I am getting some chickens for my birthday. Do I need any special equipment? Linda Cranmer, Brighton

Laurence Beeken says: A good feeder and drinker is a necessity, and should be moveable in case you need to move the birds under cover, or more practically when it comes to cleaning them out. With the drinkers, I find that a traditional green bottomed one is the best for a few birds, and a larger automatic one for a larger group of, say, six or more.

Make sure that when the birds drink, they can get their heads into the base, as this is quite a common cause of dehydration in birds with larger head gear.

Fill the containers with fresh water daily and supply a good quality mash or pellets in the feeder – don’t be tempted to scrimp here, you only get out what you put in. Feeders can be of the galvanised type, or plastic hoppers which will invariably have a red bottom to attract the birds (chickens are drawn to red – just try painting your toenails and then going into their run in a pair of sandals). You will also need a bowl for grit – a flower pot is useful with a wire threaded through the drainage holes in the bottom as it enables you to secure it while at the same time allowing water to drain through meaning that it does not get water logged.

Once opened the feed is best kept in a rodent proof bin.

Which feed you use is a matter of preference and trial and error. Layers pellets and mash are both compound feeds specially formulated to provide all the essential nutrients and vitamins. The ration may contain ‘ACS’ to provide a basic immunity in youngsters against coccidiosis, so check the label depending on your preference and you may wish to foster natural immunity. Yolk enhancers are not needed in a feed as grass will naturally deepen the yolk colour, and antibiotic content should be avoided, especially as it degrades over times and may produce toxins. Check if the ration is labelled ‘natural’, as there is no current legal definition and genetically modified maize and soya may be included (the process by which soya is extracted has been reported to use carcinogenic chemicals). If you are in doubt, go for an ‘organic’ feed as these are legally defined and will contain no artificially extracted soya or genetically modified ingredients. If you have growers or young stock, then you can fill a hopper and allow the babies access ad lib, just making sure that wild birds cannot foul or eat it, in these days it is too costly to feed all the neighbourhood starlings your precious pellets.

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