How to keep hens, by Alison from Life at Number 10

How to keep hens, by Alison from Life at Number 10

Life at Number 10 is one of our favourite Instagram accounts. We love seeing the daily goings on of Alison, Thomas O'Malley the cat and Scamp the dog, much of which is centred around the kitchen table (our favourite place, as you may have gathered by now).

A self-proclaimed 'country girl at heart', Alison recently welcomed a brood of chickens into the family (and occasionally the kitchen!). We've often toyed with the idea of getting chickens or ducks here at Cupsmith and were curious to know what's involved, so we asked Alison if she'd share her learnings as a first-time hen keeper with us. If you're considering adopting some feathered friends to your home, you might find her charming and honest account rather helpful.

Hens at Number Ten

When Cupsmith asked if I’d like to guest write a post for their blog about my little journey into hen-keeping I hopped at the chance. I’m an avid animal lover who has always been passionate about rescuing and rehoming (rather than shopping for) animals in need. For me, ex-factory hens seemed the perfect match for our home. Sparing the not-so-nice details, battery hens do not have a nice life and are surplus to requirements after a very short time. The thought of giving these poor hens a second chance in a loving, free-range home warmed my heart. Did I know anything about keeping hens? Honestly, no, not one bit. I knew, however, that they would be a welcome addition to the family, and this was enough for me.

Preparing for the new arrivals

The Hen House: We don’t have a large garden so we wanted a home-made coop to fit an exact area where we planned to keep the chickens. To build it, we enlisted the help of a friend and neighbour. Between us, we hadn’t the vaguest idea of what a hen house should be, but eventually we got the job done - even adding a finishing touch of carving a love heart on the hens’ front door. 

To make sure that our hens stayed snug on cold winter nights, we lined their coop with a layer of cosy straw. There’s nothing more fulfilling than looking in on them as they bed down for the night, all toasty and safe.

Kitchen essentials: If you follow me on Instagram, you will know that these hens are certainly ladies who lunch! Their basic diet is Layers Pellets, but they also enjoy a varied selection of other treats, including cous-cous, fruits, tuna, cheese, leafy greens, and herbs.

Welcoming Harriet, Violet, and Jemima to Number 10

Our ladies’ first day at home was a bittersweet one. Although there was plenty of excitement in the house, these pitiful little hens looked so miserable and sad. They were far from what a happy hen should be. I hoped that lots of love, care, and attention would soon put this right. Though shy at first, the hens quickly became curious and started exploring their new surroundings and settled in no time. A brief introduction with the resident cats and dogs was not without its funny moments!

Hurdles we encountered

As I’ve already mentioned, we are by no means experts when it comes to keeping chickens. This is a learning curve for us, and we’re discovering more every day. In the first months, we visited our local vet several times over what we now know are simple things, including mites, moulting, and broodiness (I’ll save those stories for another time!). Sadly, we have lost two of our original trio, but we are comforted in knowing that we gave them a very content and enjoyable last few months of their lives. 

If I were to offer advice to anybody who is starting out in hen-keeping, it would be to research the basics beforehand. I didn’t, and I feel that I could’ve saved myself a lot of unnecessary worrying. Also, if you like a well-kept and manicured garden: forget it. They eat everything!

What my hens mean to me

It’s safe to say that our hens have grown into much-loved family members. They are welcome companions while I potter around the garden, each with their own individual personality. Collecting eggs is extremely rewarding; I know that I’ve treated them with a lot of love and tenderness and I feel that this is their way of saying thank you! 

There is nothing more lovely than sitting in the garden of a morning with a warm cup of coffee in hand and listening to their soothing clucking. I don’t know about you, but to me hens epitomise home. Think of all the things that come from hens: sayings like “rule the roost” and ”home to roost”, and all the kitchen paraphernalia with chickens on it - from napkins to tea coies, oven gloves and mugs. They are the homeliest little creatures - as homely to me as a warming cup of tea. I can’t imagine our home without them, they have truly stolen my heart. 

For more stories from Alison and her happy hens, follow her on Instagram at @lifeatnumberten.

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