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Chick-chick-chick-chic k - Chicken!!
Member Name: MollyWH
Advantages: Great to watch, they lay eggs for you, gives battery hens a decent life
Disadvantages: Hutch etc can be expensive, need quite alot of room
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.
Summary: Chick-chick-chick-chick - Chicken!!