A bit of a departure for me here – but I get asked questions about chickens more often than anything else. And I always try to reply to people, and these replies often duplicate each other because people ask me the same thing… so here it is, distilled into one post – my top 5 beginners’ tips for keeping chickens. There are lots more than five, but things would get too long. So I’ll write another post if enough people read this one.

Print this out and share it with your potentially chicken-keeping friends. They will thank you for it, and give you eggs.

Tip 1 – chickens just get on with it.

I mean, I know we worry about feeding them and stuff, and we’re probably right to – but essentially, as long as they’ve got something to eat and something to drink, and somewhere to hang out in, they’re quite happy pecking around and doing their own thing. Honestly – they can live with that water that’s left from yesterday. They’re chickens. So don’t worry if you’re occasionally going to be too busy in the morning to perform the full maid service.

Tip 2 – what do chickens eat? Everything.

Frankly, there is only one thing that chickens don’t eat. That’s chicken food. Everything else you put out for them will be devoured. Chickens are the piranha fish of the bird community, and will attack anything that looks vaguely edible with a frightening enthusiasm. If you want them to eat their chicken food then don’t put anything else out for them until later. And even then, they’ll probably hold off on the stuff that’s good for them, and give you a bit of a look. It’s a game of wills.

Tip 3 – no really, what do chickens eat?

Er – well, I basically give them everything out of the fridge that’s gone out of date, all the scrapings off the plates (if there are any) and anything else that happens to be lying around. (They love cheese rind, and bacon fat is an all-time favourite). You’re not meant to feed them meat if you’re selling their eggs – but this is more to do with combatting evil battery soylent-green type operations than dictating to a man with a couple of chickens. They eat ants. Ants are meat.

Thinking about it, my chickens don’t like red peppers, mushrooms or carrots. And it goes without saying that you should perhaps not feed them chicken. They love left-over Chinese takeaway, sweetcorn and spaghetti. Watching chickens eat spaghetti is one of the great pleasures in life.

Tip 4 – get cheap straw.

Do not go to the pet shop for your straw (or indeed anything else). It is financial suicide. Pet shops are for buying parrots in, and wheels for your hamster. Go to your nearest farm and ask politely if you can buy a bale of the stuff. They are farmers, and will have some, and will want to sell it to you, as they’re self-employed and you will probably give them cash. Then lob it in the boot (or put it on the roof-rack of your Smart Car, if you are an Eglu owner) and it’ll last you for months.

Edit! – Nik in the comments points out that shredded paper is an excellent free straw substitute, if you have a shredder, and some paper.

Tip 5 – build a chicken run yourself.

Chickens don’t need anything magical – just a reasonably cosy place to live, like the rest of us. There are loads of cheap chicken houses available online – they often come flat packed and so you will have the pleasure and enjoyment of working out how side panel (B) fits to egg box (C2). The ‘run’ is just any area in which you’d like the chickens to remain. You can build it yourself, with bits of wood and chicken wire, or do as we did which was stand around ineffectually whilst Len the Fish did it for us.

The chicken run’s there to keep the chickens safe from predators, not to stop the chickens from wandering off. Or it should be, anyway. They’ll usually pop back to sleep and to lay an egg should you leave the door open – just be careful at night if there are foxes about. Or during the day, if you have an edible-looking garden.

Anyway, if you build the chicken run yourself then you will be able to point to it and say ‘I built that,’ and it will probably have a ramshackle quality that will add a rustic aspect to your garden.