Niall is a terrible man for the Chickens and always has a selection of birds running around the place. I keep meaning to get started myself (I have a 4 year old half built chicken house....) but as Niall keeps giving me eggs it never reaches the top of the job list. Fiona Dillon is, amongst many other things, an expert poultry keeper so I thought I'd give her a call to get the '123' for a first timer like me. Fiona is also a certified trainer so instead of sitting with Niall over a few pints while he gets excited about his bantams I thought I'd pick up some expert advice for myself and you, our precious reader. Now..... Picture yourself skipping across a dew silvered lawn to the old familiar shape of the hen house silhouetted against early morning sky. Dust dances in a shaft of sunlight illuminating the tips of your fingers as you search the golden straw for the smooth surfaces warm freshly laid eggs. Your family gaze at you in admiration when you trot into the kitchen with your prize. Brows furrow over the choice of boiled, poached, fried or scrambled, suddenly the morning explodes with possibilities...... This could be your life! take it away Fiona..... Hunters Lodge Living - Keeping Poultry with Fiona Dillon. Hopefully we have seen the last of the snow now. This is always a tricky time of the year in the garden for me. The evenings are stretching and you want to start sowing, but the frosts are still lingering, so we continue to watch and wait. One thing you don’t have to wait for is your chickens. Now is a perfect time of the year if you are thinking of getting started with a few chickens. Here at Hunters Lodge, the ladies are laying like there’s no tomorrow and Mother’s Day saw the arrival of our first chick of 2013. There is no denying that it’s hard to beat the taste of a fresh free-range egg. You’ll never go hungry if you have eggs in your kitchen – from poached, fried and scrambled to omelettes and frittatas, the options are endless. And the colour and taste of a free-range egg are undeniably superior. So why not keep a few chickens so that you can enjoy your own supply of the finest eggs. Chickens are healthy, hardy creatures and if you follow a few basic rules, you too can be collecting the freshest eggs in your back garden. Here are some of the main rules that I teach at my Keeping Chickens classes here at Hunters Lodge. If you are considering buying or building a chicken coop, keep this in mind: • The coop must be dry at all times, with good ventilation • A roosting area is required • It should have one or more nest boxes • Allow at least 2 square feet per chicken • The coop should have easy access to all areas for cleaning If you are building a chicken run, I recommend that you buy the strongest chicken wire that you can afford. This will allow you the best protection against predators. Bury the wire at least 18 inches underground to protect against unwanted visitors burrowing under the wire. Allow some time each weekend to clean out your coop. It’s important to change the bedding regularly. Dirty bedding leads to a build-up of ammonia which could cause a respiratory infection in your flock. Done regularly, this job takes no length of time. Just like your cats and dogs, hens will benefit from worming and delousing. Feed your hens with layers pellets – this includes all the nutrients that a laying hen needs. Scraps from your table are best kept as treats. Always keep your poultry food in a vermin-proof container. Chickens can drink up to a half litre of water a day and a fresh supply of water is very important. Poultry feeders and drinkers are not expensive and are widely available. Start out with “point-of-lay” hens. These are usually between 18 and 24 weeks and are just about to lay their first eggs. With more experience, you can think about adding a rooster, hatching chicks or even rearing birds for the table. Remember, you don’t need a rooster for a hen to lay eggs (and your neighbours might not appreciate his crowing either!). A safe clean house, food and water, and a little bit of attention is all that’s required to keep your hens happy – a bit like us really…. Food Blogger Fiona Dillon started her blog, Hunters Lodge Living in 2010. She currently writes for Irish Country Magazine and presents the Breakfast Show on CRKC88.7fm. Her first book “Food From An Irish Garden”, which documents her back to basics lifestyle, will be in bookstores in November 2013. For my online booklet on Keeping Chickens visit www.hunterslodgeliving.com.