This is how the poultry feels good
If you want to keep your own chickens privately, you need one thing above all: space. In daily care, the animals are relatively undemanding, but in order to enable the poultry to lead a species-appropriate and natural life, there are a few things to consider in advance. Here you will find the basics of keeping chickens for beginners.
What is there to consider when keeping chickens? – Image: Shutterstock / TaFaN
In theory, if you keep your own chickens you can eat meat and eggs from animals in your garden – or simply enjoy the presence of cackling garden dwellers, who have personalities just as varied as dogs or cats.
What do you need to keep chickens in a species-appropriate manner?
The checklist for species-appropriate and natural chicken husbandry includes:
- enough space
- balanced feed
- clean water
- sheltered places to sleep and lay eggs
- a lot of exercise
- Sandy areas for dust bathing
- regular vaccinations
- posture in groups
- at least 15 to 20 minutes each day
How many chickens can and should you keep?
Chickens are very social creatures, which is why keeping them in a species-appropriate manner requires a group size of at least three animals. The answer to the question: “Can you keep a chicken alone?” is therefore quite clear: No! How many chickens you can actually keep depends largely on the space available – more on that below.
Can you keep chickens without a rooster?
Of course, hens are happiest when they are able to engage in the full range of social interactions – classically this includes a rooster courting the hens, luring them to feed and standing guard while the eggs are being laid. If you have the opportunity, you should definitely put a rooster in the group.
If this is not possible, for example because the neighbors in the residential area do not tolerate crowing in the morning, the chickens can have a happy, species-appropriate life even without male group members. As a rule, a dominant hen takes over the management tasks of the missing rooster – sometimes to the point that she even crows or mounts her fellow hens.
How much space do you need to keep chickens?
The natural and species-appropriate chicken husbandry needs one thing above all: space! Exactly how much space you need depends on the number of animals and sometimes also on the breed – bantams, for example, need a little less space than large breeds. As a rough estimate, however, at least 10 square meters per chicken should be available as exercise space. Depending on the size of the group, a few square meters are added for the chicken coop.
The run-out area should be grassy and lined with bushes and trees and have a dry shelter. In the completely open sky, the animals feel rather uncomfortable. A protective net is essential to keep birds of prey away.
In order to keep chickens in a species-appropriate manner, you should have at least 70 square meters of garden available. Keeping a chicken on the balcony or in the apartment would be sheer cruelty to animals.
What should the chicken coop be like?
Above all, the henhouse must meet the following requirements:
- enough space
- well ventilated, without drafts
- warm (at least 5 °C also in winter)
- thick, well-insulated walls
- natural places to sleep
- species-appropriate nests
- Perches for restful sleep
- feed silo
The more chickens you keep, the larger the barn needs to be: with three animals, one square meter is the minimum, with ten animals at least three square meters and 20 chickens should have at least eight square meters available.
There are now chicken coops available as cheap prefabricated houses – however, these are often not the best choice to protect your chickens from robbers and the winter cold.
Mucking out has to be done at least once a week so that the house should be easily accessible or openable from above.
Can you keep chickens with other animals?
Different breeds of chickens usually get along well with each other. However, one should try to avoid forcing phlegmatic and belligerent races into a group.
Keeping them together with other poultry such as geese or ducks is difficult: the waterfowl pollute the chickens’ drinking water and also tend to bite the smaller feathered animals.
Guinea pigs, rabbits and the like are also not species-appropriate and natural companionship for chickens: the furry housemates can suffer serious injuries from the pecking behavior of the chickens.
Where do you get chickens from?
There are two ways to start keeping chickens: you contact a poultry farmer, or you rescue a discarded laying hen from the slaughterhouse and give her a peaceful home. After a recovery period, the feathers grow back and they are just as pretty as their non-egg industry counterparts. Various non-profit associations provide such chickens.
Legislation on keeping chickens
Chickens are considered small animals and can usually be kept in residential areas as a hobby. However, keeping chickens is often prohibited in new development areas and allotment gardens.
How many chickens you are allowed to keep privately depends a bit on the regional regulations – but fewer than 20 animals are usually not a legal problem as long as the neighbors cooperate. These are usually more disturbed by the crowing of a rooster in the morning than by the clucking of hens. If such a dispute goes to court, crowing times are usually set that are hardly feasible in reality.
Chickens are notifiable, which means that you have to register your poultry with the animal disease fund and the veterinary office – starting with the very first animal! It’s free for hobbyists.
You also have an obligation to vaccinate: every three months you have to vaccinate against Newcastle Disease (atypical avian influenza) and annually against bird disease. The costs for this are manageable and the vaccination is confirmed by the veterinarian.
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