Caring for a small flock of chickens in much easier than most people think, especially for those who purchase a Henpen. The information contained on this page is verbatim from Randy's Booklet Basic Chicken Care: A Beginner's Guide. This booklet is included in the purchase of any Turnkey Chicken Farm found on the Henpen Order Page.
Table of Contents
Cleaning Your Henpen
Free-Ranging Your Hens
Scratch & Treats
Feeding. The feeder (included when you purchase the Turnkey Chicken Farm) holds enough feed (7 pounds) for three or four days. Golden Comets (the best egg-laying breed) eats about 1/4 pound of feed each day. When you begin to free-range your hens, they’ll eat less feed.
Feed your pullets a high protein feed (20% protein or greater) until they begin laying eggs. Then change their feed to a 14% - 16% protein feed. Most farm supply stores sell both Start-and-Grow and Layer’s Mash feeds. I always ask for the all natural feeds. Ask for non-medicated feeds. Southern States has always treated me fairly on both the quality of the feed and the price.
Also note that hens waste less feed if you feed them Layer’s Pellets instead of Layer’s Mash. Make sure your feeder is at the right height to help keep them from wasting feed. Adjust the top rim of the feeder so that it is level with the hen's saddle (lowest part of her back).
Water. The drinker (standard equipment with Turnkey Chicken Farms) also holds enough water for three or four days. However, in the heat of summer, you’ll need to fill the drinker more often. Hens drink more when it’s hot and the heat evaporates more water. A fresh water supply is paramount to healthy chickens.
If you discover the hens aren’t drinking as much water, empty it every few days and refill it with fresh water. Hens don’t like stale water and it becomes a breeding ground for mosquitos.
Egg Collection. Collect Eggs every day. Hens usually lay during the morning hours (before lunch). Most people collect eggs in the late afternoon. However, on hot days collect them before the temperature gets too high. When eggs sit in the nest at over 90 degrees for more than a few hours, the whites become very runny. The eggs are still okay to eat, but they don’t look as appealing in the bowl.
Fresh Grass. Move your Henpen every third or fourth day to provide fresh grass for your hens and to give the soil a rest. Hens love fresh grass and the more they eat the better their eggs will taste. Fresh grass also produces eggs high in antioxidants. Remember, whatever she eats you eat!
Chicken droppings are very high in nitrogen. But too much manure can burn your grass. Allow the chicken manure to work into the soil by moving your Henpen every few days. In dry seasons some soak the ground where the Henpen sat before moving it. That helps to break down the larger pieces of chicken droppings and work it all into the soil where it becomes great fertilizer. Your entire lawn will be much greener if you move your Henpen from place to place.
Parasite Control. There are two primary parasites you need to know about when keeping hens: intestinal worms and mites.
Intestinal worms in hens are very rare, especially in small flocks like the ones in your Henpen. They are usually carried in by wild birds. My philosophy is an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And it’s easy to do. We worm all of our hens on the first day of each month.
Here’s how to do it. Take the drinker away from the hens the night before so they’ll be thirsty in the morning. In the morning, mix two tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar into one gallon of water (make sure when you buy Apple Cider Vinegar is has "with mother" on the label). Pour it into the drinker and hang it in the Henpen. Let them drink the mixture all day. In the evening pour out the rest and fill the container with fresh water. (Don’t rinse the container before putting in fresh water. The residual vinegar water will help control algae but not harm your chickens. I recommend adding a few drops of Apple Cider Vinegar to the water every time they fill it to control algae.)
Mites are rarely a problem in small backyard flocks. I like to keep it that way. Mites not only carry diseases, they literally eat your hens alive. Mites live on the bottom side of the roosts during the day and climb up onto your hens at night while they sleep. All night long they bite your hens and suck blood from their bodies…usually around the vent area. It is both painful and dangerous to your hens. Mites can kill a hen in a matter of days.
Mites have to breathe just like you and me. So to kill mites you simply smoother them by cutting off their air supply. On the first day of each month (when you worm your hens), paint the roosts with vegetable oil. Slather on the oil very liberally. The oil runs down around the bottom of the roosts where they’re hiding, and smoothers them.
We bought an inexpensive paintbrush at Wal-Mart and the Great-Value brand of vegetable oil. Unlike petroleum oils, vegetable oil is not toxic to your hens. My dad always used Linseed oil, but it’s expensive. Vegetable oil seems to work very well for us.
Alternative. Another preventative (and curative) measure for parasites is the use of diatomaceous earth. DE is expensive, but both organic and very effective. Do a google search and you'll learn a lot of neat stuff about this stuff.
We put a few ounces of DE on top of the feed once every month (when we worm our hens). They eat it and it kills all the bad little bugs in their systems.
Another usefull preventative measure is to put DE into "dusting boxes" made from plywood. We built dusting boxes 14"X14"X14. Put a lip around the top inside (to keep them from thowing out so much DE) and put about three inches of DE in the bottom of the box. The hens will love it.
Lighting. Hens lay less eggs in the winter time. Not because of the cold weather, but because of decreased light. As the days get shorter, it’s mother nature’s way of telling hens to stop producing eggs. After all, if they hatch chicks in December or January it’s not likely they’ll survive the cold. Ain’t Mother Nature smart!
Anyway, we’ve found a way to trick Mother Nature. Or at least the hen anyway! By providing supplemental lighting, hens will continue to lay eggs all winter long without any decrease in production. Light stimulates the hen's pituitary gland, causing them to begin the process of producing an egg. (By-the-way, it takes 25 hours from the stimulation of the pituitary gland to the laying of an egg.) Hens need 8 hours of dark and 16 hours of light to stay happy. (Good eggs come from happy hens; happy hens live in Henpens!) Always supplement their light in the morning, not in the evening. Allow them to have a natural sunset every evening. They’ll go to roost in a natural way. (Chickens are near blind in the dark. If you suddenly cut off the light they may find themselves stranded.) Set your timer so the light comes on in the morning.
Your Henpen is equipped with a night-light kit. Simply run a drop cord from a nearby power supply to a timer. Plug the power cord on your Henpen into the timer and turn on the night light inside. Set the timer to come on 8 hours after the sunset. We set ours to turn the lights off half an hour after sun up. We check the lighting settings on the first of every month.
Cleaning. My mother always used to say “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” That was usually on a Saturday morning when she needed help cleaning the house! Well, cleanliness is certainly next to good-neighborliness! Keeping your Henpen clean is important…more than just for your neighbor’s happiness.
Clean out your Henpen every 6 weeks (or whenever it begins to stink). Eggshells are porous. They breathe. That means they will begin to take on the smells and odors of everything around them, including chicken manure.
Don’t panic! You won’t be eating any chicken manure! When a hen lays an egg, she puts a coating of a natural antibiotic on the egg to keep out disease. (Remember, her goal is to hatch that egg…yours is to eat that egg!) The natural antibiotic protects the egg from things like salmonella. If you wash the egg, you wash off the natural antibiotic, opening up the possibility of getting sick. [A friend of mine, Ella, and her husband, Sam, have been planning to open a restaurant. They want to call it Sam'n Ella's. I've advised them to find a different name!]
Before you clean your Henpen, move the hens to a safe place. A dog kennel works great. Give them some fresh water and a little feed to keep them happy.
To clean your Henpen, start with the nesting boxes. Push all the straw (or hay) into the henhouse under the roosts. Then go to the other side of the Henpen and rake all of the wood shavings (and straw) into a bucket. Spread the manure on your compost pile or wherever you need extra fertilizer. (We sell ours!) Spread new wood shavings into the Henpen (under the roosts) and new straw into the nesting boxes (give them plenty of straw). Move the hens back into their fresh Henpen and see how quickly they mess it up!
NOTE…Once every year or so, disinfect your Henpen with bleach. After cleaning out the Henpen, mix one cup of bleach into five cups of water. Spray the entire inside of the henhouse with the mixture. Spray as much of the inside of the run as you can reach. Let it dry with the doors open for no less than 4 hours. Once the bleach smell is gone, return your hens to the Henpen. This is preventative maintenance that can save the lives of your hens. We disinfect our big hen houses this way every time we rotate a flock. A few dollars and a couple of hours of time can save us thousands of dollars in sick or dead birds.
Free-Ranging Your Hens
Hens are natural foragers; they love bugs, worms and grass. They would much rather eat from the buffet in your backyard than the layers pellets you put into their feeders. And frankly, the buffet is far more nutritious than the layers pellets. The higher the protein in their diet the better the eggs they lay.
Eggs from free-ranging hens are chalked full of antioxidants and nutrients. Compare the yoke of a free-range egg to that of grain-fed egg. They’re brighter, firmer and much tastier than their counterparts. Once you’ve had a fresh free-range egg, you’ll never see store bought eggs the same again!
How do you free-range your hens from your Henpen? IF you have a fenced in yard or plenty of space for them to roam, or it your neighbors don’t mind hens scratching in their flower beds and gardens, free-ranging is simple. But…you have to bid your time.
Hens are very habitual birds. They like to roost in the same place every night. They like to lay eggs in the same place every day. So, if you want them to roost in your Henpen every night (where they’re safe) and lay eggs in your Henpen every morning (where you can find them), you have to train them. It’s much easier then you think.
Getting Started. Start free-ranging for only a few hours each day. Don’t give them the whole day…they may forget where home is! If the sun sets at 8:00 in the evening, let them out at 6:30 or 7:00 for a few days. You can sit and watch them forage and scratch. It’s kind of fun. Within a few days they’ll know where home is. Then you won’t have to move your Henpen nearly as much…or clean it out nearly as often.
Don’t let your hens out of the Henpen for two weeks. Move the Henpen from place to place every few days…but don’t let the hens out. Within two weeks they’ll grow accustomed to roosting in the Henpen and laying eggs in the nesting boxes. Then, after two weeks, simply open the gate beneath the henhouse and let them out.
Scratch and Treats
The most commonly-made mistake in caring for your hens is giving them too many treats! Scratch and treats should be given very sparingly. Would you give your children three big pieces of pie half an hour before dinner? Of course not! But, you might
give them one piece after dinner…if they eat all their vegetables. The same practice is good for your hens.
Just like children, hens need plenty protein and vegetables to grow up healthy and strong. What’s worse, if you give your hens too much scratch or treats they’ll stop laying eggs!!! They MUST HAVE protein to produce eggs. Don’t upset the balance by giving them handfuls and handfuls of treats.
Alternative Treats. Give your hens the lettuce leaves or cabbage leaves you would discard. They’d love that spinach and green beans your six-year-old wouldn’t eat. They love hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet. (Well, maybe not Chevrolet…but you get the point.) They can have almost any table scraps. They love worms…worms are, well, meat. So, give them the extra hamburger or rib-eye or whatever meats are left over. (Careful with the fatty stuff.)
My wife likes to cook up an entire box of spaghetti noodles or full rice-cooker full of rice to take to our hens. (But…remember, we’re treating 500 plus hens…not just six! Don’t get carried away!) They come running across the pasture every time we pull up in the truck. They have great memories!!!
I know a teenage girl who owns a Henpen who takes her hens a bowl of Cream of Wheat cereal every morning before she goes to school. Her hens sit on her arm and eat it right out of the bowl! Talk about spoiled!!! They’re the tamest hens I’ve ever seen!
WARNING! Be careful in giving hens scraps that are seasoned or spiced. Garlic, peppers, seasoned salt, onions or any strong flavor will flavor your eggs. So, keep it bland. And, NEVER give your hens uncooked potato peelings. For some reason they can’t digest potato peelings. Imagine what jalapenos would do for your eggs.
What to do it you give them too much scratch or treats. I get two or three calls a month from people who have given their hens too much scratch or treats and now they have no eggs. What to do?
First, stop giving them so many treats. They will be unhappy with you but, like children, they’ll live through it and be all the better for it later. Give them large quantities of protein to balance out all the treats you gave them. The best source of protein is meat. Worms are meat. Dig up some earth worms and throw them to the hens. Cut up some hot dogs and bologna and throw it to them. (They might even think they’re treats!) Do this for two days, then go back to strictly layers mash for a few days. That should put them back into egg-laying mode again.
If you’ve been free-ranging already, it’s not likely they’ll stop laying if you over treat them. But, too many treats leads to fat hens. Fat hens don’t live as long and don’t produce eggs as long.
Hens who are fed only layers pellets and occasional treats can sometimes start laying eggs with brittle or soft shells. The cause of this is a lack of calcium in their diet. Free-range hens rarely have this problem. Hard shelled bugs (like ladybugs and beetles) are full of calcium so the hens get all they need from the bugs. I supplement my hens’ diet with oyster shell. It’s cheap and easy to use. Put it in the henhouse next to the clean out door as a free choice food. They’ll instinctively know when they need it and go get it.
Another important supplement for hens is grit. What is grit? Grit is gravel. That’s right! Hens eat rocks! If they’re free-ranging they’re probably finding all the grit they need while they forage for food. We supplement ours anyway. We put ground granite in the henhouse next to the oyster shell. It’s a free choice food and they’ll eat it as they feel they need it.
This is probably a good place to say a word or two about medicine. We market our eggs as “All Natural” eggs. So, we would never give our hens anything that isn’t all natural. However, we’re not cruel enough to just let a hen die if she gets sick.
We have found an All Natural oil remedy that works very well. It’s called VetRx. You can get it at almost any farm supply store. I know Southern States carries it. It’s a mixture of natural oils. Whenever a hen gets sick our first response is VetRx. We pull her out of the flock and put her in the “hospital” in my wood shop. We drop three or four drops into her beak each day for a few days. They usually recover and are returned to the flock.
However, if she doesn’t get well, we inject her with 1 cc of Tylan 50 each day for a few days. If she recovers now we cannot return her to the flock because she is no longer “All Natural.” We nurse these hens back to health and sell them to a fellow who has a large flock of hens that are not “All Natural.” She goes on laying eggs and living a happy life on his farm.
I hope you enjoy your small flock of hens and the eggs they produce as much as we do. I hope I’ve covered all of the basics…but, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to answer your questions to the best of our ability. We’re available two ways:
On the net at: www.RoosterHillFarms.net
Or by e-mail at: Randy@RoosterHillFarms.net
I’d love to hear from you about how your Henpen is working out for you. And…PLEASE send pictures. Thanks.