Choosing your hens

Due to the huge growth in domestic chicken keeping over recent years, a number of amateur keepers have become involved in breeding and dealing in garden hens, without enough knowledge, and practical animal husbandry experience. This has resulted in large numbers of unhealthy or weak chickens on the market, and unhappy experiences for unsuspecting customers searching for cheap hens
Here are a few points to look for:-

  • The hen should feel strong and muscular when held, and well fleshed either side of the keel
  • The keel should be straight and not deformed
  • The eyes should be bright and clear – not watery, bubbly, and no swelling or discharge
  • The comb should be pink or red, plump and smooth, not be dry, pale, or shrivelled
  • The abdomen should be rounded and soft – not swollen and spongy or hard.
  • The crop should not be swollen with fluid, or enlarged or compacted, but it should contain some food.
  • The nasal area should be clean & dry, with no discharge, crusts or mucous
  • The beak should meet in the middle and not be crossed
  • Toes should be straight and not bent
  • The breath should smell fresh and be clear with no sign of congestion in the throat or lungs
  • The plumage should smell fresh and feel pliable with no parasite damage around the quills
  • The skin should be clean with no signs of parasite damage
  • The legs should be smooth with no raise scales
  • The vent should be clean and dry
  • The hen should be active, busy, alert, and full of vigour

Where to look and what to look for

  • Buy from a reputable breeder, preferably a specialist in one breed or strain of hen
  • Avoid bird auctions and sales, as these are often a source of disease as birds are brought in from all areas
  • Look for suppliers who are prepared to guarantee their stock
  • Avoid situations where there are hens of all ages in the proximity of one another
  • Avoid false claims of ‘full vaccination’ programmes for pure breed hens
  • Buying on price alone is not conducive to finding good quality livestock, and often results in disappointment.