Keeping Hens

In episode 1 of series 2 GROW COOK EAT, we look at how you can keep hens in your back garden. You don't even need that much space!

Most back gardens can support a couple of laying hens to give you fresh, delicious and nutritious home-reared eggs.  GIY’s Michael Kelly has been keeping a flock of hens in his garden in Dunmore for nearly 15 years, and his 12-year old son now sells the eggs in an honesty box at their gate!  

In episode 1 you will meet Nicky (Michael Kellys son) who shows us what life is like keeping hens. Nicky is a seasoned hen keeper at this stage and gives us some great tips on how to keep hens easily in your back garden. 

Keeping some hens in your garden is the ultimate sustainable food production system. The pooh-covered straw from their house goes on the compost heap – the nitrogen-rich compost is then added to the veg patch to improve the soil for growing vegetables. These vegetables then make their way back in to the house (with the eggs) to feed the humans, who turn them in to scraps that are fed back to the hens.

Having your own fresh eggs allows you to produce an entire meal from your veg patch with relative ease. A supremely tasty homegrown lunch or supper can be whisked up in minutes using just a couple of eggs and some fresh herbs or greens from the garden.

The basic requirements for hen housing is that it should be mobile (so you can move it around the garden), secure (so you can lock it at night), weather-proof and ventilated.

Hens roost at night which means they like being up off the ground for safety (historically, they would have roosted in trees) – so the house needs to have a perch for them to sleep on (about 8 inches up off the floor). They will snuggle in close to each other on the perch.

The house also needs a nesting box for them to lay their eggs in, usually first thing in the morning. The nesting box should be as private as possible – they like a bit of privacy to do their business. We line the nesting box with straw. A hen will scratch a little ‘well’ in the straw before she settles down to lay. The straw helps to keep the eggs clean.

Chickens do half their droppings at night and they are prodigious poopers. So, put a layer of newspaper and wood shavings on the ground (the brand we use is Comfy Bed which is for horses). It’s really important to clean the house out once a week. It’s a gross job but very necessary to keep your hens healthy. All of the pooh-covered newspaper and bedding goes on the compost heap – it’s complete dynamite.

Thinking about keeping your own hens? Join Michael at GROW HQ for a morning to talk through the basics of keeping hens and meet celebrity hens Thelma & Louise from Episode 1 of GROW COOK EAT! Book Here.

Also, if you are thinking about keeping hens of your own, you should look at adopting or rescuing. Rescue Hens are hens that come from large-scale commercial egg-laying flocks.  Typically these hens are 1 – 2 years old and are considered to be past their ‘commercial viability’.  The thing is, they are usually still laying eggs really well, but just not as well as the commercial flock owners would like. You can adopt from lots of places in Ireland. Here are a few we have found: 

Farm Fowl

Little Hill Animal Rescue