Tips for would-be hen owners

Hens With Little Missy turning one on Friday, we thought it was time to get her a few pets. Four pets, specifically, of the clucking, squawking Rhode Island Red variety. Between foxes and disease, we said good bye to the last of our original four hens in November and have really missed having our own delicious, fresh, free range eggs. Now, with LM getting to a stage when she can eat eggs for herself – the younger pair in my family were brought up on daily lunchtime “guggy” soft-boiled eggs – it was time for the next round.

Last time I found it relatively difficult to get started so here are a few pointers if you are thinking of getting your own hens.

  • Mrs Fleming in Kanturk (064 7751154) was, again, our source for a couple of cardboard boxes which contained a foursome of lovely healthy crooning hens at €12 apiece. Last time we got point-of-lay pullets, aged about 16 weeks, but they still took their time to actually produce an egg. This lot were already laying so we got one on their first day at the cottage.
  • They hens are back in the house and run that we bought from Fingerprint Wood Products in 2008 for around €480. It was well made and is still going strong but we do need to paint it with wood preserver after two years in the wind and wet.
  • We feed them with a mixture of rolled oats, rye, barley and layers’ pellets that we buy in large bags from the local co-op and store in a couple of plastic rubbish bins. Getting organic and non-GM feed is not easy. We also supplement their diet with fruit scraps, vegetable peelings and, while we’re still making it for breakfast, dollops of porridge. Like all the other cottage residents, our hens have always loved porridge.
  • Having used random bowls (actually giant Ortiz tuna tins recycled from my time in Urru) for their feed and water last time round, we finally managed to source a decent, gravity drinker and a treadle feeder from MacEoin General Merchants in Kerry. They also stock Vermx herbal wormer, something which I found very difficult to source previously, and the Husband picked up a roll of electric fencing for his continuing anti-rabbit defences. Delivery – shipping cost €8 – was very prompt, even down to the courier, who knew the house from the Husband’s homebrew orders, leaving the box in the shed when we weren’t home.

  • As regards books, we relied on the poultry chapters in John Seymour‘s Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency and The Smallholder’s Manual by Katie Thear. Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills also has a section on keeping hens. And it’s also good to have a copy of an egg cookery book handy. Four hens = lots of eggs.

Bring on the tortillas, poached eggs, meringues, mousses, mayonnaise and, of course, many, many cakes!



Food writer. Broadcaster. Blogger. Author. Married to Eight Degrees Brewing. Member of the Irish Food Writers' Guild, founder of Irish Food Bloggers Association and co-author of Sláinte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer & Cider (New Island)

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4 Responses

  1. Great article! We also lost our hens at Christmas, and have been so missing our own eggs. Hopefully this week will get more. It is interesting that you’ve had the same difficulties sourcing non gm food too! Best of luck with the new arrivals. M

  2. Helen says:

    I have always wanted a few hens but I am nervous because I dont know anything about them. Thanks for the great article. You may have spurred me to do something about it.

  3. Oh I’d love to keep chickens. Not enough space though :(Good luck with the new arrivals!

  4. Caroline says:

    Margaret: did the cold get your hens? I was so glad that we didn’t have any during the big freeze. They just wouldn’t have been happy at all. I’m going to make a concentrated effort on sourcing the non-GM feed this time round and see how I get on. I’ll let you know what happens!Helen: keeping hens is not difficult – but it’s not easy to see that at the start. Go for it and best of luck! If I can help with any questions or queries, just drop me a line at cook@bibliocook.comGeorge: caught for space? Maybe when you retire to that wee cottage in the country you’ll find a spot for a few hens!

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