Episode #14 – 7 ‘Must Knows’ For Keeping Hens

Keeping backyard chickens is one of the most rewarding things that you can do on your self-sufficiency journey. Hearing the clucks, koos and squawks of your girls talking to you and each other is something that will make you smile. 

There are so many beneficial reasons why keeping a few backyard chickens is something I think everyone should do. 

 ~ They are so much fun – they all have their own individual personalities and quirks. Some are super friendly and will demand to be scratched. Others are just happy to be around you and part of the flock. Each girl has their own voice and over time you will learn to tell them apart. It is good to have at least 2 girls. They are flock animals and don’t do well alone. 

~ They are great little recyclers. In my kitchen, I have 2 small buckets that sit on my bench near the back door. 1 is for compost and the other is for the chickens. They get pretty much the bulk of our food waste and the remainder goes to the compost and worm bins. 

Chickens will eat nearly anything with a handful of things to avoid. Citrus and onion peel, avocado pit and skin uncooked rice or dried beans, spoiled food and foods that are high in salt and fat concentrate. I will give them our leftover potato fries which are salted and sometimes they get the fat from when the meat-eaters in the house eat meat. 

Chickens are omnivores and will eat meat and vegetable matter. They eat worms, bugs and mice. Yup, if you have a mouse in your hen house and catch it. Don’t watch! It’s a bit brutal but that is nature works. 

~ They produce fertiliser. Your girls will gift you little presents of fertiliser between 12-15 times a day. This is super rich manure and you don’t want it to go straight onto your plants in high quantities.  

A good way to use it is to collect it and age it in a bucket or pile somewhere away from the house. It isn’t the nicest odour and you will need to turn it to keep the air in it. It is generally ready for use in about 45 days as long as it looks crumbly and dark brown to black. Use it sparingly. 

~ They give you eggs. This one is obvious if you want to keep hens for eggs. There are lots of breeds of chickens that will keep you in eggs for part of the year. 

When you buy eggs in the supermarket they are from a breed called ISA Brown. These girls are a hybrid (known as a sex-linked) chicken and are bred solely for the purpose of egg production. 


I have ISA Browns here at SoH Farmlet that are from an egg farm. At 12-18 months old they are considered too old and unreliable to keep so they are either killed off or given over to rescue groups to rehome. I have adopted well over 50 hens over the years and have kept anything from 2 to 30 girls at one time. Some breeds will live over 10 years but ISA Browns can generally live up to about 5 years. Their bodies are bred to produce huge quantities of eggs, up to 300 a year and this can take it’s toll earlier. 

Currently, we have 20 girls and a white leghorn geriatric rooster from the RSPCA. He is old, confused and doesn’t move too fast these days but he still looks after his flock and does his little rooster dance. The girls respond in kind by preening him and sitting with him when the bulk of the flock wander around the garden.  

They take care of the bugs in your garden. A few chickens in an established vegetable garden can help reduce bugs. They don’t discriminate, good bugs, not so good bugs it’s all the same to them. 


7 ‘Must Knows’ for Keeping Hens

So that is just 5 reasons that keeping backyard chickens is so awesome now let’s look at the 7 things you must know before you start on your chicken keeping journey. 

1. Housing

Your ladies will need a secure all-weather shelter even if you plan to free-range them during daylight hours. Things to consider are 

Predators like dogs, cats, foxes and even birds of prey. 

Weather – make sure your girls have a dry space to hang out

Space – Will they just sleep in their house or will they have access to a chicken run

Laying boxes – Anything that is big enough for the chicken to get in and turn around is big enough for a laying box. Around 1 box per 3 birds is a good rule of thumb. Most girls won’t all need to lay an egg at the same time. 


We use plastic tubs with a panel cut out for the door. Plastic is good because it’s easy to clean and if you ever experience mites or lice, you will want easy clean.

Perching – Chickens are birds and birds perch. It’s important to make sure your girls can purchase somewhere warm and dry at night and make sure purches are at least 30 cm or higher from the ground and at least 5 cm wide as they don’t grip like a parrot, they rest their feet flat. If you have rescue hens you might find that they prefer to sleep in the Lange box or even on top of the lid of the lane box, this is because they come from a cage or environment where they weren’t provided with a perch. 

 2. Food

Apart from kitchen scraps that I mentioned earlier, you will want to feed your ladies with good quality chicken food. When you get your hens, ask what they are used to eating. Some will be on mash, some on pellets and other on grain. You can purchase large bags of chicken feed from your local produce supplier. Keep feed in rodent-proof tubs or bins and only give your chickens enough food in the morning that they can finish by sunset. Be guided by what is on the packet. 

I use 2 treadle type feeders here on the farm to help minimise waste and not feed mice. This treadle style system has a panel at the front that the chicken stands on and it opens the lid of a tray containing seed and pellets.  They then eat when and what they want.

 3. Foraging

Give your lady’s access to a grassy area or at least a dirt patch that they can scratch in.  They will spend a good portion of the day scratching for grubs and worms, picking at grass and weeds as well as treating themselves to a dust bath. Dust baths are important because they help chickens to manage external parasites like lice. Plus, it feels good. 

 4. Water 

Hens need unobstructed access to cool clean drinking water at all times. A water-supply can be as simple as a shallow bucket that you fill up every day or as sophisticated as a drinking system with nipples or drinking cups. Whatever you choose you will need to make sure that they have water every day, keep it clean and make sure they have access to it and can’t tip it over.

  We use a simple self-filling system here. We have a plastic tray that is about 45 cm across and about 15 cm high. We then have a 20 lt bucket with a lid and we drilled holes in the lid and a few holes on the outside of the bucket, about 7 cms from the top. We fill up the bucket and put the lid on securely and then flip the bucket upside down into the plastic tray.  

The plastic tray fills up with water to the level of the holes drilled on the outside of the bucket and as the chickens drink the water it refills out of the bucket. We have 2 of these and it keeps the girls in clean water for 5 to 7 days. I check it daily to make sure it hasn’t had a failure or it’s the tray isn’t full of dirt or straw. 

 5. Protection

Whatever way you choose to keep your chickens you should provide them with ample sunshine, shade and an area out of the wind and rain. 

In the summer heat chickens can suffer from heat stress very quickly. Ice cubes in their water or even regular hosing down of their chicken coop or free-range area can help bring the temperature down. 

Depending on where you are and how hard your winters are you will need to adjust your chicken set up accordingly.  If you live somewhere that gets very cold or snows, you will need to provide your chickens with an adequate indoor location where they can overwinter.  For us, we have a much milder Winters. For most non-alpine regions of Australia as long as you provide a dry area out of the rain and wind that will keep them happy.

 6. Local Rules

As boring as this topic might seem it’s really important to know what your local regulations are about keeping chickens. Local councils will have rules on how many hens you can keep per residential block, size of the coop, how often you clean the coop, how far away from your neighbours the coop needs to be and unless you are zoned rural, No Roosters!


The last thing you want is to set up a great backyard chicken system and bring your girls home only to find that you’ve broken the rules and your girls have to go. 

 7. Health

Hens can suffer from several common conditions and parasites. Things like lice, body and leg mites, worms, becoming egg bound and suffering from an impacted crop. Taking the time to understand these and what the telltale signs and symptoms are will help you help you girls.

There is a tonne of free information on chicken health issues on the internet and I would encourage you to do research on each of the above ailments. 

Also, find your local Avian vet. Most vets can do the basics but aren’t specialised in treating hens so finding someone who does will save you the running around if you ever need to take one of your hens to a vet. 


There is a little bit of preparation to be done before bringing your chickens home however it is totally worth it and your girls will supply you with food, love and fertilizer for years to come.


More information

Full show notes at www.sohfarmlet.com.au/podcast

Blogs – www.sohfarmlet.com.au/blog

Download Free – Chicken Keepers ‘Chicklist’ For Beginners

Download Free Guide Getting Started With Composting

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Episode 13 Sponsored

This episode is sponsored by The Female MSI Club 30 Day Money Challenge. This challenge will help you understand your money mindset, identify blocks you have to making more money and understand how to manifest more money into your life.


This is the study I mention:  How to make a city climate-proof, addressing the urban heat island effect


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Keeping chickens is so much easier than you think!

Download my simple beginners 'chicklist' to get you started.

Keeping chickens is so much easier than you think!

Download my simple beginners 'chicklist' to get you started.

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