~ Birds are angels who lift us up when our own wings forget how to fly ~
It’s May and it’s definitely starting to feel like summer is on the way. I don’t know about you but when the weather is like this I get a real urge to get all Barbara Good on the world: planting vege, picking wild fruit and …. well keeping hens!
Actually, I do keep hens. And I also have lots of fruit bushes and used to keep an allotment … but that’s another blog post entirely. If you fancy keeping some hens of your own you may want to start by reading the first blog in the series and then come back to this one.
Choosing Your Hens
So you want to keep some hens. The next step would be to decide how far you’re willing to travel for your chooks. If you are not fussed you may opt for somewhere local (please, anywhere other than a garden centre or pet shop!). However, if it’s the fancy feathers you’re after then you will have to do a bit more research and travel further.
A healthy hen should have been reared on a farm with access to outside pasture from an early age. I once made the mistake of buying a couple of hens from a garden centre and although they were quirky and unusual (what drew us to them) they were from a weak line and all died within the first 12 months of having them.
If you are you local to Milton Keynes then these are a few options to choose from:
Newfoundland Smallholding in Great Brickhill just south of Milton Keynes
Crofters Farm is a small family run farm in the Chiltern Hills near High Wycome, Bucks
Oxford Poultry in Oxfordshire
Acorn Nursery in Oxfordshire
My personal recommendation is Acorn Nusery – we got our girls from this place over 6 years ago. I haven’t been back since but if they still produce hens as fine as the girls we bought in 2010 then they will make you happy hen owners indeed. The hens were all free ranging in huge fields and ours are terrifically healthy, naturally curious and have unique characters of their own. I wouldn’t be without them and shall dearly miss their presence when old age eventually takes them.
Point of Lay Hens
Your little egg laying machines are not actually called hens until they reach the age of 1 years old. Until that time they are pullets and somewhere between 22/24 weeks they will be referred to as ‘point of lay’. This rather vague description attempts to define the process of development where the pullets become mature and ready to start producing eggs. Time of year, breed and how the pullets have been reared all factors in to determine when you will get your first egg. My little Bulbster didn’t lay any eggs for the first 8 months we had her. She was point of lay when purchased in March and we went through the entire summer without a single egg. At one point we were so confused I phoned up the farm and asked what might be happening. They replied curtly: “hens lay eggs, that’s what they do”. Hmm, you don’t say!
She did eventually lay eggs and they were a delightful duck egg blue. And you know what? She still keeps laying them to this day. Yes she has little ‘egg laying holidays’ and has gone broody more times than I care to remember, but this clearly works for her body as the eggs she produces at 6 years old are perfectly formed, rock solid, deep yellow things.
What Will a Point of Lay Hen Cost?
The price of a point of lay hen can vary anywhere from £12 to £20. I have found that hens which are a bit ‘unusual’ in appearance or colour of egg command a higher price tag. But don’t let the cheaper and slightly average looking hen put you off, we had many years with a Rhode Island Red and she was so friendly and intelligent.
What To Bring When Collecting Your Hens
When you go to pick up your hen(s) make sure to bring a few key items with you:
- Cat / Small Dog Carrier – these are good because they will have plenty of air holes and will no doubt be a decent size so as not to make your hens feel claustrophobic
- Cardboard Box – this is a cheap alternative if you do not have the above; however, just make sure the box is of sturdy construction and that, if it is a hot day, you have created some holes so the hens don’t struggle to breath. You cannot leave the box open as they will of course fly out – and that is not what you need when driving down the motorway
- Bird Carrier – if you are making a one off purchase then splashing out on a proper bird carrier might not be the right move, but it’s always an option if you’re in a pinch
That’s you settled with the hens you want to buy and know how to transport them home. Look out for the next blog post on creating a safe home for them.