Last updated at 10:04 AM on 15th February 2010
Hen pecked: There are more than 24 billion chickens worldwide, more than any other bird Do you hate buying mass-produced eggs? Well, why not harvest your own supply from the comfort of your garden? The Henkeepers' Association estimate that the number of households keeping hens in the UK has more than doubled in the past decade to more than half a million owners. FRANCINE RAYMOND, author of Keeping A Few Hens In Your Garden and host of hen-keeping courses, offers her expert advice for newbies... ENSURE YOU HAVE ENOUGH SPACE
You can keep hens in a small-town garden on a bed of bark chippings if you have no lawn, but the plot size will dictate how many you can keep. I would suggest you need at least 12sqft for a pair of hens, allowing for a run alongside the hen-house. Ideally, you'd move the run around a lawn to offer fresh grass and allow time to repair damage. Let the hens out regularly to roam free (make sure your garden is secure first, with a 6ft-high fence). CHOOSING YOUR HENS
If you've only got a small space, go for bantams, a smaller, pure-bred hen. Those with more space could opt for a standard size hen, or a hybrid. These have been cross-bred to be prolific egg-layers - usually one a day. However, if you're a keen gardener, beware - hybrids will eat everything if you let them roam around. Pure breeds tend to have a life expectancy of eight to ten years. Hybrids have a shorter lifespan (three or four years), but lay daily. My hens are pure-bred Buff Orpingtons which are big birds, but quite easy to keep and friendly. START SMALL
I suggest starting with three or four hens: it's a manageable number, and you may change your mind about the breed you'd like. Also, if all your hens are the same age, they'll all start and stop laying at the same time, so it's good to stagger their age to keep a...