Chickens - Things to do this Month - May
CHICKENS (Laying Hens):
At this time of year your hens should be looking and feeling their best:
Signs of good health:
- Full, bright and velvety ‘headgear’ (comb & wattles)
- Full, round and bright eyes, not sunken or cloudy
- Good, smooth feathering
- Neither thin or over-fat
- Steady respiration, no panting or wheezing
- Active, moving freely
- Laying well and producing regular, perfect eggs
Routine & Care
- If you see your chickens pecking their feathers, they may well be harbouring some uninvited pests – see our Guide to Ectoparasites of Chickens
- Feeding: Layer pellets and ‘mash’ (designed to be dampened before feeding) are specially formulated to provide all the energy and nutrients they need, but given the choice, most hens will chose to eat corn! So, give hens their ration of layer pellets in the morning (for a ‘utility’ type laying hen, allow approximately ¼ - ⅓ lb (or 130-150gms) per hen per day, and then offer corn in the afternoon. They’ll also appreciate plenty of ‘greens’ in their diet: lettuce, cabbage and cucumber – anything fresh & juicy!
- Commercial egg producers regularly weigh their hens, and this is a good practise to adopt; loss of weight can indicate ill health, while excess weight can predispose a hen to become ‘egg-bound’.
- Check regularly for eggs, if left too long it may encourage egg pecking or eating – and once the habit is formed it’s very difficult to stop.
- If you find soft-shelled eggs, or eggs with misshapen or rough shells, it may be a sign of nutritional imbalance, disease or stress.
- Add a little Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) to the hen’s water – although disputed, many people claim that the acidity acts as a ‘tonic’ for the hens and aids digestion. It certainly won’t do them any harm, but always offer untreated water in another container in case any of the hens won’t drink the treated water. Add 2ml of ACV (use a syringe to measure accurately) to 1 litre of water in a plastic drinker (it will corrode metal).
- If you like ‘natural remedies’, also offer the hens some garlic granules mixed with their layer or corn: garlic can act as a repellent to harmful gut worms, but don’t rely on it totally. Best practice is to carry out regular (4x per year would be about right) ‘faecal egg counts’ (FEC) to determine the parasite burden of your hens – your vet will explain how to collect a sample and will arrange for it to be tested in a laboratory, the result will indicate whether you need to use a worming product on your hens.
- Another herbal favourite of hens is Oregano – sow some seeds on a windowsill or in a propagator, and they’ll have their favourite herb all summer long (and you may get pizza-flavoured eggs!). Interestingly, oregano oil (with an olive oil base) has been used with great success as a substitute for widespread use of antibiotics in commercial-scale organic poultry units.
- Keep grass mown short – long grass can obstruct their crop; and, by allowing the sun to penetrate the sward, parasite (worm) eggs are desiccated and killed (but you will still need to monitor your hens using Faecal Egg Counts, and worming as necessary).
- Try to rest at least part of their run for a few weeks on a rotation basis – this will help to break the parasite lifecycle
- Spring is the ideal time to replace or increase your flock, and there are various ways to go about this: from buying ‘POL’ (point-of-lay) hens, to hatching eggs – from your own hens if you have a cockerel and a broody hen, or buying in fertile eggs to hatch in an incubator.
If you’re just starting out with hens and can’t decide which breed will suit you best, have a look at our Guide to Chicken Breeds. If you decide to get a mix of different breeds, it’s best to choose those that are roughly the same size to prevent the smaller ones getting hen-pecked.
For more information on keeping chickens and increasing your flock, visit our Basic Principles of Rearing and Management of Chickens.