’s time to expand the flock and get some more hens for your garden.
But adding new chickens to an existing flock is easier said than done, and it’s important to know what you’re doing to avoid bickering and bullying, or even worse. The key to introducing chickens is time. Be patient, it might take a while before your new individuals are living happily with your current flock, but it will be worth it in the end. Each breed of chicken is different, and all chickens have different personalities, so how well your attempts will go depends on many different factors. Here are some useful things to think about:
Make the right choices
Some people say sticking to the same breed is a good idea, but it’s definitely possible to have several different breeds living side by side. If possible, add chickens that are of similar age and size as your existing ones. Smaller, younger hens will easily become a target if added to a group of larger chickens, and new younger, fitter chickens might cause stress for the older members of your current flock. Never add chicks to a group until they are old and strong enough to fight back if someone decides to bully them.
Also never introduce a chicken on her own; she is bound to become bullied in an already established pecking order. The more chickens you add, the more the pecking order will have to change, and it will be easier for the group to decide who is actually the most dominant. If possible, adding more chickens than you already have will often minimise problems with bullying, but it’s a risky game if you plan on expanding your flock more than once!
The first step in the process is to quarantine the new chickens somewhere away from your flock to make sure they don’t carry any diseases or parasites. Do regular health checks on the new chickens while you’re keeping them separate, and treat any illness you might come across. It might be worth doing a worming treatment and to dust them in DE a few times to be extra sure they are not bringing in any parasites into your coop.
Quarantine the new birds for at least a week, preferably longer, or until you’re certain they are happy and healthy.
Unfortunately you can’t just plonk the new chickens down with the old ones as soon as you’re sure they are healthy. Instead you must allow them to get used to each other. Ideally this is done by placing the two groups close enough to each other that they can see and smell each other, but not close enough that they can touch. They will hopefully be curious of the other group, but not feel that their home is being invaded. The partitions for the Omlet Walk in run is perfect for this stage, as it means you can divide the run and slowly introduce the two groups.
Keep this setup for at least a week. It may seem like they have gotten used to each other after a few days, but for chickens there’s a big difference between seeing some hens over the fence and actually sharing a coop and run with them. Be patient, then you’re more likely to succeed.
The big meet
When you think it’s time for the two groups to meet for real, it is best done in a new, neutral area that no chicken has claimed as her own, even if it’s just a small fenced off area in the garden.
It’s always best to let the old flock come to the new, so put them down before you let your existing flock approach. This is especially important if you’re carrying out the introduction in the flock’s current run: don’t let them out of the coop until the new chickens are comfortable on the run.
Try putting up some entertaining distractions that might avert their attention somewhat. Fill a Peck Toy or a Caddi with your chickens’ favourite treat, and they will hopefully be more interested in that than the newcomers.
Another thing worth trying is introducing chickens in the night when they are quietly roosting in their coop. Open the door of the Eglu and put the new chickens in with your existing ones. This allows them to get used to the presence and the smell of the new chickens while they are sleepy and not likely to attack. This seems to work really well for some, whereas it leads to a few problems for others, so it’s up to you if you want to risk it. Make sure you are there in the morning when the chickens wake up to see how they are reacting to their new friends.
As we said, it might take a while before the flock goes back to its harmonious self. You must prepare yourself for some disagreement and a bit of bullying, this is part of establishing the pecking order. It should however have calmed down after a few days, maybe a week. If you notice that chickens are getting seriously hurt or are drawing blood it’s time to step in. Identify the main bully and isolate her somewhere else for a few days on her own. It might seem harsh, but it’s the best thing you can do for your flock. When you put her back with the group she will be too busy trying to figure out the new order that she won’t have time to bully.
We are getting lots of questions at the moment from people who are ready to start their chicken keeping journey. They know where they will be able to source their new coop, run, feed and accessories (hint!), but not how to get their new pets. As in most cases these days, the internet will be the place to start looking!
One of the best ways of finding people selling chickens is to google ”buying chickens + your county or area”. There are several websites online that allow people to post adverts for chickens, or you will be able to find websites and contact information for farms or smallholdings that are selling chicks or hens. Lots of these will not be hatching chicks at the moment, so you might have to call a few before you find someone that is still taking orders.
You will also be able to find Poultry Forums and Facebook groups where enthusiastic chicken owners discuss all things chicken, and you often see people wanting to sell or rehome chickens in these groups.
Normally it is always best to contact the person you are planning to buy the chickens from, and ideally pay them a visit to see what their setup is and under what conditions the chickens are living. This will help you pick a good breeder that treats their animals well, so that you can be sure that your chickens arrive happy and healthy. During the current circumstances this is however not something we recommend, but you can still ask questions over email and telephone that can give you an idea about the level of expertise of the person.
If you go ahead with your purchase, make sure to arrange something that feels appropriate given the restrictions, and safe for both you and the person you’re buying your chickens from.
Here are some good terms to search to use:
Chickens for sale
Simple, but effective. If you just want chickens and don’t really care about how old they are, what breed they are or how many eggs they will provide you with, just google chickens for sale and the county or area you’re in.
Point of lay chickens for sale
A point of lay chicken is a chicken that has just begun laying eggs. This is a good time to get hens, as they are old enough to take care of themselves, but happy to be moved and introduced to a new home. When point of lay occurs varies somewhat between breeds and other external circumstances, but it generally happens when the chickens are approximately six months old. It’s worth noting that it will normally be another 6 months before the hen is fully grown and laying to her full capacity.
People selling larger amounts of hens often hatch chicks in batches, and they might not always have hens that are ready to leave the same week you contact them. It is best to get in contact now if you want to collect your hens in May, June, or even July.
Rare/pure breed chickens for sale
These chickens are bred from show birds, and the breeders are often affiliated with the The Poultry Club of Great Britain. The chickens will have been well taken care of, and the breeder will be knowledgeable about the breed and chicken keeping in general, so you will be able to ask them lots of questions about the birds.
These chickens are often a bit more expensive than hybrid hens, but you will know what you are getting. This is especially useful if you have a clear idea of what type of chicken you would like. Read up on some chicken breeds here and choose one that you think will suit you, your requirements and your garden. Breed clubs might be able to help you find someone in your area that will sell you hens.
Again, it’s important to plan ahead, probably even more so when it comes to rarer breeds of chickens. You might have to book several weeks or even months in advance depending on what breed you are choosing.
If you’re struggling to find someone that will sell you hens, you can always take matters into your own hands and start rearing chickens from scratch.
If you’re up for the challenge and can source a good incubator, hatching eggs is a really exciting experience, and can be a great education for children in the house. It should be said though that it does require more time, effort and equipment than getting fully grown hens, and you must be aware of the fact that approximately 50% of the eggs will be hatched as cockerels that will not be happy living together. Do you have a plan for what to do with these?
If you think hatching in an incubator might be for you, you will be able to find fertilized eggs on sites like Ebay or in chicken keeping forums. You might also want to read our step by step guide to incubation – you’ll find it here.
Normally, Omlet tend to recommend that customers looking for chickens consider rehoming ex-battery hens through the British Hen Welfare Trust. BHWT give chickens who are deemed useless by the egg factories a chance at a lovely life by arranging for people to pick up hens that would otherwise be heading to slaughter.
Due to the current situation, BHWT are not doing collections at the moment, but once restrictions are relaxed this is a great way of getting some really lovely hens that will truly appreciate a life in your garden. Keep an eye on their website to get the latest updates, or consider supporting this wonderful trust with a donation.
Our chickens provide us with entertainment, company and fresh eggs – and lots and lots of poo! While cleaning out the Eglu might not be the most fun part of chicken keeping, those droppings can be turned into what gardeners sometimes refer to as “black gold”, one of the most desired fertilizers out there – and you can get it for free! There are however a few things to think about when it comes to getting chicken manure right. Keep reading to find out more!
It can all be used
Unlike some other types of manure, chicken manure is too strong to use straight on your flower beds or vegetable patches. It will burn the roots or other parts of your flowers and crops, and can also contain harmful bacteria that can cause illness if ingested. This is why it needs to be composted!
While you can put the chicken droppings straight on a bed in autumn and cover it with dry leaves that will moult through the winter, your best shot is probably to be patient and let it mature in a separate place. Whether you do a weekly clean or pick up droppings in your Eglu every day, everything in the coop can be put straight onto your compost, including the bedding. Adding the bedding helps create the correct ratio or carbon (bedding) and nitrogen (droppings) needed to break down plant matter and waste. As chicken droppings are extremely high in nitrogen, you will probably want to add a larger ratio of other plant matter than you would in a normal compost. Dried leaves from the garden will make a great addition.
We recommend having a sealed container for your compost rather than a heap in a corner, as the latter can attract rodents and pets that should not be ingesting chicken poo.
Composting chicken droppings
Apart from carbon and nitrogen, your compost will need air, moisture and heat. This is easily done, all you need to do is to water your mixture thoroughly and turn the heap every few weeks to get air flowing through. This will automatically heat the compost, breaking down the plant matter and burning off unwanted bacteria.
If you want to speed up the process and become a composting champion, you can purchase a compost thermometer at a local garden center and keep an eye on the temperature in the middle of the heap. The ideal temperature is 50-65 degrees Celsius (130-150 degrees Fahrenheit), and this should be maintained for about 3 days, after which you will need to turn the matter completely and start over.
This is however not necessary, you can just leave the compost to do its magic, just turning it regularly. How long it will take depends on the conditions, but to be sure everything is properly composted you should leave it for 9 months to a year.
Adding black gold to your garden
Once composted, chicken manure adds organic matter to your soil and increases the soil’s capacity to hold water, as well as returning nutrients to the soil. It’s also an amazing fertilizer that provides your plants with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in much higher levels than other types of manure. Chicken manure can be spread on top of your vegetable patch or flower bed, or worked into existing soil. You can also put a handful of manure in a watering can and let it mix for a while before giving your flowers a very nutritious shower.
If you have composted the manure properly all the harmful bacteria will have been burned, and there is very little risk of you getting ill. However, if you’re on the worried side of things, make sure you clean your veg properly before eating them, or use the chicken manure on crops that are not touching the ground, like sweetcorn, peas or tomatoes.
Eggs are truly amazing things, and sometimes we might take them for granted. For something that only takes the hen about 24 hours to make, they are eggstremely well engineered and cleverly constructed, as well as really delicious! Here are some cracking egg blogs that will hopefully make you appreciate the humble egg a bit more!
Why are chicken eggs different colours?
The ancestor of all chickens is the Red Junglefowl, Gallus gallus, a native of South-east Asia. All Junglefowl eggs have shells of a creamy white colour. And yet, as any chicken keeper knows, the eggs of domestic… Read more
As long as your chickens are laying and there’s a cockerel in your flock, you can hatch and incubate chicks all year round. However, traditionally the most popular time to breed your own chickens is in the spring. Hatching and rearing your own chicks from eggs… Read more
Why chickens hide their eggs and how to stop them doing it?
If you’re keeping chickens in your garden, you’ve probably become accustomed to your morning routine: wake up, drink a cup of tea or coffee and collect fresh eggs from your flock. Of course it’s an unpleasant… Read more
Make Easter more colourful with this super fun craft for the whole family – marbled eggs! Watch the video or follow the instructions below.
You will need:
Take an egg and gently poke a hole at one end. Poke a hole at the other end of the egg which is slightly larger than the first.
Empty the egg by carefully blowing through the smaller of the holes, pushing the inside of the egg out into a bowl.
Set aside the egg mixture.
Add a tablespoon of food colouring to a bowl and mix with a splash of hot water and a tablespoon of vinegar.
Put the empty eggs in the bowls and let them sit there for a while, regularly turning them to get an even coating.
When the eggs has got some colour to them, drain and put on the side to dry.
Add a few drops of a different food colouring to a plate and mix with some water and a drop of vegetable oil. Roll the eggs on the plate to cover them in the second colour. They don’t need to be fully covered.
Repeat with a few different colours, adding more layers.
Let the eggs dry on a piece of kitchen roll.
You will now have some beautiful and truly unique marbled Easter eggs! Wash your hands thoroughly and scramble the eggs you put aside earlier for a delicious lunch!
A: “Home is where the heart is”, as I always say. That’s where I feel the happiest.
B: I love exploring new places, and I’m always looking for a new place to visit.
C: I like the occasional holiday as a treat, but I prefer going places where I’ve already been.
D: I love going somewhere warm, but while there I mainly spend time by the pool.
How do you feel about children?
A: I LOVE children, they are so CUTE. And they say the funniest things!
B: Kids are like small adults really: I like some and find others quite annoying.
C: I don’t love babies, but once you can talk to them they are quite fun to be around.
D: Honesty, I don’t think they are worth the effort.
What’s your role in a group?
A: I normally stay in the background and let other people decide – it’s easier that way.
B: I tend to bond with the people who I have the most in common with and stick to them. I’m not really a people pleaser.
C: I often get the leader role without actually asking for it. Maybe I give off assertiveness? I don’t mind though, I quite enjoy it.
D: I’m normally the loud one who tries to make sure everyone is happy and that there is no awkwardness.
Would you say you’re friendly?
A: I get on with most people, and it’s important to me to be liked.
B: Yeah I suppose so. I’m extremely generous to people I like, but I don’t spend time and energy on being nice to people who I don’t like.
C: Yes, definitely. I’m curious, so I like meeting new people.
D: I can be a bit suspicious in the beginning, so maybe I don’t always come across as the friendliest of people.
How clean and tidy are you?
A: I really don’t like being dirty, and I keep my home spotless.
B: I’d say the perfect amount, but I think others would probably say I’m on the slightly messy side.
C: Can I say medium? Medium.
D: I’m not super fussed, mainly because there is always something more fun to do than to clean.
What would you say is your greatest quality?
A: I’m very easygoing.
B: I stand up for what I believe in.
C: I’m very friendly.
D: I’m ambitious and proactive.
How would you describe your sense of style?
A: I’m quite interested in fashion, especially shoes. You could say shoes are a bit of an obsession of mine.
B: The most important thing for me is that the things I wear are comfortable.
C: Elegant and classic.
D: I like big bold patterns, but my wardrobe is mainly black and white with a few colourful additions.
Mostly A: You’re a Cochin
Just like the fluffy Cochin, you are humble and appreciate the simple things in life. Because of your friendly demeanour you tend to get on well with most people and pets, but just like the Cochin sometimes becomes the submissive breed in a mixed flock you need to work on standing up for yourself to make sure no one takes advantage of you. You’re not particularly adventurous, but prefer to spend time at home with family and friends over crazy nights out, just like the Cochin. These rather lazy chickens stay close to the ground and prefer not to get their feathered feet dirty. They also have a strong maternal instinct and run the risk of regularly going broody.
Mostly B: You’re an Old English Game
These beautiful small chickens are one of the oldest breeds around. Just like you they are active and confident, always on the lookout for new things to explore. You are family orientated and very generous to those close to you. This can however mean that you find it hard to forgive people who have hurt you or the people you love, and you are quite happy to fight someone who you don’t agree with. Old English Game are hardy and quite noisy, and don’t do well with confinement. They are small and very friendly to humans, but especially roosters have an aggressive side to them, probably due to the fact that they descend from cockfighting birds.
Mostly C: You’re a Leghorn
You are an ambitious and hardworking person, and you tend to be the center of attention in any situation. Just like the Leghorn you’re not fussy and can handle most things life throws at you, but don’t like losing control. Due to their independent nature, Leghorns are difficult to tame, and if given the opportunity they will roost in trees. They are not natural sitters, but will care for their own children. They produce plenty of eggs and will be assertive but friendly towards humans.
Mostly D: You’re an Ancona
Just like these beautifully spotty birds you are independent and assertive, and will always be busy with something. You are open and friendly and take the role of the joker in a group, but it can take a while to get close to you as you only open up to those who you really trust. Anconas are happiest if they get to free range and forage for food during the day, but then return to the safety of a comfy coop. They produce a good amount of eggs, but are notoriously famous for their inability to sit on the eggs – just like you they don’t find babies that interesting.
Here’s why the Peck Toy is the perfect choice for your chickens…
The Peck Toy ensures a slow rate of feed release which is perfect for use with treats to prevent your chickens having too much at once, while keeping them satisfied throughout the day.
The Peck Toy is also a great way of keeping your chickens entertained throughout the day, especially ideal for wet or windy days when they would prefer not to leave the protection of their run, or if you are unable to let them out to free range. The Peck Toy offers an interesting, reward-based game for them to play with all day long.
Available in 2 designs to suit your coop requirements and chickens, the Peck Toy can either be hanging from your run so it swings as your chickens peck at it for treats, or free standing, placed in the ground in their run or anywhere in your garden.
Use for any of your chickens’ three nutritional needs – treats, feed or grit. The number of Peck Toys you need will vary depending on the use, for example 1 peck toy is suitable as a treat dispenser for 4 medium sized chickens, or as a feed dispenser for 2 medium sized chickens. 1 peck toy is also enough for 6 chickens if used as a grit dispenser.
Placing treats or feed in a dispenser also helps to improve run hygiene as it prevents the ground being covered in more treats and feed than your chickens need or want. This is most beneficial for preventing rodents becoming interested in your coop and run.
You can save 50% on the Peck Toy this weekend only when you sign up to the Omlet newsletter. This is an eggcellent opportunity to snap up a great deal and treat your chickens to a new toy for the spring. Get your unique discount code on the Peck Toy page here.
Now available from £7.99, or £3.99 when you sign up to the Omlet newsletter.
Terms and conditions This promotion is only valid from 05/03/20 – midnight on 09/03/20. Once you have entered your email address on the website you will receive a unique discount code that can be used at checkout. By entering your email you agree to receive the Omlet Newsletter. You can unsubscribe at any point. This offer is available on single Poppy and Pendant Chicken Peck Toys only. The offer does not apply to Twin Packs or Twin Pack with Caddi Treat Holder. Offer is limited to 2 Peck Toys per household. Subject to availability. Omlet ltd. reserves the right to withdraw the offer at any point. Offer cannot be used on delivery, existing discounts or in conjunction with any other offer.
Time to revamp your chickens’ hentertainment? Get 50% off the Peck Toy when you sign up to the Omlet Newsletter for a limited time only. 🐔
Terms and conditions: This promotion is only valid from 05/03/20 – midnight on 09/03/20. Once you have entered your email address on the website you will receive a unique discount code that can be used at checkout. By entering your email you agree to receive the Omlet Newsletter. You can unsubscribe at any point. This offer is available on single Poppy and Pendant Chicken Peck Toys only. The offer does not apply to Twin Packs or Twin Pack with Caddi Treat Holder. Offer is limited to 2 Peck Toys per household. Subject to availability. Omlet ltd. reserves the right to withdraw the offer at any point. Offer cannot be used on delivery, existing discounts or in conjunction with any other offer.
Chickens have a well-defined hierarchy. Every hen knows who’s boss. This, indeed, is where the phrase ‘pecking order’ comes from.
In everyday chicken life, the occasional peck and minor tussle is perfectly normal. But when the pecking gets out of hand, you will soon have semi-plucked chickens looking thoroughly miserable on their perches.
Bullying will always break out when new birds are introduced to a flock. This is all part of sorting out the new pecking order, everything will be calm and back to normal in a few days, usually.
Hens may peck themselves, too, with the same result – feather loss. However, you’ll be pleased to hear that in both cases – self-plucking and plucking others – the problem can be addressed and solved quite easily.
Overcrowding in the Chicken Shed
Whenever there is insufficient space, hens will begin pecking each other. The only time they’re content with cramped conditions is when they’re settling down side by side for a cosy night’s sleep. Overcrowding causes stress, and stress leads to violence. It begins with the pecking and general bullying of any chicken that sits lower down in the henhouse pecking order.
Providing more space is always the answer here. The minimum space required per chicken depends on the size of the breed; but it is always best to give the birds as much room as possible. As a general rule of thumb, you will need 2 to 3 square feet (0.18 to 0.28 square metres) per chicken in thecoop, and 8 to 10 square feet (0.74 to 0.93 square metres) per chicken in a run. This is the bare minimum, though. If you own an Eglu Go that accommodates up to four hens, six is clearly too many. Two, however, is absolutely fine.
An overheated chicken shed may also cause pecking and plucking, as the high temperatures make the birds’ skin itchy and uncomfortable. Too much light has the same effect; although this is a problem that only really afflicts birds kept in artificial light to boost egg production.
When Chickens See Red
A hen may become the victim of pecking if she is unwell. Sometimes the other chickens will turn on an ailing companion. She will usually find a quiet spot to hide, and you will be able to intervene before things get out of hand.
If a wound is involved, however, the other hens will literally see red. Blood acts as a magnet for the birds, and they will pursue and peck at the wound, plucking surrounding feathers and making the injury worse, with obvious dire consequences. Deaths are not uncommon in these circumstances, and if the wound is combined with overcrowded conditions, cannibalism can occur.
The injured chicken must be isolated from the rest of flock until her wound is healed and she’s in top shape again. If you have a Walk in run for your chickens, partitions is a great solution that will prevent the other chickens from bullying the injured hen.
You can assist the healing process by applying anti-peck and healing lotions and creams. There are many types available in the Omlet shop.
The Chicken and the Vampires
In 99% of cases, a hen who pecks and plucks herself has parasites. The culprits are usually mites, tiny vampires who leave the chicken’s skin scabby and itchy. Lice and fleas have the same effect. An infested hen will not only look untidy and threadbare, she will also have a drooping comb and will be listless.
One type of parasite, the depluming mite, eats away at the roots of the feathers, causing them to fall out without any intervention from the hen. All these chicken-nibbling nasties can be deterred using spray-on or rub-on medicines.
If your chickens’ diet is low in protein (which will never be the case if their food revolves around good chicken feed pellets), they will look for it elsewhere. Insects and other invertebrates are good sources of protein; but so, too, are feathers. If feather pecking afflicts your flock, diet is another thing to add to the checklist when getting to the bottom of the problem.
When Pluck Runs Out
If your hens lay brown eggs, evidence suggests that you may have more problems with pecking and plucking than someone whose birds lay white eggs. This sounds bizarre, and the science is not conclusive, but observational studies have come to this conclusion. It is, however, largely a problem among chickens kept in large numbers for commercial purposes, and not a consideration the average backyard hen owner should worry about it. It’s certainly intriguing, though…
In most cases of pecking and plucking, you will be able to solve the problem by simple intervention. Give the hens enough space, and keep the chicken-sucking creepy crawlies at bay, and in most cases the problem is solved.
The ancestor of all chickens is the Red Junglefowl, Gallus gallus, a native of South-east Asia. All Junglefowl eggs have shells of a creamy white colour. And yet, as any chicken keeper knows, the eggs of domestic hens can vary widely.
Many years ago British chicken egg producers realised that shoppers favoured brown eggs, and turned their noses up at white ones. It was even said that brown eggs were more nutritious (which is not the case – all chicken eggs have the same nutritional value).
This tyranny of supermarket brown eggs continued until about 20 years ago, when a niche market was created for eggs from specific breeds. Chocolate browns, blues, and even the much-maligned whites, all began to appear on the shelves.
But for anyone familiar with backyard chickens, this was nothing new. Pearly whites from the Sussex and Leghorn, lovely blues from the Ameraucana and Cream Legbar, red-brown beauties from the Barnevelder and Welsummer and the dreamy greeny-blue of the Araucana and Favaucana are all in a day’s egg-collecting.
But why, given the fact that those ancestral chickens all laid creamy white eggs, do these different colours exist?
Egg Painting – the Natural Way
An egg takes around 26 hours to fully form inside a hen. Twenty of those hours are dedicated to toughening and colouring the egg shell. Layers of calcium carbonate provide the toughening – which is why hens need plenty of calcium in their diets – and the colouring is down to pigments. Calcium carbonate is naturally white, so any other colour has to be ‘painted on’, from the inside.
Breeders have created hundreds of chicken varieties over the centuries, and each of these has distinctive plumage and colouring. The pigments that give feathers colour sometimes go hand in hand with specific pigments for colouring egg shells too.
For example, the Ameraucana carries the blue pigment biliverdin, and this is painted onto the shell in the later stages of the egg’s development in the oviduct. Both the outside and inside of the shell have the same blue colour.
This is not the case with a standard brown egg. Crack one open and you’ll notice it’s white on the inside. The pigment responsible for brown colouring is protoporphyrin. This is present to a greater or lesser degree on the majority of chickens. Even eggs of a creamy colour have a hint of protoporphyrin in their shells. Hens carrying an excess of the pigment – such as the Delaware and Marans – produce fabulous chocolate brown eggs.
Many hens lay brown eggs dappled with darker brown spots and streaks. The Neera and Welsummer are good examples of this. The effect is causes by the egg turning as it makes its way through the oviduct, and it is a common feature in the eggs of many wild bird species. It is details like this that enable owners to recognise eggs from their individual birds (in a small flock, that is!)
When the two types of pigment – the blue and the brown – are mixed together, the result is a greenish blue or olive colour. If the brown pigment is light, as in the Favaucana and Araucana, the eggs are a soft greeny blue. With a darker brown in the mix, the olive colour is increased, as in the aptly named Olive Egger.
What Colour Are Your Chickens’ Earlobes?
It can come as a shock to learn that chickens have earlobes. Even more surprising to hear that these lobes give a clue to the colour of egg shells.
The earlobes are obvious, once they’ve been pointed out. Chickens have three types of ‘wattle’ – the red crest, the wobbly ones on the throat, and the ones on the side of the head, towards the back – the earlobes.
White earlobes are found on hens with white or otherwise pale plumage. These birds have relatively small amounts of pigment, hence the light feathers. The same rule applies to the eggs – no pigment, and hence white eggs. Meanwhile, hens with brown or reddish earlobes lay brown eggs, and ones with a creamy, pearly, shiny white earlobes lay blue eggs.
These days, ironically, it is the non-standard-brown eggs that command the higher prices in the shops. And yet once you get a clutch of golden-yoked, grass-fed, free range chicken eggs cooking side by side in a pan, you can’t tell which shell produced which egg. When it comes to chicken eggs, beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder – and the earlobe of the chicken!
Watching chickens scratch at the frozen ground or strut through the snow, you might wonder how they manage to keep their feet and legs warm. After all, this is one part of their body with no feathers to keep it cosy (unless you happen to have a feathery-legged breed such as the Cochin, Brahma or Silkie).
Surprisingly, the simple answer to ‘How do they keep their leg warm?’ is ‘They don’t!’ Those skinny, bare legs have scales, which retain heat to a certain extent, but they will still get very cold if the bird stands still for too long.
And that’s the important detail. A chicken keeps its legs warm by moving, and by not keeping all its toes on the ground for too long. These parts of their body lose heat rapidly; but the solution is quite simple.
Perching is the most effective way of retaining heat. A hen hunkers down when roosting, and her legs are tucked into her warm body. If space allows, install a flat perch too. A piece of wood with a 10 cm width will enable the hens to roost without having to grip the perch, which in really cold weather will prevent their toes freezing. (The lucky ones will simply snuggle down in a nesting box, which is the chicken equivalent of a thick quilt!)
But of course, a hungry hen doesn’t want to waste the whole day perching, so even in the coldest spells she will make a lot of contact with the ground.
Like many other birds, chickens often adopt the ‘one leg’ look, tucking one of their limbs up into the warmth of their bellies. This reduces overall heat loss and stops feet and toes from freezing on the icy ground.
An upturned pot, a log, pallet or other slightly elevated space – cleared of snow or ice – will help the hens get the circulation going again, without having to catch their breath on the frozen ground. Like all birds, chickens are warm-blooded, just like us, and their own body heat soon works its magic. Indeed, with an average body temperature of around 41°C, chickens can remain active in the coldest weather.
The leg-warming process is helped by other tricks, too. Fluffing up the feathers retains body heat, by trapping small pockets of air which are then heated up by the bird’s warm body.
Some owners give their hens a supper of corn and grains, which take longer to digest than a standard pellet or other chicken food. Part of the digestion process involves producing heat – a kind of internal hot water bottle!
In general, hens will eat more food in the cold months, as more of their energy is spent keeping warm. Some owners like to supplement the birds’ diets with extra protein or a little suet, to increase their fat levels for the winter. Fat retains heat, and the whole bird benefits – not just the legs (which will remain as thin as ever!)
Help With The Heating
You can help your hens keep their toes cosy by making sure the coop is clean and dry. Clear out any snow dragged in on the birds’ feet, and keep an insulating layer of straw on the floor. You can give the birds extra protection by insulating the coop – although there should still be some ventilation, to allow the gases released from the birds’ droppings to escape.
You can install an automatic door to help keep the living quarters snug. Heaters are also available – but never use anything other than a heater designed specifically for hen houses. It’s also best to use these only if the temperature gets below -5°C, otherwise hens may get used to being cosy all the time, and that could be disastrous if the heater fails and the birds are suddenly exposed. Heat-pampered poultry can die of cold shock.
A coop should be draft-free, but not completely sealed, as ventilation is important for healthy hens. During the day, a sheltered spot in the run or garden will help them take a breather and warm those long-suffering legs.
Chickens are amazingly hardy, and although not exactly warm, their legs will be able to cope with anything the average winter throws at them. As long as they can toast their toes on a nice perch every now and then…