Chickens


Last Updated: July 2011
It took us a while to take the final decision to keep chickens, but once we had we couldn't understand why we hadn't done it sooner.


There are many, many books out there on the subject and most topical magazines regularly feature articles about starting with chickens. Add to this the vast array of  information on the Internet and it comes as little surprise that people get nervous about taking the plunge.The book we began with is Starting with Chickens by Katie Thear and whilst it gets some mixed reviews we would still recommend it as a good, basic starting place. I find it a little OTT on the different breeds but it still has a place on our shelves for reference.

We don't intend to even try to compete with or duplicate any publications, simply to share our experiences and snippets we have gleaned along the way.


Are chickens for you?
Happily, we've found that yes, they are.
We didn't set off on this adventure to make money, it was primarily the desire to have our own fresh eggs.
Quite apart from the eggs, the chickens have given us so much more in terms of entertainment, a sense of achievement, confidence to go on and try more, and a general good feeling about ourselves.



Where will they live?
It was surprisingly difficult for us to find a chicken house in Yorkshire but we eventually found  The Happy Hutch in Hull and we are very pleased with what we bought. The guys there are a friendly bunch and very helpful. 
This fitted 6 chickens quite nicely. It was orginally positioned here, under a holly tree to give a little more cover. We have since moved this small coop to another area.

With winter approaching along with a holiday we began to think about what would happen if the weather was bad, or if our "chick sitters" were delayed in a morning or needed to put the chicks to bed early in an evening. There wasn't room in this house to put water or feed in along with six chickens, so... we bought a shed...and made the chicks build it themselves.
                                                    
On the one hand it was a bit extravagant to have a shed for only 6 chicks. On the other hand it is ideal if we need to pop in food and water and lock them in . We can also prop the door open if the weather is bad to offer more shelter, not that any of our chickens ever go inside other than to lay their eggs, but it's an option.

Steve built a nest box on the side of the shed, made a pop hole and perches and I put net curtains at the window - yes, really!

It's not as wasteful as it sounds. We were planning to get more chickens both for eggs and for the table. Indeed, we did get ten more layers in Spring 2011.
The small house went into service as a permanent home for our original hens. They've given us so much that we shall give them a home for the rest of their natural, regardless of egg production.
The chicks have quite a large run and are pretty much free range, just confined to one part of the garden.


We started out with posts and chicken wire to enclose the run and on nice evenings we would let them out into the orchard whilst we sat and drank beer. Then we were given some of those big railing things they use on building sites so we extended the chicken area with those. They are really useful as they are easy to move around.


What breed shall we have?
Do you know how many breeds and cross breeds of chicken there are?! You won't find the answer here I'm afraid. It all came down to what we could get and, frankly, we were once again a bit snookered with what Yorkshire had to offer at the time.
We did visit Glencroft Poultry but that's not particularly close to us.
We considered having some ex-bats as people have taken to calling them but as Newbies we didn't feel it was appropriate to offer a home to hens who have suffered when we had little idea of how we would cope. So whilst Steve wanted his Black Rocks and Sussex, it came down to getting what we could locally. We ended up getting some pullets through word of mouth; 3 Warrens and 3 Amber Stars.

We picked them up in the late afternoon and brought them home in cardboard boxes lined with straw. We popped them straight into their new home and left them to settle overnight. They were all a little nervous about coming out the next morning but were soon exploring their new home and quickly got down to the business of establishing the pecking order.

In the Spring of 2011 we got 10 more Warrens and followed the same proceedure. We kept them seperate from our original girls so everything was fairly easy.

Food 
Good grief!  There's an awful lot of information about what to feed your chickens. And an awful lot of advice about additives and whatnot. I suspect that we have fallen into the trap of buying almost every additive known to chicken keepers at some point over the last couple of years. We have come to the conclusion that, just like us, all that is needed is a balanced diet and a supply of fresh water.

They get layers pellets every morning and corn in the evening.
We have small plant pots of grit and oyster shell near their feeder and we sprinkle some about now and then but we think they get enough grit from their own foraging. 
During the winter, if it's particularly cold, they get some porridge mid-morning as a treat.
They also get whatever we can give them from the garden and whatever they can find for themselves. Frogs and toads are popular and Steve saw one of them devour a baby bird once.

After a spell of soft shells from one of our chicks we tried Poultry Spice, Limestone Flour, cheese, baked eggshells, you name it, if someone recommended it, we tried it. Not all at the same time I hasten to add.We can't say that any one of them did the trick, although the Limestone Flour seemed to be most effective.

We add a garlic based product  Nopex to their water as a red mite deterrent and as a general health supplement and we worm them regularly with Verm-X which is a herbal wormer.

Care 
Our chicks get let out at first light every morning. We greet them before opening the pophole so they know it's us coming. I call them 'ladies', Steve calls them 'girls'. There's a mad rush to the feeder and then they usually come to see what we are doing. Every morning we have a quick check in the shed and  around the pen and perimeter to see that all is ok.
We always do quick poop scoop to get the larger pieces out.
We interact with them throughout the day and we handle them frequently. If we have not been in the garden, one of us will wander down around mid-day to check for eggs, let them have some bits from the garden and have a chat. We visit again in the evening to give them their corn. On warmer evenings we usually bide-a-while and enjoy a beer or two.
In their early days, getting them to bed was a trial. Like all youngsters they wanted to stay up late. Now, they're generally all tucked up by the time we go down to close the pophole. We always check to see they are all inside and that all is secure before leaving them.

We don't have a cleaning schedule. We refresh the straw and shavings as necessary and we do a real good clean out on the first warm, dry day in Spring and as late as we can in Autumn - plus others if we feel the need.
We only have two of our original six girls remaining.
We are currently building them a Retirement Pen so that we can move the ten new layers and possibly get a Breeding Trio.
We shall be looking at Light Sussex or Ixworths... at least that's what we said last time we discussed it.
You can follow our story through our Blog.

21 comments:

  1. Great post. I have been keen for years to keep chickens but my husband is far from enthusiastic. We have many foxes that live in our field, which makes it potentially disastrous, but still. I'd love to keep those lovely chickens that have 'socks' on, no idea what breed they are, but I have seen them, happily roaming at Rousham.

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  2. Hi Petra, thank you for visiting and for your comment.
    Foxes close by would make a life with chickens difficult. I have no idea which chickens have 'socks' :) Do you mean the ones with fluffy legs? Oh how technical we are! ;) Mo

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  3. Apologies for the cryptic description, yes they have feathers on their feet. Very small chickens, black and white if remember correctly. They are pretty tame too, one of them took a shine to me and followed me round the garden.
    Agreed, the foxes is a problem. We have at least 2, living happily at the bottom of the field. We suspect they have a litter, which makes my chicken prospect even more remote. The field is 'blocked off' by a ha-ha, but that seems no barrier for the foxies. Such a shame, as I was so keen to have some of the socked chickens wandering the garden... Oh well. I will have to do with plants and our dog...

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  4. I love your chooks lovely gals that they are! I've been on the hunt for a second hand shed too although trying to steer clear of wood. Your chooks look happy!

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  5. Hi Mrs Bok. Thank you so much for your comments. You have some pretty fine gals in your flock too! Mo

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  6. We keep chickens. They are such a joy. Inour last place we had up to a dozen chooks, a cockerel and babies.

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  7. We wouldn't be without our hens...

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  8. Hi Janet, thank you for visiting and for your comments. You had me confused for a while but I recognise your avatar :)

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  9. I have had chickens for years and consider them to be brilliant pets.

    It was always my dream to have a small holding with goats and pigs too - but alas it never materialised to I make 'do' with my chickens, and allotment.

    Too old now to keep up a small holding

    Loving catching up with your blog posts.

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  10. Thanks Mo,i was given some chickens by a neighbour which I aquired on mothers day.we have 3,but have been having problems with the light sussex as she keeps laying soft shells which the 3 of them dive into as quick as they can to eat the egg.I have tried separating her from the others in the day,tonic in the water,putiing ground shells and oyster shells in different containers(the other 2 go for the oyster shells but she does not seem to)we were cominy to the point of thinking she will need to go as we dont want them to start egg eatong but will try and get some lime flour as you suggest.Where is the best place to get is as I have asked quite a few chicken feed suppliers about our problem but noone has come up with limeflour.many thanks,great blog.flowerlady

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  11. Hi flowerlady. Thank you for passing by and for your comments :)
    We got Lime Flour from an equestrian outlet. If you would like to try it, I am more than happy to mail some to you. Our email address appears at the bottom of this Blog but it is not a clickable link. Mo

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  12. Thanks Mo,I hav been out today and bought some,have put some in the water straight away-have added a tablespoon to a gallon!? of water like hubby says its not going to kill them.Here is hoping to nice hard shells(I actually saw the other 2 pecking at her yesterday and she did no more than lay yolk n white and they all dived sraight in!!!!)

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  13. its been lovely coming by and reading your chick blog i have had mine for a year and a half now and really they are no trouble at all x helen x

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  14. flowerlady - do let us know if it works, and how your chick is.

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  15. Thank you for visiting, bears footprints, and for taking time to leave us a comment. Much appreciated :)

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  16. really interesting reading, how much space would you say the chickens need? Do you think keeping Chickens is fair in a smaller garden?

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  17. Thanks, i doodle. I've always been surprised at the minimum recommended space for chickens, but you only need to look at the Omlet Eglu with it's 2m run for 2 hens to get an idea. Of course, it helps if you have space to move it about a bit, although I see they are now promoting keeping hens on woodchippings.
    To me, the space looks small, but I guess that is because ours have a relatively large space.
    No, overall, I don't think it's unfair to keep a couple of hens in a smaller garden.

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  18. Hi, you asked me via my Blog how I transported our chickens to the Allotment, well we used 4 cardboard boxes big enough to transport each one safely. They were the boxes we used to bring them home in when we collected them from the re-homing farm. Each box had ventilation holes in the sides and lined with straw, they were happy to travel that way.

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    1. :) I wasn't suggesting that you might have done anything wrong. I was just intrigued by how you transported them for a day out... i had visions of checking for mittens and scarves, and had they all been to the loo before you set off - LOL!

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  19. Hi great reading. We have been keeping chickens since last august which we got when they were only 8weeks old. One of them has just started to lay and the shells are really hard, all i do is keep them supplied with baked egg shell. We have also started to keep them on woodchippings and they love it. They love foraging around in them and because of a problem we have with water it also gives them a solid ground to walk on.

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    1. Hi Tina! Thank you for visiting and for taking the time to leave a comment. You have reminded me that I need to update this page :)
      It sounds like you have some happy chickens there. You intrigue me with a mention of water problems but I have no link to follow. Do you have a Blog?

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