Information about poultry for potential poultry owners

Information about poultry for potential poultry owners

“Poultry” is the catch-all term used to refer to a range of domesticated birds that are commonly kept as pets, or for their eggs, meat or feathers. Many people who have a large garden or some land with their house have considered the idea of possibly keeping a couple of chickens or other birds for their eggs, or simply because they like having them around. But providing for and looking after poultry is not as simple as simply bringing home a pair of hens, turning them loose and expecting them to start laying!

Chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese are the most commonly kept poultry birds in the UK, with ducks and laying hens the most popular overall. All different varieties of poultry have slightly different care requirements, with ducks and geese being waterfowl and so needing access to a pond or other area in which they can swim, as well as their land-based accommodation!

How any particular type of poultry should be cared for and managed will vary from species to species, and it would not be possible to cover all of the information required to keep all types of poultry birds in just one short guide! However, if you are considering keeping poultry, this article should provide you with some information on their care and requirements, plus some advice on how to buy and transport birds home and settle them in.

Check out these species-specific information guides on keeping hens, ducks, turkeys and geese too.

Could you keep poultry?

In order to be able to consider keeping poultry, you must have a sufficiently large garden or other area of land to be able to set up their housing and allow them to roam around safely, plus access to water if you wish to keep geese or ducks. You may also need to find out if any planning regulations or local laws apply to keeping poultry as pets or on a small scale for their eggs, and in some areas it is not permitted to keep a cockerel in the suburbs or built up areas! If you plan on keeping fifty or more birds in total you will also need to be licensed for this on DEFRA’s poultry register, and possibly have to put a change of usage planning application in for your property (unless it already has the appropriate permissions in place).

As well as considering any legal ramifications, you should also think carefully about the impact that keeping poultry might have upon your neighbours in terms of noise or inconvenience; plus learn about other relevant factors, such as the fact that poultry food can attract rats, presenting problems of its own. Also, you will of course need to ensure that all of your family are as keen to share their garden with poultry birds as you are!

Consider the following questions as well:

  • Can you afford to provide housing and all of the other accommodation and equipment needed to keep poultry, and cover the cost of veterinary care if needed?
  • If you are thinking of keeping waterfowl, can you provide access to water?
  • Do you have enough time to dedicate to keeping your poultry happy and healthy, cleaning out their housing and looking after them?
  • If you needed to move house, how would this affect your poultry and would you be able to find another house suitable for keeping them?
  • If your family grew or changed, would this impact upon your ability to look after your birds?
  • Can you adequately protect your birds from predators, such as foxes, dogs and your other pets?
  • Are you prepared to accept that your birds may not produce eggs for long periods of time, and that egg production itself is never a given?

Consider all of these factors and assess how you can answer these questions taking into account the poultry type you wish to keep and your own situation before moving forwards.

How much does it cost to buy and keep poultry?

Buying poultry birds is relatively inexpensive, with chickens and ducks available from around £15- £20 upwards. Chicks and hatchlings can be bought for even less than this, but offering guidance for the beginner on how to raise chicks would require a whole article of its own, and the first time poultry owner is recommended to start their poultry keeping with juvenile or adult birds.

How much it costs to provide suitable housing, fencing and equipment is very variable, depending on the style of housing you wish to use, if you already have any facilities to hand, how large the accommodation provided is, and many other factors. Housing for poultry can range from home-built wooden hen houses at under £100 for the wood and fittings needed to create it, up to over £1,000 for professionally made or specialist accommodations. You will also need to provide food, bedding and other equipment, although the cost of the ongoing care for poultry tends to be fairly low after the initial outlay, notwithstanding any veterinary treatment required.

What kind of time commitment is needed to care for poultry?

You will need to dedicate some time on a daily basis caring for your birds; this included feeding, letting them out of their enclosure in the day, and securing them at night. You will also need to keep their housing clean and check for eggs each day, and make provision to thoroughly clean the housing and equipment at least once a week. That said, poultry are generally considered to be fairly low maintenance to keep on an ongoing basis, and it does not normally take up a great deal of time each day to look after them adequately.

What poultry birds eat

Ducks, geese, chickens and turkeys all have different nutritional requirements, which you should find out about and ensure that you can provide for before taking on any type of birds!

  • As a broad guideline, chickens eat grain, seeds and bugs that they scratch from the ground, and will theoretically eat more or less anything they find, although this is not always a good thing! It is important to feed a nutritionally complete grain to your chickens, such as chicken grain or pellets.
  • Ducks again will eat most things, although the popular pursuit of feeding bread to ducks is actually not very good for them, and certainly should not constitute their main meals. Ducks dabble for algae, weed and bugs in the water, and also on land, eat berries and plants. Ducks should also be fed a complete grain food as their staple diet.
  • Geese eat grass, growing plants and grain. Unlike many breeds of duck, geese seek and eat most of their natural food on land rather than in the water.
  • Turkeys eat a wide variety of foliage, nuts, berries and bugs and insects, and again, grain and pre-prepared complete foods.

Birds also need to have access to grit, which they eat to aid with digestion, and may require supplemental calcium such as ground up shells. The feeding and nutritional requirements of poultry can vary at different times of the year and depending on the laying cycle, and so a significant amount of research is required beforehand to gain a good understanding of what your potential new poultry birds should be fed throughout the year.

Health and wellness

Poultry birds are generally fairly robust, and if correctly fed and cared for, often go through their entire lives without requiring veterinary treatment. Health issues are of course more likely to develop as your birds age, and it is not unusual for poultry birds to suffer from the occasional cold or upset stomach, although the latter is usually caused by overeating bugs and slugs and snails! Poultry birds can also be prone to lice, mites and worms, which is something that you should keep an eye out for and discuss with your vet to prevent and treat.

Healthy birds should have bright beady eyes, smooth legs with the scales laying flat and not flaking or lifting, and no visible injuries or ailments. When poultry birds are moulting, they can look rather forlorn and unkempt, but this is a natural process for birds and not cause for concern, providing that you can establish that it is part of their natural moulting cycle. Their bodies should be plump and firm, but not overly fat, and they should be alert, active and inquisitive. Any discharge from the eyes, beak or back end is a potential indicator of ill health, and for birds with a comb such as chickens and turkeys, this should be firm and healthy-looking.

The most popular poultry birds for the first-time keeper are hens and ducks, and some information on duck health and wellness can be found here, chicken health and wellness here, plus a guide to some common health problems in chickens is available here.

What kind of equipment do you need to keep poultry?

You will need to provide suitable housing and possibly a run for your birds, and this will vary from species to species depending on their exact care requirements. A guide to hen houses and how to set one up can be found here, and establishing exactly what the best form of housing is for the birds you wish to own is something that requires a lot of research and consideration.

However you choose to house and keep your poultry birds, the housing should be raised off the ground to provide protection from predators and damp, and be warm and dry with no leaks or drafts, and suitably secured so as to provide protection from foxes and other predators.

As well as the housing, you will also need to provide, among other things:

  • Dabbling water for ducks and geese
  • An enclosed run if your poultry will not have free run of your land
  • Feeders and a constant supply of fresh water
  • Suitable food for your birds
  • Grit and any other supplements needed
  • Bedding for their housing
  • A good guide book on the type of poultry you will be keeping

Poultry and eggs

One of the most popular reasons for keeping hens, ducks and other poultry is for their eggs! Enjoying an ongoing supply of freshly laid eggs from birds that you have cared for is infinitely more rewarding than buying from the supermarket, and can significantly cut the cost of your shopping bills over time! Ducks and of course, hens are the most commonly kept laying birds, and some more information on the best types of hens to keep for eggs can be found here. Different breeds of hens produce different types of eggs, and a thorough guide to egg colours and types can be found here.

Well cared for birds of laying age will generally produce eggs reliably, and you may even find yourself with more eggs than you and your family can eat on your own! Hens, ducks and other birds can be fairly adept at hiding their eggs, both in their housing and on any land that they have access to, so you may find that every day becomes something of an egg hunt, and this is not just restricted to Easter!

Where and how to buy poultry

Poultry are not available to buy in your average pet shop for obvious reasons, but they are relatively easy to buy nevertheless. Farms, other poultry keepers and both private and commercial sellers often sell poultry for small scale owners to keep in their gardens, and you can even get your birds by re-homing ex battery hens too. Check out this article on looking after battery hens, or browse the poultry for sale and poultry for adoption sections for birds offered by third party sellers here on Pets4Homes.

When buying your new birds, it is important to check them over as part of the sale process, and ensure that they are in good health and fit and well. Buying birds that are already established layers is a good idea to give yourself the best chance of getting eggs from your birds within a relatively short period of time, and you may find that birds that are known to be good layers will be slightly more costly to buy than younger birds or those that are less prolific!

Talk to the seller of your birds in depth to find out about their history, health, routine and care requirements, and find out if the seller will be willing to offer you advice and assistance if needed after the sale. Check if the seller will be willing to take the birds back if they are found to be unhealthy or otherwise not as described shortly after the sale too. As with making any purchase, always get a receipt for any money that changes hands with your seller.

How to transport poultry home and settle your birds in

There are various different ways to transport your new poultry birds home, and how you manage it will depend greatly on how many birds you are buying and how large they are!

  • Special carrying crates for chickens and other birds can be bought or borrowed, and using a cat carrier or dog crate are alternative options. Sturdy cardboard boxes with ventilation holes and solid bases may also be utilised, although it is preferable to use a more solid box or cage to carry your birds in.
  • Make sure that whatever you use to transport your birds in, it is safe and comfortable for them, and line the base of the carrier with some straw, newspaper or other padding to keep them happy on the journey.
  • You can usually place more that one bird into a carrier, particularly with smaller roosting birds such as chickens and hens, but take care to ensure that they get on well and will not fight while trapped in an enclosed space.
  • It is best to pack your birds quite snugly for transport; too much room to move around in the carrier is not really a good thing when in transit. Of course, if your journey will be a long one, you may have to re-evaluate this and work out how you can stagger the journey to provide breaks along the way.
  • Secure the box or carrier you are using into your car so that it cannot move around, and will not fall over or get thrown about if you should be unfortunate enough to have an accident.
  • Ensure that your birds are also secured into the box properly, and cannot get out on the way home!
  • Drive carefully, with the wellbeing and comfort of your birds in mind.
  • Upon arrival home, place your birds into their new housing and open their containers, allowing them to come out in their own time. They will normally be quite quick to do this, although you may have to leave them alone to get on with things so that your presence does not disturb them unduly.
  • When you get your new birds home, it is important to settle them in gradually and allow them to get used to their new surroundings. Keep to a set routine with regards to feeding and their general care, and do not expect laying birds to commence laying until after they have settled in and made themselves at home, which can take some time.


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