“ Animal Species: Birds „
I have kept chickens for about the last two years now and my parents also kept chickens while I was growing up so they have always been a household pet for me.
Where Do I Get Chickens From?
Good question, because you don't exactly see chickens for sale in pet shops now do you? We got most of our chickens from battery farms, quite often in our local paper, they advertise chickens free to a good home. This is because they only keep chickens in battery farms for two years as they believe this is the best laying period for them. After this time, they get rid of the hens as they do not produce as many eggs. If the hens are not re-homed, they are killed so we are more then keen to go and collect some more when we see the advert.
Another place you can get chickens from are local breeders. There are so many different types of chickens and people that are really into keeping chickens will probably obtain their hens from a specialised breeder. Quite often you will see adverts in pet shops and newspapers for local breeders.
What Do Chickens Live In?
Chickens will need a hutch. My Dad actually built our hutch which is obviously big enough for all the hens we keep. Your hutch will depend on how many you keep, when we lived in town and had a smaller garden; we obviously had a smaller hutch. At the moment, we have ten chickens, two turkeys and an Indian runner duck who all live together in a hutch that is 5ft by 3ft.
Chickens will also need a 'run'. Chickens love to scratch around with their feet and peck at the ground so as well as the hutch, they will need an area to exercise and scratch. Our chicken hutch has a run around the outside of it which measure approximately 8ft by 8ft. You will need to make sure your chickens will be safe from predators such as foxes. We have a large 6ft fence all the way around the outside of the run and also have netting across the top of the run as a fox had the cheek to jump the 6ft fence and get into the enclosure last summer!
Attached to the run, is a small ramp which the chickens use to go in and out of their hutch. At the top of the ramp, we have built a door which can be lifted up and down. This is extremely handy as at night time we close the door which means that if a fox manages to get into the run, he cannot get into the hutch.
Inside the hutch, there are a couple of things you will need. One is a perch because at night time, chickens like to roost and naturally they would pick quite a high up point to do this. The other thing you will need are nest boxes filled with fresh hay. We have six nest boxes at one end of their hutch and then a big roosting pole that sits the whole length of the hutch.
Remember that the hutch will need to be waterproof and we have used felt for the roof of the hutch which ensures the hens stay dry.
The front of the hutch is on hinges which means the whole front comes away which makes it very easy for cleaning out the hutch.
Their run has concrete slabs as flooring because we found that if you give them soil and grass, they just scratch it until it becomes mud and then in bad weather the run becomes almost swampy!
What Else Do Chickens Need?
Apart from the above, there is not much else that chicken's need except for food and water (I will explain more about food later). We have a feeder that hangs from the bottom of their hutch which means the food is always available to the hens and because it is placed under the hutch, it means it does not get wet. Chickens will also need fresh water. We have two dog bowls in the run with them which we fill up on a daily basis.
What Do Chickens Eat?
In short, chickens eat literally anything but obviously they do have specialised food as well as all the leftovers! We feed our chickens on layers pellets and mixed corn which we buy from Pet's At Home - the food is £6 for a 20 kilo bag.
As well as having this food, the chickens also get the leftovers from dinner and any food which is a little past its best. One thing that is quite worrying is that chickens actually eat chicken meat!! We have fed them the leftovers from a roast dinner and they even ate the meat which I thought was a bit wrong!
The chickens also love fresh cut grass which my Dad outs in their run after he has cut the lawn!!
We feed our chickens every morning and fill their feeder again during the day if they empty it.
We don't actually clean our chickens out that much because they spend most of their time outside of their hutch either in the garden or in their run. We clean them out about once every three months or more often if they look dirty. We use sawdust for the bottom of their hutch so we just sweep the sawdust out and replace it with new.
We replace the hay in their nest boxes once a week.
We have found that our chickens tend to lay more in the summer than they do in the winter. At present we get about seven eggs every day from ten hens so that's pretty good going. About half of our hens are battery hens and they still lay lots of eggs. We collect the eggs on a daily basis and then date them before putting them in the fridge otherwise we lose track of how old the eggs are.
Our chickens lead such healthy and natural lives and due to the fact that they are fed on a diet of corn, the colour of the yolk in the eggs they lay is a striking orange colour rather than being a dull yellow as most of the battery eggs are.
We let out chickens out of the run every day for at least 4 hours. Although they have plenty of room in their run for exercise, they absolutely love coming out into the garden for a run. It's lovely to watch them scratch around in the grass and finding all sorts of small bugs and worms to eat. When we first let them out, they go running up the garden flapping their wings and they really do seem content.
This is one of my favourite parts of keeping chickens, watching them dust-bath. To start with, they find an area of soil which is nice and dry and begin to scratch at it with their feet. Eventually they end up with lots of loose dust. They then, throw themselves upside down into the dust and roll around on their backs fluffing up their wings to get all the dust in between their feathers. Our chickens dust bath quite a lot in warm weather so I'm pretty sure that it actually cools them down.
Keeping Chickens Together
You can keep as many hens (female chickens) together as you like. However, problems will occur if you try and keep two cockerels together. They will fight until one dies so you can only keep one cockerel in with as many hens as your hutch will allow. We have ten hens and one cockerel and they all get on very nicely. As I mentioned earlier, we also have two turkeys and an Indian Runner duck in with our hens and luckily they all get on really well.
It's amazing how protective the cockerel is of all his hens. Even to the point when he sometimes tries to attack one of us if he thinks we are getting too close to one of his hens!
Last year a fox managed to jump the 6ft fence around the chicken enclosure and get in the run with the chickens. If it wasn't for the commotion that the cockerel made, then the fox would probably have killed all the chickens. Sadly he still managed to kill two of them but because of the noise the cockerel made, my Dad was woken up and managed to scare the fox away. You could see blood on the fox from where the cockerel has attacked him trying to protect his girls.
Obviously when you introduce new hens to your group, you will need to keep an eye on them to make sure they will all get along. To start with there will be a small amount of bullying where the existing hens let the other know that they are boss but after a couple of days, that behaviour dies down and they all get on very nicely together.
Clipping Their Wings
We have to clip our chicken's wings because although technically they are not flying birds, they can still fly to a certain extent which means when they are running loose in the garden, they can lift themselves over the fence into the woods behind the house. Clipping their wings means they have no chance of flying and are therefore safer. It is not actually cruel to clip their wings (I used to think it was) but it is actually done to make sure they remain safe. You can find advice about clipping wings in many internet sites so I won't bore you with the details.
For anyone who has the room, I would highly recommend keeping chickens. They are interesting to watch and you also get something back from them - fresh eggs everyday! I really like it when we get a new battery hen and it's lovely to watch them experience grass and exercise for the first time ever! Some of them have even been really unsure of walking of the grass because they have been cooped up all day with no room to exercise which is very sad.
Once you have the hutch and run, chickens are very inexpensive to look after as all you really need is the food and hay.
Keeping chickens might seem a bit odd but I really enjoy keeping them and I think it's great that we can give battery hens a second chance at a decent life.
If you are thinking about buying yourself some chickens the first thing you need to decide is whether you are buying chicks or chickens, there are pro's and con's of buying either first which will be stated further in the review. There are 2 main places that I know where to buy both chicks and chickens, if you live in the North East Lincolnshire area there is Lindsay Concrete which is located Wilton Road Humberston, Grimsby, DN36 4AW. Telephone: 01472 210 001. The chickens here can range between £15 - £40. There as far as I am aware they sell full or almost full sized chickens, the place where me and my family bought ours was at Briggs animal market. This is an auction which is early morning until mid day on a Thursday every week. Here you will have all kinds of birds for sale including lots of chickens, cockerels, ducks, bunny rabbits and lots more. Here you buy lots of chicks, you'll look around the lots first then bid afterwards, you can buy lots of 10 chicks sometimes which will be mixed breed or a specific breed, if they're specific breeds you'll usually have less in a box but they are more expensive, these chicks and chickens can go for any money such as 50p for 10 chicks or £15 for 1 chicken.
Pro's/Con's of starting off with Chickens.
There are a few advantages to started off with full sized or almost full sized chickens and this is they will be ready soon or are already laying eggs which is the reason why you get an average person owning chickens these days. Another advantage is you can identify the breed easily and you know that these are all female chickens and you haven't got cockerels lurking around without even knowing it. However there are disadvantages, if you buy adult chickens they won't be tame, this means they'll be scared of you if you go close most of the time of course they'll settle in eventually but they don't seem to be as friendly, also they might not like their surroundings.
Pro's/Con's of starting off with Chicks
The advantages of starting off with Chicks are that they are a lot cheaper as you can pick these up for pence rather than pounds. Also you can tame these very easily because they're so young, it's just like training a puppy. However there are a lot of disadvantages and they are that you have to feed these for months without them producing anything so they are like expensive pets. Also these are tiny and can escape through normal sized chicken wire, so if you've built your coop with this, they will keep escaping as I know this from experience.
Sexing your Chicks.
When you buy a set of chicks whether it's from an auction or a farmer or anywhere really I can guarantee you'll have a few cockerels in your set which you need to sort out and send back because these will only keep fertilizing the chicken's eggs. Sometimes you'll be able to sort these out really early on, if you pick up a chick and lift up its wing, if it is a cockerel it will have a smaller row of secondary feathers under its wing where as chickens only have the one layer of wing feathers.
Breeds of chickens.
Like a lot of animals you will have mixed breeds and pedigree type chickens and show bird chickens. You can find all the standardised chicken breeds on this website http://poultrykeeper.com/chicken-breeds.html This will help you to identify what breed of chickens and chicks you have, so if you ever do sell these on it would be helpful to know what they are. This was really helpful to identify our birds, I know for sure we have some half breeds too such as half silkie birds and used to have a full silkie chicken.
Spot the cockrel
As your pets are now growing up you'll notice that you've missed a few cockerels, these look and act exactly the same until they are older so it is impossible to know as they're growing up. There are several signs that will show you have a cockerel.
1)If you see your "chickens" squaring up to each other trying to make themselves look bigger by sticking out their chests and feathers trying to look bigger.
2)These will start making weird noises, it will start to sound like a choking noise at first but will then start to take shape into a cock-adoodle-doo.
We have had so far around about 8 cockerels and we waited until all the chickens had grown up a bit before doing anything about it, what we did is we went them back to the animal market to be auctioned off again, if yours do end up being cockerels these will make their noise all day and especially all night, this woke me up at all kinds of the morning. So of course you have to be considerate of your neighboughs because it will also be waking them up.
Housing your new pets.
Of course you want your new chickens to have a such freedom as you can give them and plenty of space to move around. You can buy chickens coops ready made up, you can buy different styles if you type it into google images lots of quite cool designs will come up. We decided we wanted a lot of pet chickens so my dad being a handy person decided to build one. He built basically a shed with an A-pex roof also we put in 2 big windows to let in enough light for them. We then have the basic human door, with a cut out bit at the bottom big enough for a large chicken to get in and out, this does has a flat propped up open so at night we can shut them in saftly. Inside their house you need to give them egg laying boxes they will only sit on these when hatching an egg, on the side of the house my dad created a sticking out bit with two lids, this allows us to lift these up and get the eggs without having to go inside the hut. Inside your going to want to give them a few things to perch on, we had an old shelving unit we put in there and they love it also you'll want to place straw or some type of similar bedding. The birds do huddle together when they sleep but it will just make them more comfortable.
Next we have the run, you can buy these with the coops anyway but again we made out own, making the frame out of sturdy wood we bought the average chicken wire with the big holes (of course we started off with small chicks so they kept running through it) so if you do start off with chicks make sure you get the small holed chicken wire. Our run is the same size as a shed but turned around so the whole thing is an L shape. In here we put down Bark for the summer, but once winter came we've had to play slabs over the top because it got all mushy with the rain and their mess but we'll be back to bark in the summer. In the run we have several large tree trunks with los of places they can stand on it, and in the corners we have bits of wood so they can perch.
Cleaning out the chickens.
Like all pets these are very messy, we fully clean out our chickens once a week and thats by purring them in the run and hosing down the coop and putting fresh bedding down we also put fresh bedding down mid week) we then just swill the run down as well but every couple of months you'll want to change the bark or whatever you have down in the run because it will be messy and smelly and your pets deserve the best clean bedding and flooring all the time.
Problem with foxes?
You will undoubtedly attract more foxes than usual so it is a must that you either have the coop it self off the floor and securely locked all around or that if it is on the floor the foundations are deep, our coop has thick concrete slabs on their side underneath and around the coop, so if foxes do try and dig, they're only going to get to the concrete, again in the run the bark is laid on concrete so again they will only dig to there because they can't get through. There isn't really anything you can do to keep them away but we like to put our leftover food outside so the foxes eat that and so far it's worked for them not to sit outside our coop.
Feeding your chickens.
Of course chickens love things like corn this does include sweet corn and other vegetables with you can try them on. But you can buy the large 1K sacks of food pellets which is what everyone I know uses this is around £10 a bag and depending on how many chickens you have, this can either last a long time or not, we go through a bag every week, they also love grass seed, I live next to lots of farmer fields, so in the summer although I shouldn't I do go for a cheeky walk and just grab a couple of handful of their barley and whatever else because they love it, we do buy boxes of grass seed to feed them because they go nuts for it. To help keep your chickens healthy, buy a tub of meal worms as well these will last you ages. A lot of people don't do this but my garden is a third of an acre so we have plenty of space, we let the chickens as well as the ducks out for an hour or two depending on the weather into the garden. You do have to sit out there and watch them (this will stop foxes coming in your garden) but in doing this the chickens will peck at the ground and eat bugs, slugs, worms and allsorts saving you your pellets for later on.
Free range freedom fling chickens.
Your chickens are of course free range chickens, they should be take care of properly and bought up happy, these need plenty of room to run around and that's why we let these out in the garden but other people don't have the time or space for this but it doesn't matter as long as you have a big enough run then it's fine. Believe it or not CHICKENS DO FLY, well it's more of a glide, but they glide really far and hide considering it's something they don't do, they don't fly away and if you do let them into the garden you can train them to go back into the coop on their own rather than running all over the place, because if you start chasing after them they'll get scared.
Unhappy chickens means unhappy eggs.
If your chickens are scared or stressed, you have a big problem that needs sorting straight away, there are signs of this.
1) They start distancing themselves from the rest of the birds
2) They start plucking their own feathers out.
This is something you want to avoid at all costs because it could mean saving their life, to avoid this you need to keep them calm and this can be done by simply holding the chickens and comforting them, like all animals they love this, because we tamed our chickens from babies ours are really friendly and will jump on you and sit on your shoulder and even come in the house if we're not looking. Also you need to make sure these are locked up at night so the foxes won't keep the chickens on edge. You chickens won't lay eggs if they are stressed or unhappy.
When they do lay eggs, at first they will be weird and jelly without a real egg shell, but it doesn't take long for them to take a proper egg form and will be small at first but as they become more used to it they will get bigger, the eggs are so tasty, the yoke is a vibrant orange unlike normal eggs where it's all wishy washy colours, although it will get to the point where you're getting 8-12 eggs a day it is a little overwhelming so we sell ours to people we know. You'll find that this doesn't pay off however, we sell half a dozen for £1 and since August until now we've only accumulated £75 in egg money.
Overall, chickens can be hard to handle if you don't have the time to take care of them, they don't need any specific attention but they do need feeding often and always cleaning out and of course if you can tame them so they're friendly then that's a bonus. They are very quirky and each one has its own personality, when we first bought ours we used to sit around for hours at a time messing around and watching them without even knowing how long we'd been there. I'd say that these are definitely an animal for an older person to take care of because they'll have more time on their hands compared to someone like me. These don't pay off, you can't sell their eggs so that they pay for themselves unless you have a lot of chickens but that doesn't matter because they're brilliant animals and one's I'd recommend for anyone to get.
Myself and my partner are avid animal lovers and currently have dogs, reptiles, birds, fish and ferrets. The newest addition to our household is chickens. We live in a terraced town house and our garden is not particularly huge but we felt it was big enough the house a smallish hen house and four chickens.
We looked around before purchasing our chickens and found that there were many places to get them from. The website www.preloved.co.uk seemed to be quite a good website and it was while we were browsing on there that we came across an advert offering bantam chickens and with it being only a 20 minute drive away, we headed over to have a look and 40 minutes later, left with our first two chickens.
Another place to get chickens is from a battery farm. Battery farms only keep chickens for two years as this is when they believe the hens lay the most eggs. After the two years, they either give them away or sell them for a small fee and sadly, any that do not find new homes are destroyed. We quite often find adverts in our local paper advertising them so this is certainly something to look out for when looking for chickens.
As I mentioned earlier, we only have a small garden so we had to be careful when picking a hen house. We were very lucky as my partner's brother was upgrading his hen house as he wanted a bigger one, so we took the smaller one off his hands.
Obviously the size of the hen house depends on the size of your garden and the amount of hens you intend to keep in it. Another thing to consider is that your chicken will need a 'run'. They simply love to scratch around and dig at the mud so as well as having an enclosed hutch to sleep in; they will need an area to roam.
Our chicken hutch and run are together and in total the enclosed house is about 3 feet wide and 3 feet high. The run which is attached to the house is about 4 feet long and this is sufficient enough for the four hens we keep. I would like to point out that our hens are also allowed out of their run on a daily basis and are free to roam the rest of the garden. The run is simply there to provide them with an outside area in which they will be protected from cats and foxes while we are not at home. If you have the room, you can have an enclosure big enough so that the hens would not need to come out of their run.
There is a ramp which leads from the house into the run so the chickens are free to choose whether they want to stay in the hen house or venture into their outdoor area and peck around.
As for the interior of the house, there are a few things I would recommend having. Our hens love to roost and in order to do this; they will need a perch in the house. Another thing that is a necessity in a hen house is of course nesting boxes which will need to be filled with hay. In our run we have a perch which runs the length of the inside and two large nesting boxes at one end.
Another thing to consider when purchasing you chicken coop is to make sure that it is waterproof. Not only will this keep the hens from getting wet, it will also ensure that cleaning them out is easier for you.
Our hutch is a purpose built run with lots of little extra which I like. For example, there is a door above the nesting boxes which makes is much easier when checking for eggs as you simply just need to open this door, rather than open the entire hutch. Another addition I like is that the main part of the run has a drawer that pulls out which makes cleaning them out much easier as you can pull the drawer away from the house and empty the contents meaning you don't have the added hassle of having to dig around inside the coop.
What Do Chickens Need?
Aside from the above, chickens are pretty self sufficient. Of course they will need food and water and oyster grit is great for them as it helps them to produce the shell around the eggs. We have a feeder which sits in their pen which means that they always have food and water available.
Chickens will literally eat anything! Having said that, they will of course need a food specifically for chickens and this comes in the form of layer pellets and corn. We buy a 15k bag of layer pellets from a local farmer for £7 and bag and then buy the corn separately from our local pet shop where it is 99p a kilo. As well as having this food, they also eat pretty much everything else, any food that is just going off, any leftovers and anything else that is offered. They also love grass and happily roam our garden keeping the grass nice and trim.
Oyster grit is fairly cheap; we pay £1 a kilo from our local pet shop and it lasts ages.
Again this depends on how many chickens you intend of keeping. We only have four so they don't actually make that much mess, especially as they are allowed out to roam for most of the day. Their coop gets cleaned out about every three weeks which literally consists of us changing the newspaper in the main house and replacing the hay in the nesting boxes. I do occasionally pick the chicken poo out the nest boxes and stick it in with the compost as it's a great fertiliser and also helps to keep them clean.
As I mentioned earlier, out hens are allowed out of the coop on a daily basis and are free to roam the garden. They really seem to enjoy coming out of their pen as the garden is full of flower beds and grass which they love to roam around in. Again, how much exercise they need is dependent on how much room they have in their run. My partner's parents have a massive chicken house and run and don't really need to come out at all as they have plenty of room although they are still let out and enjoy a good root around. Another reason I like the hens to come out, is so they are able to flap their wings. The moment we open the door to the run, our hens come running out and proceed to run across the garden flapping their wings. They really seem to enjoy the freedom.
A real bonus of keeping chickens is the fresh eggs. Our hens are only just starting to lay so it's a bit hit and miss as to how many eggs we get a day. The in-laws have around 12 chickens and they get on average above 8 eggs a day. We have noticed that the hens seem to lay more in the summer than they do in the winter. The difference in the eggs from shop bought ones is astounding. The yolks are literally a bright orange colour compared to the dull watery yellow ones that you buy in shops. This is down to the fact that they are fed a good diet and live a free range lifestyle.
Keeping Chickens Together
As long as there is enough space, you can keep as many hens together as you like. With cockerels, you have to be more careful as any more than one and they will fight. I do know people that keep more than one together but this is rare and the in-laws had two and had to re-home the other one as they literally fought all day. As you introduce new hens there will be a certain amount of bickering until they sort of the pecking order (excuse the pun). Also, if a hen has a cut, the other hens will peck at the blood and keep on doing so, so I find that its best to remove the injured hen until the cut is healed. Aside from that, keeping many hens together causes no problems.
I thoroughly enjoy keeping hens and would highly recommend it to anyone else who is interested. Watching the hens pecking around in the garden provides hours of fun and you get the added bonus of being able to collect your own fresh eggs every morning, knowing that they came from a happy chicken. You may not think they are a great family pet and although you can't walk them like you can a pet dog, they are actually highly sociable creatures and enjoy being stroked and petted. They even sit down on the grass as you walk over to them, expecting you to rub their backs.
The only downside is that chickens do create a lot of mess and expect their run to be messy at all times. They also poo more than any other animal I have ever kept but there is a bonus to this...it makes great fertiliser for the rest of the garden.
I have had chickens for just over a year now and I can safely say I am addicted now. I started off with six general hybrid chickens and now have 39 chickens of various breeds and sizes. We even hatch our own chickens now either under a broody hen or in an incubator.
Chickens need a safe coop which is fox proof, dry, warm and free from drafts. They also need an enclosed garden or run which is fox proof or you need to keep an eye on your chickens if they are left to roam free round the garden. Foxes can attack during the day as well as the night.
Chickens also need access to food and fresh water. You can drink and food containers from most gardening shops now. If you want to have eggs, the hens also need a nest box to lay their eggs in. You don't need one for each hen as they will invariably all try to lay their eggs in the same box at the same time, or mine do anyway!
For food, you can buy layers pellets which provide all the nutrients the chicken needs. You can also supplement their diet with other things like vegetable peelings, fruit, grit and oyster shell, but these aren't essential or not in my mind anyway. My chickens do get some vegetable peelings and fruit occasionally as treats.
Chickens need straw in their house to lay their eggs on and keep them warm at night. The houses need regular cleaning to make sure no mites and bugs get in to the houses.
Chickens do not lay eggs every day of the year, as normally they slow down or stop laying when the weather gets cold and the days get shorter. You also do not need a cockerel in order to get eggs. You only need a cockerel if you are intending on breeding your own chicks.
Chickens come in various breeds and they are all bred for different purposes. Some chickens are bred mainly for laying eggs as the most productive chickens can lay over 300 eggs a year. Some chickens are bred mainly for meat production and some chickens are bred purely for show.
Chickens also come in varying sizes. There are bantam chickens which are the smaller types of chickens. Most bantam chicken breeds also have a corresponding large fowl breed of chicken, although some don't. Even in large fowl chickens there can be a large size difference and some breeds are bigger than others.
As I said at the start, chickens soon become highly addictive and I could quite happily spend hours watching my chickens. They all have different personalities and different characters.
We now have different breeds of chickens. Some of the more specialist breeds we have now are Silkie chickens which have feathers more like fur, a big fluffy bit on the top of their head and feather feet. We also have some Polish chickens which are black with a big white fluffy bit on the top of their head. And lastly Brahma chickens which are absolutely huge, as compared to a normal laying chicken, and have lovely feathered feet.
In conclusion, even if you only have a small back garden you can still keep a couple of chickens, and there are various sizes of chickens available for all sizes of garden. Hens are only generally noisy when they are laying an egg, although some do make a bit of noise if they find a particularly juicy worm or nice bit of food.
I have now officially been a chicken keeper for a little over 3 months and it's safe to say I am the proud owner of 4 of the most spoilt, pampered little hens in Dorset!
The main reason for my decision to adopt some chickens was of course for tasty fresh eggs every day, but my girls have become great pets (so much so that the dog has become jealous of them!) and eggs are just a tasty bonus.
There are some things to consider before getting chickens. As with any animal they need looking after, but overall they are simple to care for and they don't need as much space as you might think.
Here is a list of the main things a chicken needs to be happy and healthy;
Obviously chickens need somewhere to shelter overnight from weather and predators. There are lots of different specialist hen houses on the market that are perfect, however they can be an expensive option.
To save money it is common for old garden sheds to be converted into lovely chicken coops and I've even heard of old cars being recycled into luxurious chicken houses! As long as the chickens have somewhere warm and dry with a bar or two to roost on and a nesting box to lay their eggs in they are happy. J
I find the best type of bedding for my chickens is hay which I scatter all over the hen house floor and inside the nesting boxes. You can buy hay at any pet shop for around £2 per small bag but luckily for me my granddad is a generous farmer and lets me pick the loose hay up off his barn floor! I have read that to save money other chicken keepers use dried leaves or shredded paper as bedding.
3. Feeder & Drinker
These are not really essential to chicken keeping as an old margarine tub would do but many keepers find proper feeders/drinkers are helpful to stop waste and make sure they chickens never run out of water. There are lots of different types available, the cheapest being plastic 'mushroom' feeders/drinkers which are only a few pounds each. They can either stand alone or can be hung up for the chickens to peck at without being able to scratch over. One of the cons of keeping chickens is that their food can attract vermin if left out so to combat this there are some more sturdy, metal feeders on the market which claim to be rat proof however, they are a lot more expensive.
The most popular standard food for chickens is called 'layers Pellets' or 'Layers Mash' and it contains all the necessary nutrients a chicken needs to be healthy and produce healthy eggs. It is available from most countryside stores and some pet shops in large 20Kg sacks for around £7/£8. I also feed my chickens vegetable scraps and mixed corn as a treat which they go mad for!
Chickens need to eat grit to be able to digest food and while they find a lot while raoming around the garden I also make sure there is always plenty available. I give them Oyster shell as it also contains a lot of calcium to help strengthen their eggshells. It is only pence to buy and usually lasts a long time. Another good way to provide calcium is to feed eggshells back to the chickens however, it is important to make sure the shells are crunched up and not recognisable as eggs otherwise the chickens get a taste for their own eggs and you'll be beaten to them!
Although it's nice chickens don't really need a huge area to roam around in. They can be happy in a small run as long as they are not 'cooped' up inside all day! When I first got my chickens I had a little run fenced off to protect them from badgers and foxes but it has gradually got bigger and bigger as they have become more spoilt and now they practically go where they want. It is lovely to have them wandering around the garden but they do cause a bit of havoc and will eventually turn your garden into a moonscape! A good way to stop them from compeltely ruining your garden is to have them in a moveable run which allows the grass to recover while the chickens enjoy some fresh foliage.
7. Dust Bath
One thing I've learnt since I've had my chickens is that chickens LOVE to roll around in soil! If they have the chance they will dig a little hole in some nice loose earth and have a good wiggle in it. It is lovely to watch but more importantly it is the hens way of cleaning themselves. An old plastic tray filled with soil is heaven to them and quite often all 4 of my hens will bundle in together.
8. Electric Fence
This isn't essential to chicken keeping however I decided to invest in one after finding a big hole under my chicken run where a badger had attempted to dig in. Luckily it gave up but I have become too attached to my chickens to let a badger or fox eat them.
Obviously everything I've mentioned can add to up to quite a lot of money which is one of the major cons to keeping chickens. My dad has pointed out several times that we must eat some of the most expensive eggs in the country! On the plus side, all of the big expense is one-off payments (such as buying a hen house).
Another point to consider is that while the hens don't take up a lot of my time, I have to take a head count and make sure they are secured every night, and be up early to let them out every day (if I'm late they get noisy!).
I wasn't expecting my chickens to become such good pets but I quickly discovered they all have personalities of their own and have very quickly become tame enough to follow me around the garden and wander into the house when they're hungry. They come running and flapping when I call them and love to be patted and stroked. I would recommend chickens as good pets for anyone, especially for children but as chickens are flock birds it is important to keep them with at least 1 other bird.
To sum up, here are the pro's and con's to keeping chickens I can think of:~
Delicious eggs (I normally get 1 egg per bird each day)
Poo is excellent fertilizer!
They eat all the slugs/snails/pests in your garden
Can ruin your garden if left
Expensive at first...and ongoing cost of food, bedding ect...
Can attract vermin (if food is left)
Takes time and effort to look after
I hope I have convinced some of you to consider living the 'Good Life' and keeping some chickens in your garden, or if chicken keeping isn't for you, to buy free range eggs and help stop the growth of battery farms.
I'm still learning a lot about chicken keeping as I go along, but hopefully this has been helpful to other novices out there!
For anybody that is interested in poultry care (especially ex-battery hens) this website is very helpful:
Well ruffle my feathers, if someone told me a few years ago that i would be addicted to keeping chickens i would have laughed at them.
Over the last few years more and more people are now keeping a few chickens in the back garden for pets and for the eggs, which to be honest beat the supermarket bought eggs hands down anyday.
I honestly think that the Recession/Depression has also encourage more people to own their own chickens too.
The chicken seems to be taking over from the rabbit as a general outside pet.
Chickens are quite easy to keep and once you have bought or made their coop and run, they are quite cheap to keep too.
Even though they love scratching around the garden for those worms and bugs, and they love eating your scraps from the kitchen, they do need 'hard' food as i call it. Corn and layers pellets as their stable diet.
Chickens do go off lay, so during certain times of the year , and tempretature change they will stop laying, and certain breeds are known to lay more eggs in a year than others.
The one thing you must watch out for is FOXES!!!!!! so you really do need to make sure that the fox can not get into the coop, and that once the chickens go in and roost for the night is to shut the coop/shed door
I havent gone into great depth, but hopefully i have given you just a smidgen of information that make you go and find further information in specialist books
As a chicken owner myself all i can say is they make great family pets
( depending on the breed) and go for it..... and once you have tasted your own eggs you will never want to buy eggs again...and one last think... its also great to know that the chickens eggs you are eating have been well looked after and cared for..
Well, obviously, I didn't lay it, one of my hens did. I am, however, taking some credit since it was me that built their house, furnished it (straw and wood shavings) and fed them all the lovely things that they're turning into eggs!
I've had my four hens just over four weeks now and am absolutely thrilled to get the first egg. I have to say, it did not last long, I collected it, broke it, poached it, and ate it, all within an hour (how's that for fresh!).
Having now succeeded, I'd like to share my thoughts with you on the benefits and pitfalls of keeping chickens.
I decided to keep chickens after discovering the joys of farm fresh, free range eggs. My local farm sells them and they are delicious. The yolk is a deep orange/yellow and so creamy. They have a full, rich flavour, nothing like the tasteless, insipid looking supermarket eggs.
The reason for the difference is the conditions the hens are kept in. Battery hens are kept in atrocious conditions, and fed on one type of food. They can exhibit none of their natural behaviour and are treated as egg-laying machines. Farm free range hens are treated completely differently. Allowed to wander, forage for themselves, they're happy, contented, and well fed. The reward for us is those gorgeous eggs.
I knew that I could provide my hens with the same conditions as the farm so decided to have a go.
Initial set up costs are quite steep. The coop cost about £120, big enough for five hens. I did not buy a run but that would have added another £50 or so. The ancillaries of wood shavings for the base of the coop, straw for them to lay in, 25kg sack of layers pellets and corn, as well as bins etc. added another £50 or so.
The chickens were bought from the same place as I bought my eggs (so I knew they'd produce good eggs) and cost £11 each. These are hybrids as they produce more eggs than a pure breed hen and are apparently friendlier.
So in total, I spent about £220 on my hens. Suddenly, the farm's eggs at £1.20 for six were looking cheap! Actually, most of this spend was for the initial set up. I'd done my calculations beforehand and worked out that I could produce six eggs for less than 80p. My four hens should produce about 1300 eggs per year, so what I don't eat, I can sell. Eventually, I will be saving money.
I'd been warned that hens destroy the garden. I can confirm it, they do. This is not a problem for me, but if you want to retain things like plants, build a run that contains the hens' destructiveness in one small area. I prefer to have them roaming about, but I don't care too much about the garden.
Another point you should know about: poo. Hens produce lots of it. It's brilliant fertilizer, but doesn't look great when you walk it into the carpet! This is another good reason for having a run. Either way, you'll need to spend a bit of time each day on chicken sh*t detail.
Keeping hens free is a bit hazardous too. You may have heard that hens are stupid. Well, they are! They always run to me and get under my feet (I've stood on them three times now) and, if you try to get any gardening done, they'll try to get you to kill them with the spade or hoe!
These are the only downsides. They're not very noisy; a cute chuckling noise is all they do (unless you step on one!). Do not be tempted to get a cockerel, however. You don't need one unless you want to breed the hens. A cockerel will harass the hens for you know what, can be aggressive, and of course, will wake your neighbours up at 4 am. Avoid.
I've enjoyed the past four weeks with my hens. They are really endearing and have different personalities. They always come to me when I go out, and (believe it or not) jump up to the window to watch me having my tea! They do make good pets and will allow some handling. The only looking after they require is daily feed and water, together with replacing the wood shavings and straw every week.
I was thrilled with my first egg and, as expected, it was delicious, so I'm now completely sold on keeping chickens. I think I've covered all the pitfalls in my review. If you decide that hens are for you and can give them the space, you won't be disappointed.
To those of you who read my review on eggs, here is the next instalment.
I'm now the happy owner of four gorgeous chickens. They are eighteen weeks old and I've had them a week. They've established a pecking order already and their personalities are all different. I have an amber rocket, a golden rocket, a black comet and a coral white.
They range from cocky what are you looking at then; to scared shitless (literally!) I've been picking them all up several times a day in order to get them used to being handled. If you're thinking of keeping chickens there are some nasty things you need to be aware of. They can get lice and red mites. The red mites are basically tiny grey vampire bugs that drink the chicken's blood. So they need regular health inspections.
We got our coop online for £120. It's quite a good design and we're really happy with it. I've made a couple of small adaptations to make it easier to secure at night. The rest of the equipment cost about £80. The chooks cost £11 each. All of which comes to £244. We've done a rough calculation and our eggs are going to cost us 80p for half a dozen. On average, half a dozen large free range eggs cost about £1.90. So that's half price.
Admittedly there is more work involved. You can't just pop to the shops and pick up half a dozen eggs. You have to collect them from where ever they've been laid. (Chickens don't always co-operate; just because you provide them with a nest box, it doesn't mean they'll lay there).
There's also the maintenance to consider. There are the delights of coop poop picking. Then there's the weekly clean out of the hen house and surrounding areas. Not to mention the trips to the poultry suppliers. Then there's the worry about foxy woxy. So it's not for you if you don't fancy any of the above. But so far, I'm enjoying it and I haven't had one egg yet!
Now we get to the joys of chicken keeping. The gentle contented clucking noises you can hear from the kitchen window. The pleasure of seeing them tootling around the garden when you look up from doing the dishes. Putting a worm in the run and watching them fight over it. Making them chase the light from your laser pointer. (Mean but very funny!) Their feather's are beautifully detailed and feel like satin.
The coral white is a real character. As I write this she's peering in the window looking at me. She jumped onto the wheelie bin and pecked at the window!!! Yesterday, I was watching their antics from the living room window. I realised I hadn't seen the white one for a minute. Then her head slowly rose up from under the window sill and one beady green eye was saucily sizing me up. I couldn't help thinking of a scene in Jurassic Park. Remember the bit where the game warden is hunting the escaped velociraptors? He thinks he's caught them and is about to shoot when he realises that it's a trap and he's the one being hunted after all. You get a look at the lead velociraptors beady eye; the warden says 'Clever girl' just before he gets eaten. I felt a bit like that, only with slightly less serious consequences. The actor playing the game warden was (rather ironically) called Bob Peck!
All I want now is some eggs!
I am not a big chicken fan apart from when its part of my Sunday roast. However, upon moving to the country my mum decided to turn her garden into something that strongly resembles 'The Good Life'. With various vegetable patches and a herb garden, the next logical step was apparently chickens!!
Purchasing the Chickens
Chickens vary massively in cost and with so many options, we eventually settled on purchasing a kind of "package" which included the chicken house, run and three chickens for around £390. This seems like a lot of money to me but apparently not seeing as most chicken houses (the properly built ones that foxes cant get into) cost around this anyway. The house and run that we purchased was the 'eglu' which is sold by a company called Omlet and is easy to clean and a good secure design too. It took a week or so and the whole lot was delivered and assembled by a nice man that seemed to appear.
In terms of choosing chickens - through the route we went down we were given choices of various breeds and this included information on what they look like and their character. Two are a golden brown colour and these were chosen because they are supposedly of an affectionate nature. My brother then chose a black Miss Pepperpot hen which has the capacity to lay over 300 eggs a year. When the chickens arrived they were around 20 weeks old., fully vaccinated and we were assured that they were most definitely females and would being egg laying in between 4-6 weeks.
Chickens can also be 'rescued' from battery farms where the chickens would usually be destroyed once they have passed their peak laying age. This is a cheap way of purchasing the chickens and can give them an enjoyable last few years. Adverts in the Friday ad and local newspapers are also a way of purchasing chickens.
Arrival of the chickens
We gave them some space for the first few days for them to settle into their new home. My brother (who is 9) was given the grand job of naming them. The black chicken was named Pikachu (after the pokemon character!), one of the brown ones (the one with the fluffiest bottom) was named Buffy after Buffy the vampire slayer and the other brown one was named Roxy after Roxy from Eastenders!!
Our chickens are just kept for eggs, as pets and to fertilise the garden. I did suggest that we could make a tasty meal out of them but once they had been named this was not appreciated. Gradually my mum and brother familiarised themselves with the chickens and they seemed quite friendly towards them. The chickens had their wings clipped so that they could roam the garden eating bugs when someone was home which they love.
Their cage is great and easy to muck out, however they do smell quite bad. Chickens don't wee - all their waste comes out in soggy poo form which is very stinky. It's a fantastic fertiliser and can be scouped out their house and put on the garden. They eat quite a lot but large bags of chicken feed can be purchased from large petstores or farms. They can also be ordered online although this will include a delivery charge. This, and water is all the chickens need for a healthy diet, however pecking at grass, bugs and various weeds will also satisfy them. We have also found that these chickens love a piece of toast on a cold morning to warm them up.
We have found that their cage needs mucking out properly every week so you will need an array of shovels and brushes! Once the chickens started laying we were getting three eggs every morning and these need collecting daily otherwise they will get broken and you will have the delightful smell of rotten egg after a day or too. On top of the egg collecting, the feeding and the cleaning - the chickens need to be let out of their house every morning (at night they like to huddle together in the warmth) and then close their bedroom door each night to keep them out the cold and safe from foxes.
So they are very high maintenance and if you plan on going on holiday - it is a real burden for someone else to have to come and take care of them two times a day.
In addition to this the chickens will also need their wings clipped to stop them hurting themselves through flying into things! They are not good fliers and generally don't we have found that if not clipped properly they chickens will have a funny five minutes and try and fly onto something like a garden chair but will then fall off as their sense of balance isn't great.
As long as they are fed a healthy diet, up-to-date with vaccinations and get plenty of exercise they are generally quite healthy animals. One problem which can occur is when a chicken gets egg-bound. This is where an egg gets stuck and the chicken will need some help from the vet to get it removed. There are other methods and suggestions to solve this problem but as it doesn't happen often its probably better to get the vet to sort it out. The chickens can keep clean by taking mud and dust baths (strange yes) but it helps kill off ticks and other bugs and nasties.
Their personalities and behaviour
I personally don't like chickens, they are ugly, scary, evil looking things and their jerky movements terrify me!!!
My mum and my brother seem very fond of them - the chickens will follow them round when they are in the garden and are quite happy for my mum to pick them up and they will then sit on her lap to be stroked. The first few weeks they kept trying to come inside the house but soon learnt that this would not be accepted! They tend not to eat things that they shouldn't and don't peck the people that they like - although they do often confuse peoples toes for worms! So all in all from my mum and brothers point of view they are very cute, entertaining to watch and great egg producing pets.
The three chickens seem to get on well although early on the two brown ones tended to exclude the black on but they soon got over this and now enjoy cuddling up together in their house.
THEY HATE ME
for some reason (possibly because they can sense my fear!) they absolutely hate me. Luckily I don't live with my mum these days but when I turn up they make a horrendous squawking noise.
This weekend I was asked to go and collect the eggs - feed and water them. When I arrived they made their usual displeased noises and with a murderous look in their eyes. I noticed that their food holder had fallen off and needed to be re-attatched - I was not looking forward to putting my hand in to a cage of evil birds that hate me so a sprinkled some food into the other end of the run to distract them. However their pea sized brains seemed to not fool for this and as I opened the end door enough to put my hand in the three of them ran at me and started pecking my hand. Somehow in my disorientated state (bare in mind it was pouring hard with rain and I was already crouched down in mud up to my ankles) one of the chickens managed to push open the run door and all three of them ran out making loud noises and flapping their wings as they ran round the garden taunting me. I decided to deal with the three escaped chickens a bit later and sorted out their food, water and collected the eggs. I then realised that they would not go into their house/run of their own accord until it got dark and seeing as it was 10am I was not going to wait this long. I started trying to herd them into the run which after an hour with minimal success I abandoned. By now I was coated in mud, soaking wet and there were several curtains twitching near by of people watching me walking round and round calling out "nice chickens" over and over again. I then tried gently pushing them in the right direction with my foot to which they started running and me and pecking my feet.
Everytime I got one in the house, id try to get another in and the previous one would escape. Two hours later I had managed to get two in and knew that the only way I would get the final one in was to pick it up. I wont even touch them when my mum picks them up as they scare me so much so this was an incredibly brave thing for me to do!! I counted to three, picked it up and through some minor miracle managed to get it in the cage without the others escaping.
I am now not sure whether I have overcome my fear of chickens by picking one up or whether the whole ordeal has traumatized me more. But it has definitely confirmed that I do not like chickens and would not have any of my own.
For most people the main reason for keeping chickens will be for their egg production. I must say that despite all the hassle of looking after them and them wanting to kill me - they do lay fantastic eggs. Generally we get three eggs a day and these are bigger than the "large" eggs you can buy in tescos. They are also much tastier than shop brought eggs and when used in cooking work fantastically. Given the cost of the housing, the chickens, their food etc, I don't you would make back that cost through the money you save on eggs but we all prefer them to shop-brought eggs. As the eggs are freshly laid they will keep for a while and if you are going to use them soon it is best to store them out of the fridge. A couple of times one of the chickens has laid a giant double yolked egg and sometimes one of them doesn't lay at all for a few days. But we certainly have more eggs than we know what to do with and these often get donated to various family and friends. Unfortunately my mum and her partner have just been told that to keep their cholesterol down they should only eat one egg a week - not too helpful when your chickens are producing three a day!!
Hens will lay about an egg a day for their first year or so but after this the quantity will gradually decrease until they are 4 years old where they will stop laying all together. On the basis that hens live up to 10 years this is something you will need to consider as once they stop laying you could still have 6 years of having to look after them.
Introducing them to my dog
When I visit I often bring my dog Bonnie who is a 2 year old Labrador cross Border Collie. In terms of her breed this means that part of her instinct is to retrieve things that have been shot without damanging them and the other part of her instinct from the collie is to herd things. She is very good with my rabbits and I hoped she would show the same control with the chickens. The first time she saw them in their run she did enjoy barking and running at them to watch them flap and make noise. But once told off for this she then calmed down and would simply go and sniff them now and again. They became accustomed to her and all was peaceful. One day I arrived with her and they were loose in the garden - I decided to take her out on her lead and make her lay down so that they could get used to each other. I then walked her round on the lead right past them, to which she just sniffed them and they stayed calm. Eventually I felt that it was time to let her of the lead. She is very responsive to commands and would come away from them when asked. She was most interested in following them round and eating and rolling in their poo (not so nice!) but other than that she only wanted to sniff and watch them with her tail wagging. On one occasion she walked up behind them and they hadn't seen her which resulted in a lot of flapping and noise - Bonnie ran and hid behind me, scared that she had upset them. However, once used to her they were not phased and seemed to be quite happy to walk up to her and wander round with her. Based on this I would say that other family pets could be introduced carefully with minimal problems.
The Good Points
You get regular eggs which are very tasty and could also be sold
They are quite interesting to watch as they roam around the garden
You don't need to keep a cockerel in order for them to lay eggs (less noise!)
If they like you they can be strangely affectionate
Their poo is great fertiliser for the garden
Their egg shells can be broken up and scattered around your vegetables and plants to stop the slugs getting to them
They eat weeds and bugs which can benefit your garden
they tend not to be phased by other pets if introduced appropriately
The Bad Points
If they don't like you they can be pretty evil
They smell, even when cleaned out regularly
They can make a lot of noise in the early hours of the morning if something unsettles them
They are really high maintenance needing attention at least twice a day
It can be hard to get someone to look after them if you want to go on holiday
The costs of housing and caring for them quickly add up
They look scary
There is a risk of them being got by a fox which could particularly traumatic if they are a childs pet.
They peck your toes thinking they are worms
they enjoy scratching around and this can damage your garden
They stop laying after 4 years and can live up to 10 years meaning that you will still have to look after them once they are technically no use to you.
I definitely don't like the chickens and would never get some of my own because they are just too much hard work and try to kill me (ok slight exaggeration but I'm sure that was their intention!). The eggs are great and they are interesting to watch but they smell and take too much looking after for my liking. For someone who has plenty of time at home or has other outdoor animals to look after then they would probably be great. My mum loves them and doesn't mind the hassle, so from her point of view she would recommend them but I don't think I can. So I will give them 3 stars as they do lay fantastic eggs but there are also alot of downsides as mentioned above.
We had an old shed in our garden which our daughters wanted us to turn into a chicken coup!
So we went and bought 4 black rock chicks. The girls have named them Eyelash, Twinkle, Cookie and Sophie, although we dont know which one is which!
They took around 4 months to start laying for us and I have to say the eggs they lay taste amazing! We get about 20 eggs a week from them.
Chickens are really easy to keep, we just fill the shed and outdoor run with straw, grit which they need for their digestion and feed them on laying pellets and water. We put 4 big shoe boxes in there for them to use as laying boxes and a large plank of wood for their perch.
We also have to clip their wings a couple of times a year to stop them from flying over to the neighbours gardens!
We let them out every day to have a scrath around the garden and at night they all just go back into their coup.
I also have a 6 year old border collie who isnt bothered by them at all, they all get along fine. Infact the chicken have grown to be really tame and when my partner opens their door, they all come running to the kitchen door for treats.
We also feed them all our leftover vegetables/peelings and bread. They also love a handful of sweetcorn which we just buy frozen from the supermarket.
Keeping chickens hasnt put me off eating chicken BUT we would never eat one of our own!
My husband’s new name for me is Tweedy, as in Mrs. from the film ‘Chicken Run’. I’m really not as cruel as her but I called 3 of our chickens Kentucky, Kiev and Nugget, just to keep them on their toes, (do chickens have toes?), anyway, a bit of background first. At the bottom of my garden is a paddock, approx 2 acres with stables, barn and tack room. My daughter had her ponies there until she went to college last September, and now the paddock is rented out. I missed the routine, the getting up each morning and ‘sorting out’ animals. The dog and cat don’t take much time to see to in the morning and I suppose I was feeling like an ‘empty nest’ mother. So that’s why I had a brilliant idea. I would keep chickens. Feeling like Felicity Kendal from the good life, I imagined being self sufficient (as far as eggs go anyway) and once the idea was in my head, off I went. First I surfed the net, gathering info on nesting boxes, chicken coops, feed etc, and then the difficult bit, to persuade hubby. Fortunately he had a week off work and I managed to persuade him how wonderful it would be to spend it together in the fresh air on a joint project. An old garden shed was placed on bricks to prevent rats and mice from entering and a good size piece of land was fenced of to keep the chickens in and the dog out. Hubby was brilliant at making 4 nesting boxes, which were lovingly filed with straw, nicely arranged to await a chicken’s bottom. Perches were placed nice and high as the experts recommend with a board underneath to convieniantly catch droppings and keep the floor clean. We managed to beg a metal chicken feeder from a neighbour, this is a large item like an upside down dummy that hangs in the middle of the shed and holds feed. I bought some corn and layers pellets (£4 for a big bag) which I placed in the ponies old feed bins with lockable lids as our local mice population seems fat e
nough. Next job....find the chickens. A friend gave me a phone number for a local supplier and recommended hybrids as good layers. At £3.00 each they seemed good value and the deal was agreed at 6 chickens. It sounds silly now, but I was excited about the prospect of their arrival and fondly surveyed the coop and surrounding land, imagining them happily scratching and laying away. I picked the names for 3 of them as I stated, and my daughter, a vegetarian who didn’t quiet see the funny side of my names called the other 3 Mabel, Betty and Beryl. And so they came home. I was told to keep them indoors for 2-3 weeks before I let them out, apparently this stops them for dong a ‘chicken run’ and trying to make a bid for freedom but as this seemed a bit cruel, I persuaded hubby to make them a door screen so they could at least have the door to the shed/coop open and survey their surroundings. Their imprisonment did present some problems as trying to enter the coop (ok it was a shed but now it’s a coop) without them escaping was tricky but I soon learned a handful of corn to the back of the coop fooled them into running the wrong way. Eventually the big day arrived and the chickens earned their parole, the door opened, and six fat ladies made a bid for freedom. We watched them fondly on and off throughout the day, and about 8pm I decided the girls had had enough for one day and it was bedtime. Thinking it would be easy I entered their territory, calling their names and generally trying to entice them into the coop. No such luck. Plan B, throw some feed into the coop and chickens will follow, wrong, some will but some will also run back out. Plan C, persuade hubby to do a ‘Rocky rerun’ and catch chickens, fall about hysterically as he chases them unsuccessfully and tells me this was my stupid idea anyway. Plan D, give up and pray no foxes/dogs decide to eat my new friends. Now any chi
cken owner will tell you, just as I can now, that chickens do not need to be put to bed, as soon as darkness falls they take their little selves back home to their perches and will look at you with beady eyes as you shut the door to the coop cursing at the little darlings. Other things to beware ~ Do not enter the chickens territory wearing any footwear with laces, the chickens will immediately mistake them for worms and your feet will be pecked to death. ~ Do not try to remove eggs from under a chicken’s bottom unless you no longer value your hands without peck marks. It’s much wiser to wait until the chicken gets fed up and leaves the egg alone. ~ Do not panic and dash to the coop because you see your cat entering the premises, it too enjoys curling up in nesting boxes and neither he nor the chickens find this unusual. ~ Do not be surprised when you come home and find one of your chickens has managed to enter the garden and is scratching up your flower beds. Be even less surprised that your Golden Retriever is layed watching it and is too idle/stupid to chase it back home. Finally, do not be surprised if you get attached to the chickens, or my girls as they are now known, after all fresh eggs every day make all the coop cleaning worthwhile.
Six months ago, I was washing up after a bout of cake making when a large truck appeared outside the kitchen window. It was loaded with crates but I couldn't quite see what was inside them without having a really gawp and to be honest I hate to look like a nosey parker (even though I secretly am one!). Anyway the driver stopped at our house to ask for directions and Hamish went outside to show him the house he was looking for. Of course inside the crates as you can probably guess were lots of point-of-lay pullets just 18 weeks old (apparently they don't become hens or chickens until they are a year old). The next thing I knew the driver was reaching inside one of the crates and handed four of the little darlings to Hamish who duly paid him and then set off to the bottom of the garden with them hanging upside down by their feet, two in each hand. That second a million horrifying thoughts when through my head as I still didn't really know that they were to be laying hens. I thought he had maybe bought them for eating and was going to wring their poor little necks, pluck them and stuff them in my freezer! I hurried outside after them and as I got to the shed they were safely inside with Hamish who was chatting away to them like they were long cherished pets. He then told me that he had actually bought them to lay fresh free-range eggs for us and that they would be pets. I can't tell you how relieved I was. Yes, I do eat chicken and I know it's hypocritical of me and all that, but no way could I kill and eat them myself, I would starve first! So now we had hens, we already had the house complete with run and a huge garden for them to roam around in, all we needed was to sort them out some food, water and nest boxes and bedding. I gave them some breadcrumbs and a bowl of water to keep them going while we went to get what they needed. It was getting late on a Friday afternoon and we had to hurry over to the next village
six miles away where there is a farm and garden store. So we bought some feed called chick crumbs which just looks like dust really but it is a complete feed with everything that they need in it including grit to keep their eggshells nice and hard and aid their digestion. Its also just about all they can manage at that age really as hens don't have teeth, although now they are older and are on layers pellets(the same as the crumbs in pellet form) which is a lot less messy. We give them greens like cabbage and cauliflower leaves,some kitchen scraps and poultry grit to help them digest their food. Next on the list was some straw to line the nest boxes and wood shavings for the floor, and for the bottom of the run. The shavings really help to keep the run dry and smelling fresh, I clean out the solid lumps every day to help to keep it clean and make it last longer. Later we on we bought some silver sand and put in an old washing up bowl so that they can have a dust bath which helps keep their feathers in tip top condition, we keep this outside the run and cover it with a board at night to keep the pesky neighbourhood cats out and to keep it dry too. The hens themselves though seem to prefer the good old garden dirt for this pastime though as long as it's a dry enough day. To start with, we made them a nest box each and when they started laying, which was about three weeks after we first got them, they used all of them, but now they just stick to one and usually take it in turns to use it,although there has been an odd occasion when there have been two hens in it at the same time!Most mornings when I go down to the coop there are four lovely brown eggs sitting there and the hens rush to the door to get outside and have a good scratch around the garden if it's a good day or into their run if its not. It really is a pleasure to see and share the day with them. Last year year we lined the run outside the coop with heav
y-duty polythene and have been using half of it as a polytunnel to raise seedlings. It's a huge run split into two sections so it works well as a sheltered run for them on rainy day days too. We try to get them outside as much as possible though, our garden here is massive and already they are making themselves useful by demolishing weeds in the borders and the gravel driveway. They also keep the grass down on the sloping side of the garden, which is handy. Another thing we've done is to make a kind of playpen for them using just a square wooden frame and some chicken wire. This means enables us to move them onto different areas of the garden to graze each day, keeps them safe from predators when we're not around and keeps our precious plants safe from them! They will devour almost everything in their path if you let them as they constantly crave fresh greens to eat. Another bonus for having our own hens (apart from the gorgeous fresh eggs) is that they produce really great manure for the garden and they love to eat slugs, snails and worms too they certainly earn their keep!If there are ever any surplus eggs we exchange them with neighbours for things like home made jam and marmamlade although it was always my intention to just give the eggs away,but people over this way like to pay for everything they get in some way or another so there is a good little barter system operating.You see now that the long Summer days are here, the hens are laying every day without fail and even though it works out at only one egg a day each for us that is still too many really, I use them in cakes and baking etc but we still manage to have some left over every week and it's a shame to waste them. I love to watch them scratching around in the garden. Give them a pile of leaves to root in and they'll be happy all day scratching,fighting and chasing each other over grubs that they find, cuddling up to each other when they roost on their per
ch in the afternoon or evening. They all have different personalities, are comical to watch and I do find myself spending quite a lot of time with them. Sheba our Doberman Pinscher gets on well with them too, although at first she tried chasing them about, but the four plucky girls (pardon the pun) turned and stood their ground and after a couple of sharp pecks on the nose she soon found out where she was in the pecking order! Now she just lies on the grass and lets them scratch around about her and doesn't bother them at all, they don't seem to be worried by her presence either, which is great. The only thing we haven't really done is to settle on their names. As a group we call them the Spice Girls but I want to give them individual names that suit them. So far two of them have names that we are happy with, Kylie who is the smallest of the four(she also was the inspiration for the title of this op) and Bessie Bunter who is the largest,greediest and at the top of the pecking order. The other two have been named Molly and Poppy but for no particular reason other than I quiet like the names. Molly is quite shy and seems to be at the bottom of the pecking order (just above the dog) and Poppy is the friendliest and tamest of the group and she loves to eat out of my hand, any suggestions?
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br> Thelma had "escaped" from the battery where my best friend worked part time collecting eggs. She knew how I felt about the whole thing, but she did let them run around when no-one was watching. Wyn handed me a nearly bald, almost unconcious bird with toes curled over and claws so long that she could not stand, let alone walk. There was little chance of survival, but we wanted to give her a chance. I brought her home, named her Thelma, and put her in a small hutch hastily found by Wyn. With no knowledge of hens, all I could do was nurse her. I dropped water into her poor clipped beak , kept her clean and talked to her. She started to eat a little layers mash and a few days later I placed her on the lawn. By this time, not standing on wire, her toes had uncurled. She struggled over to the drain and there spent her days. I think she was agraphobic. All that space was too much. Within a few weeks she was scratching for worms and her golden feathers were growing nicely. Then came the big event. Thelma laid an egg!! That egg was photographed with an entire reel of film. I still have the photos of Thelma's first egg. It was set in an eggcup decorated with tinsel: it was placed on the lawn in front of Thelma; laid in state on a flower bed as part of a still life etc. etc. Thelma's first egg was then boiled and eaten with all due ceremony. Never was there a finer tasting egg. This was the start of years of fun and learning. Over the years Thelma was joined by other "battery rescue jobs". There was Edna whose flight feathers had to be lightly trimmed once she recovered as she could fly the height of the first floor windows,my favourite of all time, Little Weeny, whose recovery was almost a miracle and Honeybun among others. Hens make good pets. They really do. Maybe mine were "imprinted" since they were only semi-concious when I had them and I was the first being that they saw with clear eyes. For
all that, they are easy to befriend. They followed me around the garden and it was not easy hanging out the washing with several large birds jostling each other round my feet. They also had a tendency to wander round the inside of the house if I wasn`t watchful and then jump on the lap of my seated husband. Part of their charm to me is that hens are definitely dim. Honeybun once ran to me straight across the duckweed covering the pond. I fished her out of 4' of water and she tried to do the same the following day. One summer morning as we sat at breakfast looking out over the garden, Edna noticed a blackbird pulling a juicy worm out of the lawn. She wandered over and stood above and behind the blackbird, straddling it with what would have looked like tree trunks of legs to the smaller bird. The wild bird successfully pulled the worm out and turned to fly away-- -to face the chest and legs of a curious hen. Both birds leapt backwards in noisy fright and the worm escaped. We were choking on our toast by that time. Hens are easy to keep. They need a house which can be closed off securely at night from foxes. This doubles as a nesting place for their eggs. Straw or shavings as bedding and nesting material is all that is required. Although my hens took much of their feed from the garden (which is possibly why free range eggs taste so good), I scattered layers pellets for them. The mash can get smelly if left uneaten and then become damp. If they are confined to a pen they will need grit for digestion and hard shells to their eggs. I managed to buy several packets of out- of -date reddybrek one winter. Such joy listening to them cooing away as they tucked into steaming porridge on an icy morning. Particularly amusing as I put some out for our german shepherds and they all lined up together outside the back door. From the health point of view potato peelings are not a good idea. Water must always be available. Will they wreck you
r garden? I found not. They "weeded" for me by scratching between the shrubs; although the stones they threw up didn't help the edges of the lawn or, come to that, the lawnmower blade. Should they be kept in a pen it would be considerate to have a small part of it over soil. Hens need to scratch, just as horses need to graze and pigs to root. Battery-rescue hens are prolific layers. I had one which would at times lay 9 days out 10. Most hens lay for a few days, rest, then lay again. As their feathers start to moult, laying will cease until they are once more fully feathered. Economically, a few pet hens will not be producing cheaper eggs. I regarded each egg as a gift, and the flavour beats anything you buy in the supermarket. All those worms! I preferred not to think of that. :-) Introducing a new bird to the flock has to be supervised. Those sweet natured pets of ours could be really spiteful to a newcomer for a while. With attention to their needs, they will live happily for several years. Little Weeny died in her sleep at approximately 8 years old. Chickens are clean, easily handled, great fun to watch, endearing and inexpensive to keep. Added to all this is the daily gift they present you with.
They say that laughing is good for you – and if you keep chickens you’ll often chuckle at their antics (and shed some tears, too). We have kept chickens for 5 years now. I am very lucky and live in the country, with a large garden. The previous owners left us a hen house, and it seemed natural to think about getting some hens for ourselves. They had kept theirs in the orchard, with a high chain-link fence all around – just like Chicken Run! There was no grass left, just dusty soil, and it was all rather miserable to look at. I had romantic ideas about giving my chickens a good life, running free. We were warned about foxes, but didn’t think it would ever happen to us…. Anyway, we started off with half a dozen chickens in an enclosed part of the garden. They were ordinary brown ones, and seemed happy enough scratching around in the grass. We read up on their needs, and bought corn and layers’ pellets for them to eat. They love greens of all sorts, and we would go to the veg market at the end of the day and take away some of the reject green stuff – chickens don’t care if the cabbage is a bit limp! Then I tried to grow some greens for them, but they will eat infinite quantities, so now it’s a special treat! Incidentally, chickens really do love that pesky weed called “chickweed” – better than chucking it on the compost heap. LOOKING AFTER CHICKENS Chickens wake up as soon as it’s daylight. If you keep a cockerel, he will start to crow. Watch out for the neighbours! We bought a bantam cockerel with two wives. He was absolutely tiny, with a tuft of feathers on his head, a handsome tail and huge feathery trousers. He would puff out his chest, stretch his neck, and out would come this pathetic little cock-a doodle-doo – so much effort for such a little noise! Anyway, he wasn’t going to disturb anybody. It’s good practice to
shut up chickens in their house at night, because of the risk from predators – mostly foxes. So the first thing you have to do in the mornings is let them out. Hens are so silly that they think they can all get through one tiny pophole at once, and they often get stuck in the entrance, all flapping and squawking, until one finally bursts free and they all come tumbling out. My chickens have a de luxe residence with nesting boxes attached, all nicely lined with straw. However, they know better, and as soon as they come out they rush off to the goose’s shed (yes, we have a geriatric goose as well) and queue up at the door for me to open it and let them in to lay their eggs. They all lay in the same place, on top of a bale of straw. (The goose is rather taken aback by this behaviour, and takes herself out of the way as soon as possible!) For breakfast, the birds get a mixture of corn and layers’ pellets, which we buy in big sacks from the local pet supplies shop. It’s not expensive, and they only get about 3 handfuls a day between seven chickens, the goose, lots of pigeons and sparrows and the occasional rat. The rest of the day, they forage in the paddock, which is fairly large and L-shaped, with trees at the top end so they can get some shade in summer. Much as I would like them to be, chickens are NOT vegetarians – they will eat almost anything. If an egg gets broken, it will swiftly be cleared up – cannibals! One of the funniest things I have seen is two chickens both spotting the same worm. With a firm grip on each end of the worm, the chickens haul away, with expressions of grim determination on their beaky faces. Meanwhile, the poor worm is being stretched out, until the inevitable happens – the worm snaps back like elastic into one of the chicken’s faces, while the other sits down suddenly. The battle doesn’t end there, though – they will snatch the worm from each other and
rush off with it dangling triumphantly from their beak, only to have it worm-napped by another passing chicken. This can go on for some time! I must admit to occasionally tossing them a worm just to see the action – sorry! The poultry will polish off any leftover vegetables, salad, bread, cake – almost anything (I wouldn’t give them meat, though). Some people save all their table leavings for the chickens. They have to have plenty of water, especially when it’s hot – two bucketsful a day. They are supposed to need grit, too, to keep the eggshells hard, but our soil is very stony, so we don’t always bother. PROBLEMS Chickens are really very little trouble – you just have to remember to let them out in the morning and shut them up at night. They keep themselves free of pests by having dustbaths. Unfortunately, this means that our paddock is covered in bowl-shaped holes that the chickens like to sit in – dangerous after dark! If you buy them from a registered breeder, they often come inoculated against the major chicken diseases. Sometimes a chicken will die for no apparent reason. This is sad, but happens from time to time. They can live for many years, but will lay fewer eggs as time goes on. We have 7 chickens of varying ages, and get 4 eggs most days – enough for anyone, I should think! The worst thing that has happened to us was the day the fox came. It was broad daylight, and we came home from work to see a few chickens running about in the garden. When we took them back to the paddock, it became plain that something was very wrong. The bantams were sitting on top of the wire fence (yes, they can fly if necessary) and several chickens were lying down. In all, we found 8 dead or dying birds, mostly bitten through the neck. It was a numbing experience to walk round with a bin bag collecting up the bodies of my feathered friends. Only the few that we have now
escaped, by getting out the paddock – good for them! It might be possible to build a fence high enough and secure enough to keep foxes out, but I think the chickens are happier having a really large space to run around in, even if they are a little bit at risk. Hey, life’s a risk! (and no, I’m not in favour of foxhunting). Sometimes a hen will go broody, and want to sit on eggs all day. You are supposed to isolate the hen until she changes her behaviour, but I find that if you just keep on taking away any eggs as soon as they are laid, she soon gives up. We haven’t had any baby chicks yet, as the cockerel died not long after the fox incident, but that’s something I would like to try in the future. Lots of people keep chickens in much smaller spaces than us, although I believe they do tend to eat all your plants if you let them loose in the garden! There are quite a few books available on poultry keeping (get them from the local library), but really it’s just common sense. If you fancy it, have a go!
Yeah, weird huh? It is true though, a chicken can be a really great pet. Ture, they are not as smart as a dog, or even a cockateil, but don't let that bother you. At my High School we keep chickens as pets. We built a hen house and an outdoor pen for them from materials donated from local hardware stores. The chicks we received as a gift from a first-grade class our school has helped out alot. I thought it was weird at first, until I tamed one of the females named Devi. She was afraid of me when I first started to try and tame her, but after a few weeks of pettings and treats, she would come right to me and allow me to pick her up. Yeah... its weird, but it's pretty cool too.
Gallus gallus domesticus