A hen will live for about 5 to 7 years and lay about 250 eggs a year. They lay more in the longer summer days. Hens are, in general, easy creatures to look after, but they still require a commitment.
Food: Organic pellets supplemented with kitchen scraps provide a suitable diet. A good rule of thumb is a handful of pellets per hen. You can throw the pellets on the ground, or invest in an automatic feeder. Hens will also eat vegetable peelings, bread and potatoes (never the skin). Do not feed them meat, onions, citrus fruit or anything that is gone off. They will happily eat short grass and weeds and will forage for snails, slugs and other insects. A fresh supply of drinking water should always be available.
Coop: The more space a hen has the better. Some coops come with an inbuilt run, but if possible, let your hens roam free during the day. The coop needs to be sturdy to protect the hens from predators and well ventilated but free of draughts. It needs to be cleaned every two weeks at least, with fresh bedding supplied regularly.
Illness: If a hen is sick, she should be separated from the group. If she becomes anti-social, stops eating or drinking or suddenly loses a lot of feathers, you may need to seek veterinary care. Worm your hens 3 or 4 times a year.
Buy: You can buy your hens from local suppliers through www.poultry.ie. Expect to pay between €8 and €15 for a good layer. Alternatively, you can get ex-battery hens, which are often free. They may take a while to de-stress and settle into their new environment, but they should still be good layers.
Remember, you need to register your flock, no matter how small, with the Department of Agriculture.