A guide on keeping a few hens at home

Keeping a few hens in the back garden to provide year round eggs is becoming more and more popular. For this reason we've put together this very basic information as a guide to those starting out.

There are no laws preventing you keeping hens, providing they are looked after properly and their welfare is taken seriously. However, it is advisable to check your property deeds or consult your landlord to make sure there are no covenants preventing the keeping of 'livestock'.

You also need to consider whether you can give your hens 365 days a year care - and can you make adequate arrangements for when you're on holiday etc?

How many are you are going to keep?

This will probably depend on how many eggs you want. As a rule of thumb a hen can lay about 250 eggs per year. This will vary depending on the breed of the hens as well as their health and how well they're fed.

Do I need to register my 'flock'?

If you are considering keeping two or three hens to provide a year round supply of fresh eggs then there are no requirements to register with anyone. However, by law you must register with Defra if you own, or are responsible for, poultry premises with 50 or more birds. This requirement also applies even if the premises is only stocked with 50 or more birds for part of the year. At present, premises with fewer than 50 birds are not required to register, but Defra encourage keepers to do so voluntarily. To register go to: http://www.defra.gov.uk/

Where can I keep them?

A small 4 foot by 3 foot hen house or shelter would accommodate a maximum of 12 hens (ie 1 square foot per bird). Remember bigger breeds will need more space.

You should provide some outdoor space for your hens which, if you like your garden, is best fenced off. This is because hens love to scratch about to find seeds, insects, slugs and the like. Unfortunately they also like to eat anything green and, in doing so, they'll uproot small plants and create dust baths.

You also need to keep your hens secure from foxes and cats - although most cats are a bit wary of such enormous sparrows!

What can I feed my hens?

Commercially produced poultry feed is readily available from a number of local outlets such as agricultural merchants, pet shops and larger feed producers and wholesalers.


Feeding catering waste to any food producing animals or birds has been illegal since 2001. Catering waste is defined in law as all waste food, whether raw or cooked, including used cooking oils, which arise in premises such as:
  • Household kitchens
  • Restaurants
  • Fish & Chips / Pizza / Kebab shops
  • Takeaway shops
  • Canteens and cafes
  • Vegetarian kitchens and restauarants.


Food and water left out for poultry may attract vermin such as rats and mice. Chicken houses may also provide shelter for rats and mice. To prevent this happening, make it a part of your regular routine to clean the shelters and remove uneaten food. In the summer poorly kept poultry may result in unpleasant odours which can attract flies. These can become a nuisance to you and your neighbours which could result in a visit from a Council Environmental Health Officer if a complaint is received.

Noise issues

Hens are generally fairly quiet, however cockerels are anything but! If you do decide to keep a cockerel you run the risk of creating a noise nuisance which may also result in a visit from the Council's Environmental Health Officers if a complaint is received! Remember - a cockerel is not required for your hens to lay eggs.

What are you going to do with any excess eggs?

If you decide to sell your eggs then it is a legal requirement to register as a food business with your local Environmental Health department. To register please contact Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council's Animal Health Section on 01287 612408. Bear in mind that if you are running a business, you may also require planning permission for a change of use of your property.

Should you decide to sell your eggs to friends, family, over the gate or at a market stall then there are some things you need to know. Our Advice Leaflet contains all the relevant information.

The welfare of your poultry

These include the need:
  • for a suitable environment (place to live)
  • for a suitable diet
  • to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
  • to be housed with, or apart from, other animals (if applicable)
  • to be protected from pain, injury, suffering and disease.

Defra produce welfare codes for poultry (these have legal status and must be adhered to). The following booklets can be downloaded from their website (www.defra.gov.uk) :-
  • Welfare of laying hens
  • Welfare of meat chickens
  • Meat chickens and breeding chickens

Clearly, these booklets are aimed at businesses that keep poultry on a large commercial basis. However, they contain useful information for smallholders too.

Consider diseases

Poultry are susceptible to many diseases and need regular checks. One such disease is Avian Influenza which is a highly contagious viral disease affecting the respiratory, digestive and/or nervous system of many species of birds. It is a notifiable disease and suspect cases must be notified to the Local Authority or Animal Health. For information about this disease go to Defras Avian Influenza web page: http://www.defra.gov.uk/

Please note

This leaflet is not an authoritative interpretation of the law and is intended only for guidance. If you require any further advice please contact Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council on 01287 612408.
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