How to start keeping chickens in France

If you’re wondering how to start keeping chickens in France then this blog post should come in very handy…

Chicken keeping French vocab

Generally, when we refer to chickens in French they are poules, not poulets.

poule – hen
poulet – chicken (to eat)
coq – rooster / cock

Allow me to give you some more useful chicken-related French vocabulary to start you on your chicken keeping journey:

poulailler – chicken coop
copeaux de bois – wood shavings
oeuf – egg
blé – corn

la terre de diatomées – diatomaceous earth
désinfectant – disinfectant
vinaigre de cidre de pomme – apple cider vinegar
coquilles d’huîtres – oyster shell

How to start keeping chickens in France
How to start keeping chickens in France

Building or buying a chicken coop

It is our responsibility as chicken owners to keep our girls safe. We are charged with protecting them from predators and illness. There are things we can do on both fronts when selecting the place that our chickens will live. One of the first elements of starting to keep chickens in France is to provide them with a coop.

The coop should be solid, free of rot and mould, dry, secure at night, well ventilated and have a way for them to access it without difficulty. It will need to be able to be closed up at night once they are in to keep them from predators and accessible enough to you for it to be able to be cleaned our regularly to guard them against pests and illness.

How to start keeping chickens in France
The first iteration of our chicken coop

This sounds pretty strict but its actually not that hard to achieve. You can buy a coop online now and build it yourself – or even get a second hand one from leboncoin. We ended up repurposing an outbuilding that had previously served as a dog kennel. Whatever you choose, just make sure you can clean it and it’s safe.

Creating a safe chicken run

The amount of space you will need for your chickens depends upon how many you have. We have six girls in a run which is approximately 5m x 10m. This is their morning and evening space. They come into here for food, water, shade, laying in their nest boxes and I shut them in here for safety from dusk onwards until their coop door is closed and locked later on.

The run which we have was also in place when we moved in. It is double fenced since it used to house chasse dogs, and there is a concrete base around the perimeter. This is helpful because it deters dogs/foxes etc from digging their way in.

How to start keeping chickens in France
The chicken run is approximately 5m x 10m

If you’re creating your own you will want the fence to be high enough to stop the birds from flying over it (ours is 6 foot) and made from gnaw-proof fencing – chicken wire is actually a misnomer – it’s not safe for creating a run as it can be chewed through – so get something thick and durable. We have a stainless steel chain link fence, but you can also get smaller electrified net fences if you have a smaller space or want to move them around.

Our girls free-range in the daytime in the top third of our garden, and we had to do some chicken proofing to ensure they wouldn’t hurt themselves and that the fences were high and sound.

Free ranging chickens in our garden
Free ranging chickens in our garden

Rescuing or buying your chickens in France

On asking ourselves how we would start keeping chickens in France, one element that was very important to us was that the hens were rescued. We love animals and the prospect of being able to save some hens from being culled at eighteen months (when egg-laying becomes less reliable) fit our goals perfectly.

I was lucky enough to stumble upon the association Poule Pour Tous who are dedicated to saving hens from the abattoir at that eighteen-month marker. You can read more about them and how they work here.

How to keep chickens in France
All of the chickens have their own personalities

The hens come from local organic, free-range commercial farms so they are in relatively good shape and of course have had their vaccinations. We decided to order five hens (and actually received six but we’re pretty sure Buffy is old and doesn’t lay) who arrived very carefully boxed and gently delivered to us in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown. We immediately put them into their furnished coop with food and water and left them to acclimatise.

How to start keeping chickens in France
Sunbathing hens in their run

What followed was a crash course in chicken welfare and handling! We let the girls out some hours later and they loved their run. At the time it had reasonably high grass and lots of bugs so they made their most of scratching about and getting to know the place. By the evening they did not yet know that they should go into their new home so we corralled them in before nightfall. Picking up and holding a hen is a bit like holding a big tennis ball. You don’t need to squeeze her (she will be compliant) but you do need to be firm, and unafraid!

Raising your own free-range eggs

There is much more to chicken care than I could hope to include in one blog post – there are some excellent books out there on the subject and some great YouTube videos, as well as my Instagram stories where you can see how we get on with our girls.

If you’re seriously wondering how to start keeping chickens in France and considering going ahead and adopting your own hens, then I highly suggest reading up on everything first – and then going for it!

The whole process has been a true delight. The girls are friendly, happy and producing four large eggs a day on average for us. We can’t eat that many so often end up giving them away to friends as a gift and the quality is unbeatable in my opinion.

We get four (large!) eggs per day from our hens
We get four (large!) eggs per day from our hens

Plus you have the satisfaction of knowing that your girls would have been killed had you not intervened. Knowing the individual and very distinct personalities of all of our girls now, I am so glad they ended up with us. They have really enriched our lives and our cooking!

What if I want to go away? Can I leave my hens?

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked on how to start keeping chickens in France. Thankfully the answer is yes!

While it is important to let your hens out early in the morning so that they get as much sun and nutrients as possible for their health and egg production, it is also important that they are safely shut away at night to protect them from predation.

Chickens cannot see in the dark, so they naturally take themselves back to their coop once darkness falls (yes really!). They have a very prescriptive routine (and soon you shall too!) but one way to have a social life around that (or indeed a lie-in) is to install an automatic chicken door. We bought one pretty much straight away – for the sake of the girls, and ourselves – and we haven’t looked back.

The second iteration of our coop with automatic Chicken Guard door
The second iteration of our coop with automatic Chicken Guard door

Graham installed our Chicken Guard in a single day. It runs on batteries which last approximately a year and is self locking. The version which we have allows you to manually program the time into the device to set when it will open and close the coop door, but you can get the next level up which has a solar detector on it and removes the need to manually update it through the seasons. There is also a version for extreme weather.

You can see them and read reviews through my Amazon storefront here – where I have a whole section on chicken keeping and products that I recommend, including the excellent River Cottage Handbook on chicken keeping (below) which I consider my poule-bible!

In addition, there are also groups on Facebook (link below) where you can ask questions and learn more about chicken keeping. It’s all about the research – but if you have any questions or would like to know more do drop a comment underneath and I’ll do my best to answer!

Useful chicken keeping links

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