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Keeping urban hens

CHICKENS

Nikki Lewis, 26, keeps urban hens in the garden of her Bromley home.  She kindly took some time out to answer our questions on looking after urban hens in London.

How long have you been keeping hens for?
We got Lola last summer, then got another called Charlie who unfortunately died so we got the other three soon after that.

Why did you decide to start keeping hens?
Lola was passed down to us from a friend of my dad’s who we lost to cancer last year. My dad had chickens as a boy so I think the idea always stuck in his head. I love animals so I persuaded him to get them.

Where did you get your hens from?
There’s a farm supplier who lives a few miles away from us who has them for sale. They were out of stock so we found a different local farmer who sold us this rare breed – they were huge and bullied Lola so we had to swap them after a week!

What is the best thing about them?   
Fresh eggs and love! Having a constant supply of eggs is really useful – we eat eggs a lot and haven’t had to buy any since we got the hens. They’re also incredibly entertaining, I never thought I would find hens cute but they’re adorable.  Each one has an individual personality and they are very funny to watch.

And the worst?
Like with most other pets, you need to be there for them come rain or shine, like popping out in the snow to make sure their water hasn’t frozen and that they’re OK. They also can get mites, we’re having a bit of trouble combating them at the moment – not all hens have mites but if you get them it’s quite a nuisance.

What kind of things are necessary for them?
They need plenty of space as they are happiest exploring and scratching around in the grass and dust. We’ve just extended their run as they’ve been pecking each other so we’ve given them a bit of extra land to play in and keep them entertained during the day. We also have an electric fence to keep foxes at bay as we previously welcomed them into our garden.

Are they difficult to look after?
They’re actually pretty straightforward unless your hen gets sick. Many vets don’t have a lot of poultry knowledge, but there are many forums on the internet which I have found useful in that situation. They take themselves inside to perch when it’s bedtime and get on with their lives during the day. It’s useful to read a book on the basics beforehand so you know what their normal behaviour is.

What advice would you have for somebody who is thinking of keeping chickens in an urban area?
Read books and forums for basic tips. Also make sure you give them plenty of space. We’re quite lucky in that respect as  we have a large garden. A cover over the top of their enclosure is a good idea as they love to take a dust bath (which also keeps them dry). An electric fence is a good idea as hens follow the grass is always greener mantra and peck at the grass on the outside of their pen and foxes can attack them and bite their heads off in a split second.

Finally, have you got any tips for keeping your hens happy?
Get them plenty of the food they love – layer pellets and mash with worms and corn. We hang a cabbage from the roof of their pen which they enjoy and we mix sand and ashes in with their dust for them to bathe in – they love it! If you can get hold of fresh turf they’ll love that too as the grass in your garden will be eaten within a week!

By Natasha Wynarczyk. Photo by Nikki Lewis, showing (l-r) Lola, Rosie, Bambi and Daisy in their run. Follow Nikki on Twitter here

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