Feeding and watering When considering how you are going to care for your birds, first and foremost is diet. Like dogs and cats there is a huge rise in obesity in backyard chickens with many people feeding both the wrong diet and/or too much feed. An average large fowl chicken should weigh about 2kg and eat around 125g of feed per day. And an important thing to remember is that fat hens don’t lay eggs. Traditionally, it was the practice to feed leftover human food or kitchen waste to your poultry but feeding kitchen scraps to chickens – or any other species considered by law to be farmed livestock – has been illegal in the UK for a number of years. This holds true even if the animals involved are kept as pets or live on a small holding and owners who fail to comply can be prosecuted under the Animal By-Products Regulations 2005 and equivalent legislation in Scotland and Wales. You can, however, feed ‘garden or allotment’ scraps that haven’t been near your kitchen, but you still need to keep a careful eye on what you are feeding; avocado, potato plant leaves and rhubarb are poisonous to chickens. For more advice and guidance, visit www.defra.gov.uk/ animalhealth. Modern commercial chicken feeds have been formulated with the correct balance of nutrients, vitamins and minerals and are available as pellets or as a powdered mash. The downside to mash, although it’s slightly cheaper, is that chickens tend just to pick out the bits they like. Chicks or young and growing birds will require chick crumbs and growers’ pellets respectively. As a treat, you can also feed mixed corn but beware of overdoing it as the maize it contains is fattening. As a general rule, a handful per hen per day is enough. In addition to their nutritional feed, chickens also require flint grit and oyster shell. The former helps then grind down their feed and the latter contains the calcium necessary for strong eggshells. You will also need feeders for your birds and there are both plastic and galvanised hoppers available. You need to ensure that there are enough feeders available so that the birds at the bottom of the pecking order don’t lose out by not being able to get to a feeder. Finally – and critically – you need to ensure a constant source of drinking water. Water containers, or drinkers, need to be designed to keep the water clean and free of droppings, be stable enough not to tip over and be easy to clean regularly. Drinkers should store enough water to last a day and as a rule of thumb you should supply 1litre per bird. Apple cider vinegar makes a good addition for chickens but if you use it, you should only use plastic drinkers. Like the feeders, you should ensure there are enough drinkers available.