Hens in the garden
By Birgitte Hasholt, horticulture-enthusiast and blogger.
Sun, air, shadow and shelter are beside water and feed worth their weight in gold for hens. You can find it all in the garden and the horticulture life fits perfectly with a bunch of hens. When the hens have moved in, you get blessed with organic eggs for the kitchen and hen manure for the flower beds.
Dry and dense
Hens can be kept both in the city and country. It is important that the hen house is free from humidity and draught. On the other hand, there is no need to worry about temperature. Hens tolerate down to -20 degrees and manage fine in a house that is not insulated. The hen house can be built from wood or bricks – maybe you already have an addition to the house or an annexe you can use as a hen house.
Light in the dark
Being able to turn on a light in the hen house is an advantage. It is, of course, practical being able to see when you go in there early morning or after nightfall. But the light is also a prerequisite for the hens to lay eggs during the winter half-year. The hens need at least 8 hours of light for them to eat enough to have the energy to lay eggs. If you want to avoid the break in laying eggs you can adjust the light with the hours of the day. If you use a timer for the light during winter, you will get eggs all year round. Another advantage of having power in the hen house is that you can keep the water frost-free with a water heater when it’s really cold.
Photo: Kim Ahm
From the hen house, the hens need to be able to get out in the open. They need to dig in the ground and take dust baths to keep the plumage fine. Every poultry needs at least 10 square feet outside the hen run; if you give the hens more room or let then run free in the garden, they will be happy. Inside the hen house, they manage with less than 10 square feet but remember to put up bird perches 20 – 27 inches above the ground for then hens to sleep on.
Lightweight or heavy hens
There’s a big difference in which hens you choose for your garden. Lightweight breeds can be more flighty than medium or heavyweight breeds. The agile hens need a roofed hen run so they can’t fly away. A hen run with wire netting dug 12 inches into the ground and also covering the roof offers more protection for the hens. Martens, foxes, rats and raptors may visit the hens. If they can get in, dig under or land on top it can have serious consequences and spoil the joy of having hens.
Lightweight hen-breeds lay lots of eggs. Heavy fleshy breeds lay fewer eggs: they are meant for the casserole. Heavy or medium weight hens fit well if you want them to be a nice addition to the garden. They are amiable and sweet and easily tamed. Furthermore, the heavy hens dig less in the flower beds than the energetic lightweight hens. You can find most hen breeds in bigger sizes or as a bantam. Bantams are excellent if the garden is small.
Hens reduce the waste of food because they eat the kitchen waste like bread, rice and pasta, which of course should not be rotten. Hens also eat freshly cut grass, weeds and the carrots, beetroots, salat and cabbage you do not serve for dinner. Whichever leftovers from the garden the hens will eat. The waste will be eaten and transformed into eggs and manure which will give luxuriant beds. In this way, the hens will include in a sound ecosystem and the eggs will taste better because the feed is varied and includes lots of greens.
Photo: Kim Ahm
As basic feed, the hens should get special feed to increase the laying of eggs and corn. The hens’ absolute favourite food is wheat, but they also eat oat and barley. The hens need access to lime in the form of seashells to make better eggshells. The hens eat grit, sand and pebbles to grind the corn in their gizzard.
Hens make a mess in the hen house but if you clean it sometimes it won’t become an inconvenience. Littler of wood chips or grit will cover the floor in the hen house. It is easy to gather manure with a rake if the litter is grit, also it’s easy to muck out in wood chips, even though hens ceaselessly shit, the wood chips will keep the floor dry.
Hen manure benefits compost because it increases decomposition. It’s also a good fertilizer. Roses love hen manure, but the proportion needs to be carefully measured no matter where you fertilize. Hen manure is a strong fertilizer which contains a lot of nitrogen, so you need to leave it for a couple of months before using it in the garden. You should not use more than 2.2 pounds per 10 square feet. Hen manure should be mixed into the soil, so the nitrogen doesn’t vaporise and the vegetables that are eaten raw won’t get polluted. You can also dissolve hen manure and use it as a liquid fertilizer in beds and pots – make sure not to target the plant’s leaves.
Chicks the natural way
A mother hen in the garden with her chicks is one of the cutest things you can experience. If you have a cock, naturally he will be the father of the chicks. If you don’t have a cock, you can buy hatching eggs from a place with a cock and then put it under a broody hen. It takes approximately 21 days for a hen to hatch out eggs, and she needs to lay in a quiet place away from the rest of the hens. You can also carefully place day-old chicks under a broody hen. If you do it at night when it has darkened the hen will gladly accept the little ones.
Rules of hens
In areas that are district planned and in urban areas there can be rules and regulations that need to be obeyed. Contact your district office if in doubt. If you have neighbours, it is always a good idea to inform them that you intend to keep hens. You can keep cocks in the country, but it might be forbidden in urban areas.
Birgitte Hasholt is a speaker, author and horticulture-enthusiast
Om Nanna Stærmose
Nanna is the Danish writer of many of the articles in the Greenhouse Forum.
Nanna visits happy greenhouse owners and tells their stories about basic cultivation, but also those stories that are more oblique.