Chickens – the practical stuff
Thanks for your comments on my chicken post. Sorry it’s taken me so long to get round to answering your questions, my netbook’s on it’s way out and has days where it decides it just doesn’t want to work – hence no Llun Dydd Llun this week.
So, for this week only, here’s Llun Dydd Gwener (Friday’s Picture!)
Anyway, back to the chickens:
1. Space – Chicken coop suppliers lead you to believe that chickens needs very little space.
I lusted after an Omlet Eglu for ages, but the bank account wouldn’t allow so I ended up buying a 2nd hand chicken ark for 30 quid on ebay that was supposed to be suitable for 4 chickens. Both work on the principle of giving the hens a relatively small run that can be moved around the garden every few days so the chickens always have fresh ground to scratch.
However, maybe its because ex-batts tend to be quite large birds, but mine looked cramped in the ark. Also, after a while they started to really hen peck each other, to the point where one of them had the bone of her skull exposed.
In desperation I tried posting on some forums an the consensus was that the ark, although sold as a 4 hen, was too small. Most people recommended a run that has at least 1 meter square per chicken.
So poor OH set about constructing a walk in run. It is about 4 meters on each side and has plenty of different levels to keep chooks happy. However, it does turn into a mudbath when its wet, and to be honest, I hate to see them confined so I let them out most of the time.
Don’t know if sharing this helps, but I guess the conclusion is that chickens would like to have as much space as you can give and if you’re softie like me you may well end up having them out and trashing your garden most of the time!
2. Food – Layers Pellets are specifically designed to provide the right nutritional diet for hens, however, chickens do love a bit of mixed corn too. I find that corn fed chickens seem to produce richer yolks in their eggs, so I started giving my ladies half and half mixed corn and pellets so that they get the nutrients they need and I get tasty eggs!
A large sack of each comes to about 16 pounds and lasts me 3 to 4 months. It should last longer really as each hen is supposed to have about 4oz a day but my dogs and the local crow populations have a habit of stealing chicken food!
3. Poo! – I line the chickens nesting box with newspaper the cover it with a good layer of straw. Every morning, when we go to collect the eggs, I take a plastic bag with me, and take out any solid poop and chuck it on the compost heap (chicken poop is a great compost accelerator and the straw provides valuable ‘brown matter’ to mix with the ‘green’ of the veg peelings and make lovely compost) . I prob top up the nesting box with straw about once a week.
About once a month I clean out the box by simply rolling up the newspaper and spent straw, chucking it on the compost, cleaning out the coop and laying fresh straw. I bought a bale of straw for about 3 pounds when I got the chooks and its still going strong now so bedding is pretty cheap. And doing it this way means it takes a couple of seconds on a daily basis and then about 10 mins once a month – easy!
3. Going away – As chicken needs are fairly basic, going away isn’t too much of a problem. Daily cleaning out, and topping up with fresh food and water takes less than 5 mins a day, and I have plenty of friends and neighbours who are more than happy to pop in once a day. In fact, they are queing up to do it because in return, they get scrummy fresh eggs!
4. How many? – Chickens are not solitary animals and you should never keep just one. Two would be possible, but the BHWT recommend that people take at least 3. This is so that should one die there would still be two to keep each other company. Introducing new hens can be difficult and a new hen is likely to be picked on while the pecking order is established – and trust me, chickens can be vicious!
I hope this lot helps answer your questions. If you have any more please feel free to ask. And if you keep chickens yourself, how do you do yours?