17 Feb 2020

Better laid than never: how to raise your own hens

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 2:28 pm on 17 February 2020

"The eggs from the chickens you raise are going to be much better than the eggs at the supermarket. Because they're going to be getting more greens and they're going to be getting more sunlight and they're healthier" – Pam Adam, hen-keeper of Wainuiomata

brown hens

Photo: Public domain

Pam Adam keeps 70 hens on her property and sells their eggs at her local Commonsense Organics store. She gives us some tips on raising chickens at home.

According to Pam, the best hens for laying are:

  • Red Cross Browns

  • Red Shavers (extremely docile, friendly and even willing to be cuddled, Pam says)

  • Brown Shavers

"White Leghorns also lay really well but they're flighty and they can fly over the roost and before you know it you've got them up in your trees and that can be a problem."

If you're allowed to keep a rooster where you live, they are interesting to watch and useful for not letting chickens fight, Pam says – "he gets right in the middle and he tells them off, sorts them out" – but they are inclined to peck children.

What hens need:

An outside area separated from your garden or recreation area with a high-enough fence

Outside hens like a grassy area but also bushes - blackcurrant bushes work well - and a tree or two would be good, Pam says.

A chookhouse with a roost inside for them to sleep on - this can be either a stick or a dowel 

To get the right size roost, look at the chickens' feet and make sure their toes nearly go around it entirely but don't overlap.

Resue hens will need to be taught how to roost - go out every night for a week or two and lift them up on to the stick or dowel, Pam says.

An outdoor shelter, which hens prefer at night (Pam uses two waterproof plastic pellets made into a tent shape)

Nesting boxes which are tall enough for the hens to stand up in and dark (with curtains, if necessary)

Hens like to lay their eggs in darkened areas, and there's a chance if hens can see their eggs during the day they might want to eat them.

The nesting boxes should be lined with litter. Hay will only last a week and something more substantial like woodchips or pine needles is better, Pam says.

Food

Pam feeds her hens sprouted grains and organic pellets.

Weeds

Hens do well with weedy herbs to munch on, Pam says.

  • Comfrey is "the primo food for chickens" (Pam dries it so hers can have it all year round)
  • Chickweed
  • Dried stinging nettle
  • Aromatic herbs (which also work as pest repellants)

Water

On a hot day, hens can drink their weight in water, Pam says.

It's also the number one thing to give them when they're not well.

Their poo sorted

Hens only poo at night and usually outside, Pam says.

She collects the poo from hers in bins then transfers it into a half-barrel, adds water, stirs it up, adds cow poo and then uses it as compost.

"For me, it's a plus, it's a bonus!"

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