LAYING HENS
Chickens are the most rewarding 'farm animal' and are perfect for urban households.  A small investment in a coop and a few hens (2 or 3 is all that is required) will provide free, free-range eggs.  These hard working birds can provide about 200 to 250 eggs per hen in their first year, declining over their 3 to 4 year lifespan. Rescued battery hens have a commercial life of roughly 72 weeks and canlive for an average of 1-3 years (sometimes 6 years). 

Brown Lohmann layers

You can also contact Rescue Battery Hens Cape Town for adoption information

If the hens are fed a suitable diet, including many household items (which are usually discarded in the rubbish) and they have access to the lawn, then the eggs that they lay will be fresh and healthy.

Securing a steady supply of fresh eggs is easier than is often thought.  No noisy rooster is required, no expensive permanent coops, requiring planning permission but rather a simple mobile coop which can be moved daily to allow the hens access to a new piece of lawn, while having fertilized, mowed and debugged the last piece.  Your hens, fed on a varied diet (including grass and insects) will provide you with pastured wholesome eggs.  The yolks are golden orange and fresh from the hen.  Pastured eggs are very scarce, as modern farming, even many so called free range eggs, cannot compete with your home-grown beauties. 


Hens also make great pets and quickly adapt to 'family life'.  Children love them and will learn their first lesson about animals and the sustenance they offer us.  Eggs after all do not come from Supermarkets!

Hens are sociable and are best kept in a group of 2 or more.  Like people they all have personalities which you will come to know.  A 'pecking' order will be established among them, but they will happily live side by side.  However integrating new members to an existing flock may cause problems.

Check your local municipal policy on keeping livestock. Most will allow it but you may need to let your neighbours know, although they (chickens that is, not your neighbours) are not noisy if not disturbed.  Also some home owner associations do not like the idea of animals, well noisy dogs and predatory cats are fine, but productive environmentally friendly hens unfortunately are not always welcome!

FEED

Commercial feed is available at pet shops and some supermarkets but your hens will also eat most kitchen scraps but do avoid uncooked potato and avocado.  Meat and eggs are a risk due to possible transmission of disease unless well cooked.  Chickens (like us), will seek out nutritious food as well as greenery.  A laying hen needs protein to produce her eggs as grain alone is not sufficient for this purpose.  Although chopped maize and other seed can be offered, some additional protein is required.  This is what a balanced laying ration offers.  Grain with kitchen scraps may be adequate provided these include some nutritional food and not simply bread, pasta and the vegetables.  Remember what you feed the hen will find its way into the eggs.  Avoid junk food as it is not good for you or the hens!


FREE ROAMING


Provided that the garden is secure and there is no danger from dogs and other wildlife, they can roam in the garden, but remember they do scratch when looking for bugs and may damage sensitive plants.  They will always enjoy an outside adventure and help to reduce the pests in your garden and most of them love snails.  If you do wish to allow them to range free, do not do so for the first 10 to 14 days.  They need to learn where home is, food, shelter and water and where to sleep and importantly where to lay their eggs!  If not, they may find a nest site in the garden more suitable than your coop but hidden from you!  Allowing them to settle will reduce this possibility.  Once out though they may prove difficult to catch should you wish to return them to the coop but not to worry as they normally return on their own at sunset or they could be tempted in with a few morsels of food if they are familiar with you feeding them.

Hens love to bath but not in water like other birds.  They prefer a good old dust bath.  If you wish to spoil them you can offer them a shallow box (like the ones beers are sold in) with loose sand.  They will peck the sand for important grit for their stomachs (gizzards) and scratch and 'splash' themselves with the sand.

A few simple rules for looking after your hens and the mobile coop:

  • Ensure they are safe from dogs and in some parts of the country other animals including monkeys or baboons.  Coops may have to be anchored to prevent them from being lifted if these animals pose a risk;    
  • Ensure that they always have access to clean drinking water and suitable feed;
  • Move the coop regularly to offer them fresh lawn and to avoid them damaging your lawn;
  • In hot weather ensure they have some shade and in cold wet weather ensure proper shelter from the wind and rain.  Position the coop according to the seasons - lots of sun in winter and more shade in summer.

The back end of the coop, where the door is, should be treated with linseed oil at least once a year to prevent it from rotting, pay particular attention to the sides of the door, where water penetrates easiest.

'Eggonomics'

Chickens are an excellent investment.  An outlay of just over R2 000 for an entry level coop with three hens will secure over 1 800 eggs over their laying life of 3 to 4 years, if you look after them and feed them well.  During this time, if you feed them only store bought food and no kitchen scraps, they will each munch their way through about 260kg of feed.  At R6 per kg that is about R1 500.  The 2 000 eggs, at store prices, of not less than R2.00 an egg (free range) is R3 600 worth of eggs.  So you can pay off the coop and get free eggs from your first batch of birds, while the coop should last for at least 2 or maybe 3 batches of hens.

Remember store bought free range eggs will not match the freshness or quality of your eggs from your well nourished hens.  Also remember if they scavenge a lot of food from your garden and get a regular supplement of kitchen scraps, which would otherwise only add to the waste stream, your profit margin is even bigger, and egg quality better.