If you have decided to keep a few hens, these pointers may help you in your choice.
*To find a local breeder, ask henkeeping friends first - personal recommendation is always best.
*The poultry press {Practical Poultry & Smallholder} have excellent sections in the back of the magazine listing breeders by county.
*Feed merchants and vets often have notice boards where breeders advertise.
*We don't recommend buying via the internet or buying from markets. It's important to see the birds in their own environment.
*Always visit the breeder's set up, checking general health, cleanliness and management of poultry.
*Check the birds on offer, for bright eyes, stance {head and tails up} and shiny feathers.
*Young birds at point-of-lay {POL} at 20 -24 weeks will have pink combs and wattles until they start to lay.
*Check between the feathers for buggies, and make sure legs are smooth and clean, any raised scales may denote a parasite called scaly leg.

*Most chicks are hatched from springtime onwards, so will be available six months later. Most breeders appreciate an early order.
*If you are buying your first hens, you can buy them from 12 weeks old - provided the breeder is confident of their sex. If you already have hens, all newcomers must be fully grown in order to hold their own.
*We don't recommend beginners buy their birds as chicks.

The more research and knowledge you gather before buying, the more confident you are, the more you'll enjoy keeping poultry. We suggest you attend a course, or buy a book or DVD on the subject.


*The Dancover range of shelters - prices start at �150, see Products section.

*The Interhatch catalogue features a range of free-standing foldaway frames and nets, see Products section.

*If your flock has to be kept undercover and are not used to being confined, these tips may make life a little easier:
1. Make life as interesting as possible, add half cabbages, hung greenery and even move your garden compost heap into the area for them to scratch through.
2. Remember, if you keep a cockerel with your hens, the breeding season has started. If he is over-enthusiastic and they can't escape his attentions, it is advisable to keep him separate, but within sight. A wire separation is best.
3. Keep an eye open for bullying and put perpetrators in a similar separate area.
4. Talking to your birds quietly and giving them extra treats will make this change in their lifestyle as painless as possible.
5. Free-range birds will be missing greenery and grit. Add pans of soil and greenery.
6. Make a dustbathing site in their run, using sandpit sand or woodash.

*If your birds are disinclined to roost in their house, are looking pale or their eggs are covered in small blood spots. The cause will probably be minute red mites that can seriously affect their health and well being. These insects live in cracks in the wood, feed on birds at night and can be detected by running a gloved finger along the perch. Treatments can be found on the PRODUCTS page, should be used immediately and repeated as prescribed.

*The Defra website poultry advice line 0800 634 1112 gives a comprehensive list of dos and don�ts on general poultry run hygiene. Not all seem practicable by the average garden henkeeper with a few birds, but it is worth sharpening up your management techniques.

*It makes sense to remember obvious hygiene precautions such as hand washing, and wearing disposable rubber gloves when handling birds, especially if you are amongst the minority who are involved in culling, plucking, drawing and eating their hens - the most infectious procedures.

*You can protect the main feeding/drinking station against wild birds by feeding undercover, though free range hens feed and forage throughout the day in the garden. Don�t stop feeding wild birds, put your bird table in a spot as that is inaccessible to your flock and as far away as possible from your run. Clear away any unfinished food, especially at night and place in a metal dustbin with a metal lid. Changing feeding times can dis-orientate wild birds, but will upset your flock as well.

*Plan an area where you could keep your birds undercover fulltime should Defra insist. If you have barns, outhouses or sheds, you could replace windows or doors with netted panels � choose a small mesh that will exclude all birds. A disused greenhouse frame, polytunnel or fruit cage would also be ideal, as long as there is plenty of shade and ventilation � again by replacing glass or plastic with net see Product section for suppliers.

*A large run can be covered with netting, by placing tall fencing poles at intervals in the central area and draping netting over and onto the perimeter fencing. Re-enforce the sections that are in direct contact with the poles by adding a circular double or triple layer of netting. Garden centres sell large nets to protect ponds from falling leaves.
    Dislodge snow and fallen leaves, and watch out for entangled wild birds.

*Keep your flock at a manageable size that won't be too confined under cover. More than 6-8 birds together become stressed and those at the bottom of the pecking order get bullied. Think seriously whether you need to hatch out many chicks this year, unless you have separate areas for each small flock. Make especially sure that any new birds you buy in come from impeccable stock, and quarantine them from your flock for a week.

*Your flock are probably currently kept in ideal stress-free conditions, with plenty of space, good food and hopefully have the sort of constitutions and immunities that will help fight off disease. All birds adapt to change slowly, if you have to make alterations to their routine or living conditions, do so gradually over several days if you can, and then they�ll hardly notice. We will offer more advice on keeping birds undercover, if and when necessary.

*If the worst comes to the worst and you suspect avian flu in your flock or you find dead wild birds, CALL YOUR VET. Visible symptoms to look out for in hens: bluish combs and wattles and breathing problems � though these problems could be indications of other serious illnesses.

*Please remember that advice on this website is given in good faith and no liability can be accepted by The Henkeepers� Association for suggested treatments. For medical advice, call your vet.

*To find a vet that specializes in poultry, phone the British Veterinary Association
0207 2222 001
If you have a vet that has treated your birds successfully, please let us know.

CJ Hall Veterinary Proctice in East Sheen London SW14 specialize in Avian medicne, contact them on 0208 876 96 96, or visit their website

In Newnarket, Lida Vets on 01638 560 000.

*To find a homeopathic vet near you, visit

* An article in Poultry World May advocates the use of Llamas as fox prevention, their scent deters foxes and hens get on very well with them. We have members who would concur.

*For advice on fox predation, consult the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust 01425 652 381 -
While all efforts are made to check out reported information, the Henkeepers’ Association
cannot be held responsible for advice which later proves to be incorrect.