Keeping hens

...In middle age





...Table chickens

...Rearing program

...- Quality

...Multiplying chickens

...- Incubator

Most egg production in Britain comes from battery hens.

The birds are kept in small individual wire cages. Their food and drink arrive automatically and often the eggs are collected by a conveyor system. Owners of battery houses generally claim that their birds are healthy, cheerful and enjoy being fed without any effort and are happily producing a daily egg in return. Be that as it may, there is still a lot of strong feeling against keeping chickens this way and it appears that a return to earlier production methods which are more extensive would please a large sector of the public.

Some battery houses have been converted to a system that is similar to systems that were widely used some ten to twenty years ago. Hens have free movement within an enclosed building, are kept on dry litter and are provided with food, water and electric light as needed. They can perch and lay their eggs in nesting-boxes. To make this system more extensive, access can be given via 'bolt holes' to a paddock outside the hut. This is often referred to as an aviary system. If there are two paddocks they can be used alternately. This lowers worm-transference and gives the birds access to fresh grass and insects. The next stage in extending the chickens' freedom is to remove the paddock wire and allow them 'free range'. You have to be quite careful with stocking rates as chickens can decimate an area if stocked too heavily. If you have several hen-houses and want to free range, you must position them some distance apart so that the birds develop their own territories and do not all return to one house at night.

Free-range birds definitely require more looking after if you want to keep your flock intact you must check that none are left out at night and that all the 'bolt holes' are closed. Creatures other than chickens can use them! There are time-clock and light-sensitive systems that will close the holes but of course they do not count the chickens. If you have quite a lot of land and abundant labour, you can have yet another system. A hen-house of 50 birds on an acre will glean what it can without affecting other crops a 10-acre field could carry 500 hens as a bonus crop. However, as that field will no doubt carry a fox, stoat, rat and mink population, quite a lot of ingenuity is required to outwit them. Obviously electric light is out with this system so you have to use storm-lights or an equivalent.