Thursday, May 03, 2012
Not so when it comes to saying goodbye to a chicken.
“Well that’s dinner sorted out, then.” is the common response or “Curried or casserole?”
But our chickens are pets – and you wouldn’t eat your pet, would you? Also, to be pragmatic about it, they’re laying hens, which means they’re pretty stringy and, by the time they go to the great chicken coop in the sky, are also rather old and tough.
Even if we weren’t vegetarian, there would be precious little to do with them apart from making stock. But it does prompt the question of what do you do with chickens when it’s the end.
Although hens can live to a relative old age – I’ve heard of them living up to 10 years – a shorter lifespan is much more common. The little brown hybrid laying machines, which have been bred over the years to pop out an egg on a daily basis, have correspondingly short lives. They’re lucky to make it to three or four years, although some miraculous birds last a while longer than that. Pure breeds, which take a break from laying for a few months each winter, and which only lay every couple of days, can expect to live longer.
All of this means it’s inevitable that the chicken-keeper will face a death in the flock sooner rather than later, so it’s as well to have a plan. I’m relatively unusual in the rural area where I live in that I don’t treat my little flock as livestock. That means that I even take them to the vet when they are ill. This, I might add, is greeted with some incredulity among the local farming community (and sometimes at the vet’s, too).
In particular, people seem to think it very odd that I’ve taken hens to the vet to be put to sleep – that’s really not the done thing in the country. But what are the alternatives? In the three years that I’ve been keeping chickens, I’ve lost four – and, as I write, one of the current 11 is looking a bit wobbly on her feet.
The first casualty when I started keeping chickens was Agatha, one of the three ex-battery hens which arrived in November 2009. She didn’t quite manage it to a year out of prison, but it’s actually amazing she lasted as long as she did. From the start she was always a bit hopeless, really. Her bottom – rather than being fluffy and clean like the others, and despite regular worming – tended to be matted with poo, which we regularly had to cut off with scissors so that she wasn’t dragging round this great faecal weight. That meant we also used to spray her bare bum with gentian violet spray to stop her being attacked by the others, for whom a bright red bottom is like a rag to a bull.
Agatha was also too slow to get any of the treats which we threw into their run, which inevitably meant she was hand fed corn and other titbits so that she wasn’t left out – I told you they’re pets. Despite all that, she seemed to have a happy enough life, although she rarely laid an egg. Around nine months after we got her, however, she started to look miserable and unhappy and hunched up. She was probably aged less than two and a half at this point. A trip to the vet confirmed she had a blockage from which she wouldn’t get better, so we said goodbye.
The next two had the consideration to fall off the perch (not literally) while we were away, leaving my lovely chicken-sitting neighbour to cope. The first death was expected – Wonky had been looking a bit, well, wonky, for a while, with a recurring limp for which she was under veterinary attention (don’t even ask about the bills); and the second wasn’t a huge surprise. The most recent also involved a trip to the vet and another fatal injection.
So why do I go the pricy vet route? I personally don't want to wring their neck or chop off their head as they are my pets and deserve more respect than that. If you think I'm being soppy, then try and kill a chicken yourself. It's not a pleasant experience and if don't wrong, can result in a lot of stress for the chicken and the executioner. I think they deserve better than that.
Of course sometimes death isn’t intentional. One friend lost a chicken to her lurcher dog (who was well and truly walloped with a Wellington boot and is now the hens’ best friend). The dog had left the chicken half-dead, so my friend had to finish her off with a meat cleaver and was traumatised for days. I admire another friend along the road who, having decided to breed chickens for the table as well as for eggs, has taken on the responsibility of killing them herself. My feeling, largely, is that if you eat meat you should be prepared to kill it – or at least not try to pretend that the killing part doesn’t happen. (And I know that’s easy for me to say as a vegetarian).
Given that my little flock isn’t intended for that route, however, I’m happy to outsource the task to ensure that there’s as little suffering as possible – yes, for me as well as for the chicken. But what to do with the little chicken corpses? Would you be surprised if I confessed to having a little hen graveyard, with individual headstones lovingly carved, for each of my girls who have gone to the great coop in the sky? No, don’t be silly – they’re double-bagged and put in the bin. They might be pets, but I’m keeping chickens and I'm not that soppy....although it might be different when my favourite hen Ena goes ;)
Monday, March 19, 2012
Monday, March 12, 2012
Wednesday, March 07, 2012
There are many chicken coop plans available to buy online, but the ONLY one I recommend is Bill's excellent ebook, which provides you with no only the best chicken house plans, but really great advice on every aspect of building and maintaining it.
But don't take my word for it. Read the genuine testimonials from a couple of very happy customers below...
"Have you been planning to make a cozy, comfortable and tidy coop for your chickens? Well, follow the guidelines in this wonderful resource! My chickens are happy with their new home! Bill's book helped me make a well-planned, easy-to-clean-and-maintain coop for my chickens. I got practical tips on locating, positioning, protecting and maintaining the climate in the coop. Like me, it will help you too to choose the appropriate size, building design and materials for construction. This book not only helps you save while you build, but also enjoy the freedom to customize the coop to your individual specifications and needs. With valuable inputs on light and ventilation, I was able to ensure that the coop position was such that it allowed enough light in, but did not make the coop draughty. I particularly enjoyed the creative and innovative ideas thrown in about building low cost nesting boxes with material lying around the house. It set me exploring my own creativity and resourcefulness! An informative and easy to follow read, this book will guide you in building your own coop at a fraction of the cost of purchasing one! " Rachana Misra - Go Green Farms™ Owner
Friday, February 24, 2012
Friday, January 20, 2012
Monday, November 28, 2011
Monday, September 19, 2011
Often the price looks attractive, the house looks attractive, heck even the clean-wellied family standing there feeding the chickens look attractive. Surely they know a quality chicken house when they see one? There are many cheap and nasty coops flooding the market. I know this as I've tested a number of them in the field, and seen a ewe run straight through one when the feed bucket appeared. The result was nothing but an expensive pile of firewood and a small flock of bemused and now homeless bantams.
More often than not these mass produced models are constructed of fast grown timber - come the first drop of rain they swell, leaving you either barricading a door that won't close, or ripping the door furniture off in a vain attempt to release the squawking inhabitants. The first warm day means the timber dries and cracks, the felt roof bubbles and boils, and come nightfall the hens refuse to go in. This is not due to their disappointment at the decline of their once attractive property but because the hovel is now a haven for, and probably crawling with, the poultry keeper's nemesis, red mite. Add on the fact that it said on the blurb that it would suit four large hens when that stocking density was based on the Circle Line at 5pm on a Friday, and what are you left with? A couple of hinges and some kindling.
A decent coop for thee to four birds should cost you in the region of £150 though this can depend on whether you elect for a free standing house or one with a run attached. Assuming you are ranging your birds in a large space and the pop hole door is big enough for the breed you keep, then the main requirements of housing boil down to three points which will define the number of birds the house will hold; perches, nest boxes and ventilation.
Raising Chickens - Keeping Chickens
Most breeds of chicken will perch when they go to roost at night, this perch should ideally be 5-8cm wide with smoothed off edges so the foot sits comfortably on it. The perch should be higher than the nest box entry as chickens will also naturally look for the highest point to perch. A perch lower than that will have the birds roosting in the nest box overnight (which is incidentally when they produce the most poo) leading to soiled eggs the following day. They shouldn't however be so high off the floor of the house that leg injuries could occur when the bird gets down in the morning. Chickens need about 20cm of perch each (in small breeds this is obviously less), plus if more than one perch is installed in the house they should be more than 30cm apart. They will hunker up with their neighbours but are not that keen on roosting with a beak in the bloomers of the bird in front.
Ideally the house should have a least one nest box for every three birds and these should be off the ground and in the darkest area of the house. The house should have adequate ventilation: without it condensation will build up every night, even in the coldest of weather. Be aware, ventilation works on the principle of warm air leaving through a high gap drawing cooler air in from a lower gap - it's not a set of holes on opposite walls of the house and at the same level...that is what's known as a draught ;)
If you have a house with a run attached then the points above are still true, but you should also consider the run size. The EU maximum legal stocking density for a free range bird is (and let's face it, one of the motivations for keeping some hens at home is possibly improved or better welfare) 2,500 birds per hectare, that's maximum one bird per 4m squared. Take a close look at some of the bargain houses - it could well be the house has the right perches, correct ventilation and ample nest boxes for a reasonable number of birds, but will each of the chickens have anything more than an A4 sized piece of ground to spend the day on?
Basically give your ladies as much space as you can manage. Your chickens will thank you for it :)
Raising Chickens - Keeping Chickens
Tuesday, September 06, 2011
Q: What’s the difference between a chicken and a rooster?
A: A chicken is a generic term used to refer to both sexes. A hen is female; a rooster is male.
Q: Do I need a rooster to get eggs from my hen?
A: No, a hen will lay eggs regardless of whether or not a rooster is present.
Q: Where do you get chicks?
A: Find a local person who raises chickens or check at your local animal feed store.
Q: How many chickens can I have?
A: Check your village or city’s ordinances. Laws vary from locale to locale.
Q: Do I have to have a coop?
A: Yes, absolutely. Chickens need to be protected from both aerial and ground predators.
Q: I have a cat. Will it kill my chickens?
A: A cat will probably not take on an adult chicken, but you might lose a chick or two. However, my cat when I was growing up she used to let the chicks ride around on her back. She never bothered them. Keep an eye on the cat and how it acts toward the birds.
Q: I have a dog, and I want chickens. Should I be concerned?
A: My opinion is that dogs are more of a threat than cats. It depends on the breed. My dog was a German shepherd/golden retriever mix. He grew up with the chickens, goats, sheep, and other animals. He knew they were his to protect and never harmed them. HOWEVER, keep an eye on the dog; behavioral cues can reveal a lot. Also if hens are around a dog that barks a lot, it will be upsetting to the birds and could interfere with laying.
Q: What do I do with the chickens in the winter?
A: Keep your coop in a place that is protected from the wind. Provide lots of straw or other bedding that will trap heat. Give the birds plenty of protein-rich food and fresh water.
Q: How often do I feed and water them?
A: Just keep their feeder topped up and change the water daily. Be sure to scrub out their food and water dishes thoroughly with hot water & detergent to prevent bacterial growth.
Q: Can chickens fly?
A: Not very well, but well enough to clear a fence. Get one wing clipped (Does not hurt them) and then they will always fly in a semi-circle.
Q: How do I catch a loose chicken?
A: Run fast! Try to corner it or wait until they roost for the evening. Chickens don’t see well at night. A good method is to use a large fishing landing net.
A: It depends on breed, time of year, the age of the bird, and environment. Good layer breeds will lay about 300 eggs per year. Hens lay less eggs in the winter. Feed hens on layer pellets for best results. A hen will lay best between 1 and 3 years of age.
Q: How difficult is it to keep chickens?
A: It’s been compared to keeping a dog — except you don’t have to walk them. You need to open up their coop in the morning and close it at night (There are automatic devices that do this, but best done yourself), keep feed topped up, change water daily and clean coop every week.
Q: Can I hatch eggs?
A: Only if 1) you have a rooster 2) you have a breed of hen that goes broody (or you have an incubator). Keep in mind, though, that 50 percent of your hatch will be male. Figure out beforehand what happens to the boys!
Q: What's the best part about raising chickens?
A: Fresh eggs every day and interacting/watching them. They are the funniest animals with individual characters.
Friday, July 29, 2011
So you’ve decided to commit to a more sustainable lifestyle and are ready to stock it with a flock of happy, egg-laying chickens. Congratulations, you’ve reached the fun part :-)
Before you go out and buy chickens, you need to ask yourself a few questions: do you want hens only, or do you want a rooster for breeding? Do you want to raise them from chicks or buy adults ready to lay? How big a flock do you want?
But the most important question you need to ask is – Are backyard chickens legal in my area? Check you city, county, and state ordinances. You don’t want to invest time and energy into a flock that will be taken away from you. While your at it, talk to your neighbours. Make sure they’re OK with chickens. Promise them some eggs once they start laying. If you’re neighbours enjoy your flock, and the eggs you give them, they probably won’t call the police on your sustainable, educational, community enriching project.
If you want to raise chickens at home, four is the absolute maximum that can live comfortably in it, provided you don’t let the chickens range. If your yard is big enough that you can let the chickens out every day, and only lock them up at night, you can probably get away with a bigger flock. In general, a rooster needs at least 15 hens to keep him busy or he’ll harass the hens too much. So for small flocks, a rooster is out (you’re neighbours will be pleased). Despite common belief, you don’t need a rooster to make hens lay eggs.
What you really should do is spend a few hours browsing all the articles on this site, try and visit someone local with a backyard flock, and spend a few weeks deciding if raising backyard chickens is really something you want to do. In general, pets should never be an impulse decision.
I personally started my flock with day-old chicks, but before you buy chicks, make sure you have a nice, warm brooder set up somewhere inside and safe. Chicks need it very warm to survive. We used a utility light with a reptile heat bulb to keep everyone warm. You can tell if the chicks are too cold because they will become very loud and huddle together.
Once you’re ready to buy some chicks, there are many options. You can find chicks on Craiglists, but we got ours from a local breeder, and later, from our local farm store. You can also order them through the mail from several large scale breeders. Raising Backyard Chickens
Make sure they have plenty of water and food they’ll grow shockingly fast the first few weeks. Depending on how big your brooder is, they can stay there for a couple of months. Once they’re fully feathered, you can move them outside.It will take them a few days to get used to their new home, and you’ll probably have to pick them up and put them in the coop each night until they get comfortable going up on their own. Once they’ve settled in to their new home, your only duties are to guarantee that they have food and water. Chickens will stop eating when they’re full, so you can leave them with multiple days worth of food. Water should be changed every few days.
Even if you’ve bought pullets, there’s still a chance that you’ve got a rooster in the mix. It will often be hard to tell when they’re young, but once they start crowing, you’ll know, and they’ll probably have to go. We tried to find someone to take our roosters (we ended up with three boys out of the first five chicks) but no one wanted them where we live. If you are going to get chickens, you either need to have someone ready and willing to take your roosters, or be prepared to take care of them yourself. I ended up slaughtering our three roosters, which is a very unpleasant option for many. If you have a small flock, a rooster may end up harassing your hens to death, so often keeping them is simply not an option.
Once your flock is happy and established, you’ll find that they require very little maintenance. You need to check on their food and water everyday, check for eggs once they’re laying, and clean out their coop every month or so. You’ll discover that they’re not nearly as noisy or smelly as many non-chicken owner claim. If you’re coop does start to smell, it means that you need to clean it more often and if they do get very noisy, than something is stressing them out.
You’ll also find that they’re far more entertaining than you originally expected. They have personalities, hierarchies, and strange quirks. I discovered that mine are absolutely terrified of logs. We put a big piece of willow in the run for them to play on and instead they huddled terrified in the far corner until it was removed.
Chickens are a great educational tool for teaching children about ecology, developmental biology, and food awareness and an even better tool for teaching adults about sustainable living. With the right set up, a small flock requires about as much effort to maintain as a house cat, but, of course, house cats don’t lay eggs ;-)
Raising Backyard Chickens