Knowing the provenance of our food is becoming increasingly important to many of us. ‘Buying local’, ‘reducing food miles’ and ‘animal welfare’, today’s buzz words, can be heard everywhere. With these in mind, it is not surprising that keeping your own hens is becoming an increasingly popular past-time.

With the fast pace of many people’s lives, chickens can offer a chance to slow down for a while, to get back closer to nature and to become a little bit self-sufficient. Besides this they are fun. “Better than watching TV” is a comment that is often heard!

There are many books and courses out there giving bucket loads of advice on keeping chickens but, with good husbandry and a healthy dose of common sense, it really could not be simpler.

A healthy hen needs plenty of food and fresh, clean water, somewhere to run and scratch around, some shelter, shade (extremely important in hot weather), some grit to aid her digestion, a place to roost and a quiet place to lay her eggs.

If you are a first time poultry keeper, we can supply you with the basics to get you started. We stock layers mash and various sundry items, including a selection of different sized feeders and drinkers, bedding, oyster shell and grit.

© Oxford Poultry Limited 2018.

Point of lay chickens for sale from College Farm Barn, Yarnton, Kidlington, Oxon, OX5 1PX.

Tel: 07766052770. E-mail:

A healthy chicken will have bright, clear eyes, clean nostrils, smooth legs and a clean vent (the name for a chicken’s backside!), and it is a good idea to get into the habit of checking your chickens daily for any signs of ill-health.

As preventative measures, we recommend sprinkling the bedding of the nest boxes with louse powder to protect against lice and worming your hens every 4-6 months.

There is one pest in particular that you need to be especially vigilant about and that is red mite. Red mite can live in the cracks and crevices of hen houses, coming out at night to feed on the blood of the birds. Because it is only active at night you are unlikely to spot it on your hens during the day, so signs to watch out for are pale faces and wattles, a lack of energy, decreased egg production and a reluctance to go back into the hen house at night. A light grey ash around the crevices of the house (the mites’ faeces) is also an indicator.

Besides treating the house regularly with a red mite repellent powder, some people advise adding a poultry tonic, e.g. cider vinegar, to the drinking water to provide increased resistance to attack. This is a general health tonic and mineral supplement that is also reputed to increase egg production, and to improve feathering and bone development (please note though, this product should not be used in galvanised drinkers, as it corrodes the metal).

If you do have an infestation of red mite, an immediate and thorough disinfection of the house with a red mite eliminator product will be necessary.

As a treat, chickens really enjoy mixed corn, but we recommend only giving it towards the end of the day, when the birds have already had their fill of their regular food.

There is an almost endless number of chicken coops on the market, at a range of prices, and which one is suitable for you will very much be down to personal choice. However, it is worth bearing in mind that the house, ideally, should provide about 25 cm of perching space per hen and have at least one nesting box for every 3 hens. The nesting boxes should be in the darkest part of the house, and the house should be well ventilated but not draughty. The ease with which a house can be cleaned is also worth considering when making your choice. Bedding can be wood chips (which are very absorbent) or chopped straw. Hay is not recommended as it can contain mould spores, which are a health hazard. The floor of the house will need only a relatively thin layer of bedding but the bedding in the nest boxes should be nice and deep. Soiled bedding should be cleaned out regularly, and we recommend a thorough clean down of the whole house at least once a month, when it should also be treated for red mite. Red mite can live in any type of hen house and if left untreated can infect your hens; it adores felt roofs and we would advise against purchasing a house with a felt roof for this reason (for more about red mite please see below).

One of your main priorities will be to protect your chickens against predators. Unless you have a very secure run, it is advisable to always lock your hens in the house at night, making sure any pop holes are securely fastened. Digging the base of the fencing into the ground or installing electric fencing are other good preventative measures.

A layers pellet or a layers mash will contain most of the nutrients a chicken needs to stay healthy. In addition, a small bowl of grit and oyster shell should be placed in the run. A chicken stores grit in her gizzard to aid digestion. A lack of grit in her diet can cause a blockage in her system due to compaction of the food and, in severe cases, this can result in death. The oyster shell provides a source of calcium, which is necessary for good quality egg production.

Fresh clean water should always be available and you might be surprised by how much your chickens will drink in hot weather. In very cold weather, you will need to be careful that the water does not freeze. It is best to keep feeders and drinkers outside of the hen house, as they can attract rodents and other vermin; the birds will not use them after they have gone to sleep anyway.

For variety, and to give your hens something to play with, you can hang a bunch of greens in the run (e.g. cabbage, kale, nettles). This can help to discourage feather pecking and has the added bonus of enhancing the yellow colour of the egg yolk.