Hens are social, curious, intelligent animals that can be a great addition to your household (and give you delicious eggs!), provided they are cared for properly.
When keeping backyard hens, it is important to make sure they have a comfortable, clean and secure house that protects them from weather and predators.
Hen houses (or coops) bought from stores are usually wooden or metal enclosures but you could build your own.
When choosing a house, make sure it’s big enough to give your chickens plenty of space with both an inside and outside area. The indoor area should provide hens with shelter and room to sleep, roost on perches and lay their eggs in nest boxes.
When outdoors, hens need lots of shade and space to scratch, forage and dustbathe. Your hen house needs to be cleaned regularly so when selecting a coop make sure it can be easily cleaned.
To find out more about your hens’ housing needs, check out the RSPCA Knowledgebase.
Food and water
An essential part of keeping your backyard hens healthy is feeding them a complete, well-balanced diet.
Layer hens are omnivores so they enjoy a varied diet of seeds, grains, leaves, fruit, vegetables and insects. To make sure your chickens get all the nutrients they need, a good quality commercial poultry feed should make up the main part of their diet. You can also give your hens a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables daily.
Never feed your hens fatty, salty or spoiled food scraps. They also should not eat specific foods like potato, avocado, chocolate, citrus fruit, uncooked beans, onion, garlic or uncooked rice.
Remember that, depending on your hens’ age, breed and size, the type of feed and the amount they need will differ. To ensure you are feeding your hens correctly, it is important to check with a veterinarian or get in contact with your local poultry association or local poultry fancier’s society.
Layer hens are very social animals that enjoy the company of other hens.
For this reason, it is best to have at least three chickens. Also hens do not need roosters to produce eggs, so unless you are planning on breeding, having a rooster is generally not recommended. The RSPCA Knowledgebase has more on keeping roosters.
If you notice any change in your hens’ behaviour, it could indicate that something is wrong and you should always consult a veterinarian if you have any concerns.
Layer hens need to be provided with the chance to peck, forage, dustbathe and perch. It’s important you offer your hens enough mental and physical stimulation to prevent them getting bored and developing problematic behaviours like feather pecking or bullying other birds.
Simple activities you should already be doing will act as a form of enrichment for your hens such as cleaning their house, providing food treats or fruit and vegetables, handling them or letting them roam in the garden.
Other types of enrichment include hanging up fruit and vegetables, interactive treat dispensers (such as a plastic water bottle with holes), dustbathing areas, platforms and perches, swings or even pet bird toys. Regularly rotate and change up the type of enrichments you give your hens to keep them happy and entertained.
Your hens should be wormed regularly and check with your veterinarian about any other preventative health treatment your hens may need.
Daily or regular handling of your hens is a great way to interact with them while also checking their health, inspecting them for any changes in their health and signs of wounds, feather loss, scaly legs or parasites (such as mites or lice).
In the unfortunate event that one of your hens gets sick or injured, it is essential you have a local veterinarian available to treat or if required humanely euthanase your hen.