Help & advice

Find the answers to your poultry questions

Below you will find the answers to a selection of questions we are often asked. If you still can't find the answer to your question we're on hand to provide you with all the help and advice you need. Just fill in the form below and we will drop you an email.

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Question: I’m getting some hens soon and want to get everything ready, I’ve read all the books on hen keeping and I’m so confused on what to feed them. They will be kept in a run 25ftx 40ft with plenty of things for them to do. Also there are so many lotions and potions on the market how do I know what to use? Very excited but confused!

Answer: If your girls are over 18 weeks old, then they will need layers feed of some sort. This comes in either pellets, mash/meal or crumbs; the form that you use is entirely up to your personal preference. Personally, I alternate between pellets and crumbs to give them some variety, and use the Smallholder Range - they also make the Allen & Page organic range if you prefer to farm organically.

If you have ex-battery hens then you might like to feed them on their BHWT ex-batts feed - this contains extra nutrients to support their unique needs.

There are various supplements that you can add to the feed for various benefits; garlic powder for general health, Bokashi Bran for improved digestion and limestone flour for harder egg shells for example.

I always add a tonic to their water though - that really keeps them in tip-top condition and ensures a steady flow of good quality, hard-shelled eggs. One good piece of advice is to always use good quality products such as those from Net Tex, NAF and The Smallholder Group - you will reap the benefits. What you put into your hen is exactly what you’ll get out!

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Question: I hope to start keeping chickens in my back garden but I can’t find anywhere that says how much space they need. I would need to keep them in a run for most of the time while I’m at work but would let them out as soon as I am home and at the weekends.

Answer: The number of hens you can keep is mostly restricted by the size of the run and the amount of time when they can free range. The accepted norm is to allow a square metre of run space per bird, and always be aware that overcrowding will lead to pecking and bullying. Chickens will always squash up at night and you can fit quite a few into a house that size, so the size of the house isn't as crucial as the size of the run. As a guide the hen will take up a hand span width on the perch at night.

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Question: I have ex-battery hens and the hens that I've had for 17 months have either stopped laying or are laying eggs with very thin shells. They have Life-guard and Poultry Spice every day, they have access to grit and oyster shell, are fed layers mash and pellets (although still prefer mash). My main concern is the thin shelled eggs as I don't want them becoming egg bound or getting peritonitis if I can at all avoid it. Any suggestions?

Answer: Glad to hear that you've rescued some ex-batts!

Unfortunately, the enforced laying that was part of their previous life often causes them to have egg-tackle problems in later life. Shell gland exhaustion/problems are quite common I'm afraid.

You're doing the right thing with the supplements, may I make a suggestion though? Add a light drizzle of cod liver oil (NAF makes a good one) to their pellets; the vitamin D in this will increase their absorption of calcium. You may also find that Limestone Flour is easier for them to absorb calcium from than oyster shell.

They may like the new Ex-batt BHWT crumbs made by the Smallholder group - these are slightly less powdery than mash and packed full of goodies to boost an ex-batt girl. I suspect that these may only help a little, as the problem is more mechanical. Ex-batts are the most rewarding of hens to own, but unfortunately, you have to be prepared for the baggage that they come with. I hope that they improve and continue to lay for a while longer.

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Question: My beautiful hens have started to lose some of their feathers round their vent area, around their legs and some on their chest. I wondered if they would be moulting but thought it might be too early for them to do this?

Answer: It's unusual for hens to moult at this time of year, so there could be one of a few causes:

  1. Are all of the hens losing feathers, or just one of them? If you have one or two fully feathered hens and the rest of them are losing their 'clothes', then it is likely that you have a couple of feather-pullers; these will be the clothed hens! It is important to stop this habit before it escalates into cannibalism, I would recommend fitting the bullies with bumper bits to stop them pulling the feathers out. Fitting bits is a two person job, the hen will hate you for 20 minutes, then resume life without being able to peck feathers out.
  2. You may find that they have a lice or mite infestation; this will cause them to pull out their own feathers to alleviate the itching. Check in their fluff around the vent for small crawly critters, if they are infested, you will need to treat it by bathing them (only do this on a warm day) in a 10% solution of Poultry Shield before drying them off and spraying with something like Johnson's Anti-Mite Spray *this product is not licensed for use on poultry in the UK, but many vets recommend using it - you will need to withdraw the eggs from human consumption for 7 days after use*. You will need to spray again 7 days later. If your hens tend to get infested, then it might be worth asking your vet to recommend one of the spot-on preventative products. If you find that they have little crawly visitors, then be sure to treat the housing as well.
  3. Normal summer mini-moult; most hens will shed their tummy feathers in the summer in a bid to cool down. I have a few in my flock, who are oven-ready underneath. No need to worry about this, just feed them up on a little extra protein and some Life-Guard in the water and they will be fine as soon as it cools off.
  4. Inadequate nutrition; if the hens are being fed a lot of scraps, they won't be getting enough nutrients to make eggs and grow feathers, they will usually either stop laying or lose feathers. If this is the cause, then cut right back on treats and make sure that they eat only layers pellets or mash as their main diet.

To encourage the bald hens to re-feather, you will need to up the amount of protein in their diet. Live or dried mealworms are excellent for this, as is the new Smallholder's ex-batts feed.

I hope that this helps you.

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Question: One of my flock is very lethargic and tends to spend most of her day sunning herself and is always first to bed. She had a runny bottom so I wormed them with Flubenvet, she was ok before worming so I’m thinking this might have upset her system? I don’t want her to affect the others so was going to take her to the vet. Is there anything you could suggest before taking her? She is a White Star and is over 3 years old.

Answer: I am glad to hear that she has been wormed recently as that's my first suggestion for a hen with a runny bum; did you repeat the dose a week later? You need to do this for it to be effective. Chickens eat so much rubbish when they free range that it's surprising they don't have more tummy problems!

Normal chicken poo should be firm and brown with a white cap, every 7th poo or so will be yellow and frothy - this is a caecal gland emptying. Your description of her faeces sounds as if she has some sort of digestive upset, so before spending time and money on a vet I'd suggest the following, to correct the balance of bacteria in her gut:

  • Feed pellets only and no treats
  • Mix natural live yoghurt with Bokashi Bran (available from online shop) and feed that once a day (she will love it)
  • Use Apple Cider Vinegar and Avipro in the water (both available from Cotswold Chickens as above)

A few days on this regime usually sorts out any problems, but if she's not right then a visit to the vet, with a faecal sample will be necessary.

The best Apple Cider Vinegar to use is the 'live' one sold by horse feed suppliers rather than the sort you buy from the supermarket, which has been pasteurised.

A 3 year old hen is doing very well and I hope that she enjoys a long and happy retirement with you. Once she is feeling better, may I suggest a high protein diet with lots of live meal worms, she will also benefit tremendously from using Life-Guard tonic in her water every day.

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Question: We’re getting hens next weekend but the problem is I want the Goldline and my husband wants the Amber Lee, is it ok to mix the breeds or will they fight?

Answer: As long as you get them all at the same time then they will sort themselves out, whether you have 5 of the same breed or all mixed they will sort out the pecking order themselves. Whoever is boss the first day may not be boss the next day, it’s best to leave them to sort it out between them. If you have one particularly dominant pullet and she is causing real trouble then we will always replace her within the first week.

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Question: Hello, I have been battling the dreaded red mite again this summer. Tried powder, frontline under wings, washing out everything with copious amounts of water - but still the pesky things return. How on earth do I get rid of them?

Answer:The mite and lice situation is particularly bad this year - the warm damp spring (and summer!) has meant that wild birds are infested and bringing them into the garden to affect your flock too. Unfortunately, those with wooden housing are particularly badly affected, and because the housing has more nooks and crannies, it is harder to eradicate.

You are doing all the right things, but I wonder whether you are repeating any treatment a week later so as to break the mite lifecycle:

  • Housing:
    With wooden housing, you will need to strip it down and scrub with Poultry Shield cleaner to kill the mites (every week). If you can let it dry in the sunshine, then that's an advantage as that kills any mites. Filling the cracks and painting with something to seal the wood does help, but you will need some alternative housing while it airs, so as not to asphyxiate your flock. Total Mite spray  will actually kill red mites, so spray this into every corner. I'd also advise stripping off the felt roof if it has one and replacing it with Onduline; the mites will actually take refuge under the felt and you will probably find loads under it.
  • Birds:
    Red mites mostly live in the housing, but some will remain on the bird after a night of feeding so using a spot on remedy (on the skin at the back of the neck, rather than under the wings) is good as it will kill any mites that feed on the birds. Be aware that if you are using this on your laying hens, then you vet will have advised that you withdraw any eggs from human consumption for 7 days from dosing. Johnson's Anti-Mite Spray (*not licensed for use on poultry in the UK, but lots of vets recommend it*) is also very good for spraying birds and housing, but be sure to repeat the treatment after a week and keep it away from cats.

The mites will make your birds anaemic, will slow down their egg production and can even kill them so make sure that they get plenty of protein (meal worms are good for this) and add some sort of tonic to their water.

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Question: I think my girls might have scaly leg mite, how will I know if it is this and how can I treat it?

Answer: Scaly leg is caused by mites, which are transferred by wild birds, they burrow under the chicken's leg scales and cause a lot of irritation. The scales will lift away from the leg, take on a pearly sheen, and you will see a thick, crusty exude under the scales.

There are a lot of old fashioned remedies for this, but by far the most effective is to use Johnson's Anti-Mite Spray (available from pet shops, not licensed for use on poultry in the UK, but recommended by most vets). Spray your bird's legs twice, a week apart to break the life cycle of the mites.

Please note that the active ingredient in the spray is toxic to cats. Vets will recommend egg withdrawal of a week after treatment. There is also a new Net Tex product out which is good at killing the mite and softening the scales.

The scales will remain raised until the bird moults them off; please don't be tempted to pick at them as this will cause a wound and soreness. The legs will improve, but never look pristine again.

Mite infestations can leave your bird anaemic, so I'd recommend adding some sort of tonic to their water.

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