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Clucking Brilliant Pet
Member Name: JezWalker84
Advantages: fresh eggs, facinating to watch, easy to look after
Disadvantages: Can make a mess
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.
Summary: A brilliant pet
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