First of all, congratulations on your exciting new pet!
If you’re still debating whether to buy chickens, it might be a good idea to check out my article Is Keeping Chickens Right For Me? before making your final decision as they can be a big commitment, but are also very rewarding to keep as pets.
It is recommended that you start with no fewer than three hens as chickens are sociable birds, and enjoy company. Most people begin with three or four chickens for this reason. There are many types of chickens which thrive in British gardens, including the Black Rock, Plymouth Rock, Sussex and Bluebell among many others. My family chose four Black Rocks because they are known to be hardy and good layers.
You will of course need somewhere for the chickens to live, which could be a house on its own or with an attached run. Note that it is advisable to clean the house out twice a week, for the chickens’ wellbeing, hygiene and of course the smell. My family chose a house within an enclosed run, and put it on paving stones (placement is down to personal preference but if you have it directly on your grass it needs to be moved very often due to the chickens destroying the patch of grass they are on, and you also risk rodents burrowing in). Their house was on stilts to prevent rodents entering and their run was filled with bark and grit for them to scratch in, with corn added daily for them to eat. Chickens thrive when they are given the chance to roam around an enclosed garden during the day, so if possible allow them outside to graze the lawn and explore, but even if you don’t have a lawn, bark and grit with occasional fresh greens, such as lettuce, are an adequate substitute.
Laying chickens should be given pellets or mash food, both of which are relatively cheap to buy and have access to fresh water. It is important that your chickens have a good supply of vitamins, minerals and grit in their diet, as they use the grit to form the shells for their eggs. A happy, healthy chicken will usually lay an egg every morning.
Some other things to bear in mind are you should ensure your chickens settle on the perch at night. If they don’t, just give them a nudge and they should get the message. This is to prevent them becoming too broody. You should also be aware that a common parasite which lives in the wood of chicken houses is the red mite. You can buy preventative treatments or treat an infection if it occurs. It is definitely worth familiarising yourself with them though, so you will recognise them if they appear as they are unfortunately very common. As described in my previous article, you should also be aware of, and take precautions against, foxes as a predator to the garden chicken.
Once you get into a routine with your chickens, you will find it becomes easy to take care of them, and you will no doubt enjoy waking up to freshly laid eggs in the mornings!