Poultry - Hens for eggs

We keep hens because we like fresh eggs.

This pullet is a New Hampshire and lays a brown egg most days. Fresh water and quality layer pellets is a must. Hens eat grass and relish insects and grubs which they find while out during the day.

Even before we built our own house we had a nice hen house with two rooms built. The nesting boxes can be shut off from the roosting area.

We do not approve of the way many are kept in the battery system. In Battery systems hens live all their laying lives in wire cages without room to move; there is no chance to feel the sun on their backs, bathe in the dust, or scratch for a tasty worm.

Hens should be able to roost in safety at night

This pretty little hen is of mixed parentage.

At the end of 2016 I changed to these new automatic water and feed containers. There is no waste of food as the hens have to stand on the board which raises a lid underneath, giving them access to the feed which is always fresh as the feed falls from the base of the hopper. This also means sparrows and rats cannot access the feed. I have found that pellets of certain brands work best. I have the feeders raised to keep them clean and the hens learnt to use them within a few days. The water bucket is excellent also as it is filled from the top.

Our hens have nice straw lined nest boxes where they lay.

This platic box was bought at The Warehouse. It is easily cleaned and not being wooden there are no places red mites can hide.

Balm of Gilead (Cedronella canariensis) leaves can be placed in the bottom of the box and also around the hen house as it discourages parasites.

When I want to hatch eggs, maybe from a particular hen, I collect the eggs over a number of days, check them to make sure they are a good size and shape and very clean. I put them in a cool dark place, turning them daily until I am happy that there is a clucky hen sitting tight. I don't keep the eggs for hatching longer than about a week though. When a hen goes 'clucky', she will stay in the box after laying and refuse to leave and make clucky sounds. At night I put fresh straw in an enclosed hatching hutch with the chosen eggs placed to resemble a nest. The hutch is fully covered with strong netting so that predators cannot gain entry and also no other hens can push their way in.

I then pick the hen up and place her on the eggs. If you pick up a clucky hen, she will go limp and maybe squawk. She will soon make herself comfortable and snuggle down on the eggs clucking contentedly. They seem to say, “Are they for me, how wonderful”. I use automatic drinkers for water and also make sure she has wheat and grit.

Once a year a hen goes off the lay and over a period of about 6 weeks loses her feathers. She looks terrible but soon fresh feathers come through and she is once again gleaming in her 'new outfit'.

When you allow a hen to sit on too many eggs they seldom hatch because the hen rotates the eggs and as the inner eggs are moved to the outside they become cold and die. It is important to judge the size of the hen with the number of eggs. The hen takes time off the nest for very brief intervals to eat and drink. 21 days later you should have chicks.

After the chickens hatch she changes and becomes very aggressive to all who would go near her chickens. You need to provide chick starter and water in suitable containers for the chickens to eat and drink from. Keep the hen and chicks in their hutch until you feel they are strong enough to be let out for brief periods - usually just a few days. Gradually lengthen the time out until they have free range during the day. One day you will find they have decided to try out perches in the 'big house' and soon they too will be laying, but you will need to cull the roosters.

Ban hen cages. “The vast majority of hens in New Zealand, 82 per cent of the billion eggs people consume every year are produced by hens who spend their whole lives confined to small battery cages. Each hen has a space only the size of an A-4 piece of paper. She will live all her life in this tiny prison, crammed up against five to eight other hens.” www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/ How Cruel is that?

Three hens enjoying a dust bath beside stinging nettle which is the food source for caterpillars of our endemic Red and Yellow Admiral butterflies. You must allow a patch of nettles to flourish in your garden. Copper butterflies live on Muehlenbeckia which is also shown growing behind the hens.