First and foremost in your mind should be that they are live creatures and need your assistance to stay alive. They would be better off in a battery cage if you do not look after them properly, at least there they would be in the dry, safe from predators and fed properly.

It’s that simple; don’t get them if you cannot give them a life free from hunger, thirst and a decent house to live in. They aren’t toys and cannot be ignored when the novelty wears off.

Before you get the birds, the first thing you need is housing.

Google ‘poultry coops’ and you will be bored before you get through the hits it throws up, as over the last couple of years everybody and his Grandad seems to be knocking up hen runs. Most of them are crap as far as a chicken is concerned.

The more nooks and crannies a coop has, the more places there are for the dreaded RED MITE to hide. I know I keep banging on about these little buggers, but if you ever get them in your birds you will know why I am so against them.

You should look for a coop that is easy to get into and clean, as you will regret it later when you’re bent double trying to scrape the crap out. Trust me on this — been there, done that.

If it comes as a flat-pack before you put it together give it a couple of coats of creosote and let it soak into every crack and crevice.

You will need to let it dry off a bit (well, creosote never totally dries out) give it at least a week to cure.

RED MITE will not live in the cracks if it’s treated with creosote. Because some muppet decided that it could kill us if we drank it, they have stopped the sale of proper job creosote (except to farmers) but substitute creosote will still deter them.

Unless you have a large area where you can move the coop around for the birds to enjoy a fresh bit to destroy, put them on a slabbed area and clean it off when it needs it.

I would not consider using wood chippings or shavings in an outside run, as they make a right mess and have to be got rid of, unless you have a compost area. I favor sharp sand (not the fine red builders sand) It is free draining and can be raked over and the dirty sand can be put on the garden.

So having set yourself up with the right coop you will need the right birds.

Buy the best birds you can afford. Quality stock will produce quality stock (probably).

I have about 300, give or take a few, at this time of the year. It’s the part of the year when all the youngsters that I have bred this year are maturing into adulthood — POL (point of lay) pullets or in the case of the cockerels ‘freezer time’, well, most of them. I pick out the very best and use them for breeding. So around October/November is a good time to buy, as breeders will be looking to unload some spare ones before winter properly sets in.

Don’t just buy any old rubbish.Find a breeder that has some quality stock and arrange a visit and have a look what he/she has to offer.

As for price, I work my prices on an egg being about £2.

After it’s been in the incubator for 21 days (large fowl) or 18 days for a bantam, I charge £3.50  for unsexed day olds,as by then it, and its fellow hatchmates are under a lamp that costs about £9 (250wt) a week to run plus feed. I never sell any until they are ‘off heat’ (fully feathered up) anyway.

After they hatch I add £1 a week, so by the time they are POL they are about 21-25 weeks and cost around £20 each for a pullet and about half of that for a cockerel.

I breed ‘pedigree poultry’ in as much as I know exactly which bird was bred from which pen and I know what that pen of birds was bred from way back in the strain or line. I know what they will lay and I can be sure of what youngsters they will breed. It’s the same as any line bred animal or bird.

If you are interested in a breed, do a bit of online research to give you a better idea of what your looking for. An example should be if you’re looking at quality Light Sussex all the birds should look the same, the same markings and the same conformation etc.

If the breeder goes off on one about how ‘the birds won this, that or the other at major shows’, ask him to sell you the birds that produced the winning chickens, as the bird that won more than likely will never produce winning birds themselves. To produce winners (if you are intending to go a step forwards with your birds) you have to know what 2 birds paired together will produce and tweak the breeding here and there to get a good red card winner.

This is of course assuming your interest will grow, and it usually does. I cannot begin to explain the amount of pleasure keeping chickens brings me. It’s loads of hard work in all sorts of weather, as before everything else the livestock comes first and must be attended to.

As well as the coop, your shopping list should have:

  • A font type water drinker.
  • A hanging feeder.
  • A grit container.
  • Mixed corn.
  • Cider apple vinegar (The type sold as horse supplement, not the clear stuff from Asda, Morrisons or Tesco.)
  • Cod liver oil.

and fresh greens as available, not to much and never left to go stale. Once they have had a go at it, remove what’s left.

You don’t need any thing else really, all these tonics and chicken pellets are not necessary, just give them a balanced diet that birds such as poultry have been eating for years before they came up with all the convenience feeds and ‘must give your chickens this or they will die’ rubbish. The number of companies now selling tonics and other such nonsence to soft hearted keepers is rising all the time. I know people like to pamper their pets, so theres no harm in it I suppose but money wasted in my opinion.

If you want to give them a treat, dribble a tiny amount of cod liver oil on some small bits of wholemeal bread crust.

If you give them half an hour with you when your digging the ground over, this would give the birds more pleasure than poultry spice and the like.

Feed Mix

The Cider apple vineger is used in the water, just a teaspoonfull in a litre of fresh water — ongoing.

The Cod liver oil I dribble on a corn feed,  just enough to make the grains glisten about every other feed and in winter every feed when the light levels are low –liquid sunshine and full of vitamins A and D.

As for needing grass, I would suggest digging an odd clump up and giving it to the birds soil and all. They will spend quality time ripping it to bits.In winter when there is no grass spinach and Cabbage is ok, but do not give them to much.