Thursday, December 29, 2005

Keeping Chickens at Home - OK, I know it's not a chicken!!

Keeping Chickens at Home - OK, I know it's not a chicken!!

Keeping chickens at home UK
One of the pigs (Pork-Chop) wouldn't stop following me around the other day when I was taking some pictures of the chickens. So here's a picture of her. It turned out to be the bread I had to entice the hens she was really interested in. Pigs eh! Only thinking of their stomach.

Keeping chickens at home.

Keeping Chickens at Home - I'm a Pheasant Plucker!!

Keeping Chickens at Home- I'm a Pheasant Plucker!!

Keeping chickens at home UK
Hope you all had a great Xmas. Our Xmas goose was as delicious as ever. Plucking a goose is no mean feat and is not something I look forward to. Unlike a chicken, a goose has feathers AND down!. I think it's their final revenge for me.

No sooner have your plucked out the main feathers, you are meet by another layer of pure fluff that gets absolutely everywhere. I used to be picking down and feathers from every orifice for the next six months!

The first time I kept geese for Xmas, I raised eight of them. One for myself and the rest were for friends and family around the village. I considered myself a pheasant plucker (is that the right way round?) and started plucking the eight geese two days before Xmas. I was still at it on Xmas eve. Never again!

I always 'dry plucked' the birds. That is exactly as it sounds. Plucking the birds very soon after slaughter whilst the birds are still warm and the feathers come out easier. For chickens and pheasants, this is fine and dandy. Not so for geese and ducks due to the extra down.

You can imagine my delight when someone explained to me the quicker and easier way to pluck all birds. Wet plucking! Not rocket science I hear you cry, but the simplest things are only simple if you know about them right? By placing the bird in a container of hot water (80 degrees Celsius) for 30-60 minutes, the feathers almost fly out. And because it is wet, the feathers and down don't fly around everywhere. Brilliant. It took me 1hour 23 minutes this year to pluck my goose (normally takes about 5 hours!!). A new personal World record.

Killing the goose quickly and with no stress involved for the bird is very important. We shoot the birds with a .22 rifle from a distance of about 30ft. I used to chase the birds around to catch them and then break their necks, but I felt this was far too stressful for them and me! Shooting the birds from a distance means they are totally stress-free and not aware of what is about to happen.

I'm often asked how I can kill the animals I look after. My answer is always the same. Knowing they have lived a natural, outdoor life in the sun (and rain!) being fed only corn and grass is important to me. The fact that they taste better than anything you can buy in the supermarket is a bonus. Raising your own livestock isn't the easiest option, but for me, it's the only option. What I find interesting is that the same people who condemn me for 'cruelty' are the same people who buy 'Battery Farmed' chicken and 'Intensively Indoor Reared' pork. At best, these people are, in my humble opinion, a little ignorant.

Keeping chickens at home

Friday, December 23, 2005

Keeping Chickens at Home - Video of Fluffy Chicks...only 2 days old.

Keeping Chickens at Home - Video of Fluffy Chicks...only 2 days old.

Keeping chickens at home

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Keeping Chickens at Home - What's the best type or breed of chicken to get?

Keeping Chickens at Home - What's the best type or breed of chicken to get?

Keeping chickens at home UK
Keeping chickens at home UK
When you are keeping chickens at home in the garden, it is important to choose the right chickens for the job. There are Pure Breed chickens like Welsomers, Marins and Wyandotts and there are hybrid (cross bred) chickens.

Hybrid chickens have been bred to be either be good layers or good 'eaters'. Pure breed chickens are, on the whole, a lot more easy on the eye and will display unique characteristics to their breed.

For the past three years, I have bought Black Rock hens. It is a hybrid bird, crossed between a Plymouth Rock and a Rhode Island Red. They are great layers (200+ eggs per year), very hardy (suitable for free range living), well natured and have good resistance to disease. They are also quite a large bird, so are also good for eating. I can heartily recommend them as a 'back garden' bird.

You do have to make sure you are buying authentic Black Rocks as some unscrupulous poultry dealers try to pass off other birds as Black Rocks. To make sure you are buying from an authorised Black Rock agent go to to find the nearest one to you. Ben & Cathy who supply our Organic Black Rock hens charge £7 each for a point of lay hen (point of lay just means they are old enough to start laying eggs - 16 to 18 weeks old).

The hybrid hen used by battery farms are called Isa Browns. They are amazing layers, rarely missing a day. And if you raise them properly, they will be very happy and healthy hens. It also means you would be keeping a couple of hens from living a miserable life. Do be careful when buying them though, as battery farmers sell them or give them away after a year as their egg production drops. These birds have been reared intensively and they may be cheap or free, but avoid if at all possible.

Pure breed chickens have great names such as the Dumpy, Wyandott, Dorking, Indian game, Cuckoo Marin and light Sussex to name but a few. Describing each breed of chicken is too big a subject for this blog, so I suggest you go to and get a cup of tea and go through the different types to find one that suits you.

If you want to raise some chickens for the oven, then the two main breeds used for this purpose are the Cobb or Ross Cobb and the Indian Game. The Indian Game is normally crossed with a Dorking or a Wyandott chicken to produce the best tasting bird.

One area we haven't mentioned yet is Bantams. Bantams are just miniature versions of certain breeds of chicken. They are normally a little bit more independent and with a little more character. I've known them ignore hen houses and prefer to roost up trees. There eggs are smaller of course, but one or two are normally kept by smallholders as they are excellent mothers. They will happily sit on fertile eggs and hatch them for you.

So the choice boils down to a balance between good egg production (hybrid), good looks (pure breed) or good eating (Ross Cobb and Indian Game).

You decide what your priorities are and what interests you. Then find a reputable local poultry dealer and go and have a look and a chat.

Keeping Chickens at Home.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Keeping Chickens at Home - How many chickens should I keep?

Keeping Chickens at Home - How many chickens should I keep?

Keeping chickens at home UK
Before you think of how many chickens and what breed you want, you need to think of a couple of things.

Firstly, how many eggs do I want? The really good layers will pop one out almost every day. If you had six hens, that could mean 30-40 eggs every week. Is that too many or maybe not enough. You may be a keen cook and need the extra eggs. You and your family of four may love boiled eggs every day for breakfast. Only you know the answer.

Having said that, having spare eggs to give away to friends and family is great. You can even use them to 'barter' for other things from your neighbours. I personally have a 'Golden Rule'. Everything must pay for itself. I sell my surplus eggs and this pays for the feed and bedding for the chickens and effectively, I get my eggs for free. I have the same rule for all my animals. If keeping chickens is only going to be a hobby and you don't mind spending a bit of money on your favourite hobby then all well and good. You don't need to worry about it.

So get as many chickens as you think you need for an adequate personal supply of eggs. Six is normally a good number for most people.

The next thing to ask yourself is the most difficult question of all. Do you want to keep chickens just for eggs or do you also want to have the occasional roast chicken on a Sunday? Most people think the idea of eating one of their chickens is just plain horrible. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing pleasant about killing and preparing a chicken for the oven, but, unless you are a vegetarian or ONLY buy organic chicken, I think it's something you should seriously think about.

Avoiding the issue and continuing to buy battery farmed chicken from the supermarket is at best, hypocritical.

If you have a go at hatching some chicks (which is definitely recommended. I will cover this topic at a later date), you will be faced with the dilemma sooner rather than later, as inevitably, you will have boys as well as girls. The boys (cockerels) can't stay with the other hens as all sorts of problems occur. They will continually fight each other for dominance over the ladies.

You can of course sell them on, but most people have the same problem and they are hard to get rid of. The other (and best in my opinion) is to have the surplus cockerels for Sunday lunch. Like your eggs, they will taste fantastic and you know that they have had a great quality of life. I will show you how to kill a chicken and prepare it for the oven in a later post.

But if you simply want to avoid all this gore and heartache, just simply get some hens and collect the eggs each morning.

Do I need to have a cockerel? Contrary to popular belief, hens will quite happily lay eggs without a cockerel around. But a cockerel will keep the hens in order and stop them squabbling amongst themselves. Chickens always need to create a 'pecking' order and a cockerel does help to maintain peace. They also stop them wandering off and getting into trouble.

The biggest problem with a cockerel in an urban setting is the noise. A cock crowing at 3am in the morning will do nothing to help neighbourly relations and is the main reason people who live in towns don't have them. But if you do have the space and great or no neighbours, I think a cockerel is a great asset. And if you do want to hatch some chicks, you will have to have one, as chickens may lay eggs without a cockerel around, but they will not be fertile. That's the cockerels job.

You could 'borrow' a cockerel from someone and let him stay with your hens for a week or two. This will give you enough fertile eggs to hatch your own chicks without having to keep a cock.

So, have a good think about all the things I have mentioned and then you will be ready to decide what type or breed of chicken you want to get. Not as easy as it sounds and we will cover this in the next post.

Keeping Chickens at Home

Friday, December 16, 2005

Keeping Chickens at Home - More photos as promised.

Keeping Chickens at Home - More photos as promised.

One of my Black Rock hens shows me her best side.......and not to be outdone, one of the Muscovey ducks shows me hers!!

Keeping chickens at home UK
Keeping chickens at home UK

Keeping Chickens at Home

Keeping Chickens at Home - Getting started.

Keeping Chickens at Home - Getting started.

Keeping chickens at home UK
'Keeping Chickens at Home' is for anyone who simply wants to learn how to keep a few chickens in their back garden and just wants the basics explained to them in a simple to understand manner.

You don't need acres of land to keep a few chickens. In fact I kept three very happily living only a mile from an UK city centre.

If you and the kids want a new (and I warn you now....addictive) new hobby or you just want to stick up two fingers to chicken battery farming and produce your own organic free range eggs, keeping chickens is the easiest way to start raising your own livestock and begin the 'Good Life'.

Unfortunately, chickens and pigs still get a very raw deal when it comes to farming standards and practices. Things are getting better, but we're still a long way off. Free Range doesn't mean anything any more as EU standards are still too low.

If you're interested in how livestock are really kept in the UK and how you can help (apart from keeping chickens at home) go to They campaign for the improvement of intensively farmed animals. Some of the details and images you may find upsetting. I actually hope you do get upset and angry. I know I did when I first saw how animals are being kept in this country. But do something about it and influence your family and friends. Try to buy organic meat whenever possible. I know it's more expensive, but hey, eat less meat and you can then afford it. You won't go back after you've tasted it. And you know the animals are being properly looked after.

As well as posting articles on 'How to Keep Chickens', I will also pop in the occasional post and pictures of my other animals at my Smallholding in Devon, UK. I currently have chickens, ducks, geese and pigs.

Let's get something straight though, I don't pretend to know everything about keeping chickens. I'm still learning every day, even after years of doing it. I simply want to share the tried and tested methods I use for keeping chickens that have worked for me. God knows, I've made lots of mistakes, but hopefully, I can show you how to avoid the worst of them.

So if someone posts a comment or question you know the answer to, don't wait for me to reply. Get in there and share your experience and knowledge with everyone. Let's face it, the 'forum' aspect is always the most useful, as it answers the problems you have now.

So, if you've always fancied the idea of keeping chickens, the very first things you have to ask yourself is Why? and Where?

Why do I want to keep chickens?

There are obviously loads of different reasons ranging from wanting a fresh, free-range egg every morning to just enjoying having chickens scratching around your garden, softly clucking when they find an interesting titbit. This normally results in every other chicken suddenly wanting it and a game of 'catch' breaking out! One chicken will get the desirable morsel (in reality probably just a leaf or something...they are not the brightest creatures in the World!) and every other hen will chase it until one of them gets it. Then it's their turn to run and so on until they lose interest or just forget what they're doing.

I think it's important you just get it clear in your head now why you want to keep chickens, because, as with keeping any animal, they will be totally dependant on you for everything. Chickens are for life not just for Xmas!!!!!

As I stated earler, I started keeping chickens when I found out how battery hens were kept and I knew I could never support such cruelty to animals. But when I tasted the first egg from my first hen, I was hooked. The white was somehow thicker and denser. The yolk looked like I added yellow colouring. In fact, when I made scrambled eggs for some friends, they thought I had added something to it. It was so yellow. I could never go back to shop bought eggs. Even the free-range organic supermarket versions pale in comparison with the eggs laid every day from my girls.

Chickens are not the most cuddly of animals to be sure, but they are, without doubt, one of the most interesting and amusing to watch. Their antics and routines are a sight to behold. Try and watch a hen come running across the garden towards you when it's feed time without a smile on your face. It's like a fast waddle with the odd skip and flap thrown in for good measure.

They have loads of character and are easily trained. They will quickly learn to feed from your hand, allow you to pick them up for a stroke and a 'wattle rub' (It's nothing kinky, but the chickens enjoy it! ;-) I think watching a chicken have a 'dust bath' is one of the funniest things around. Especially when the hole is deeper than they are. It's like a scene from 'The Great Escape'. After they finish, they wander off, stop and have a final flap emitting a huge dust cloud. In case you're wondering, a dust bath is exactly that. An area of dry earth where the chickens can flick dust onto themselves in order to keep down parasites.

If you're already thinking 'wattle-rub, dust bath - what is he talking about? Don't fret, all will be explained later. Just make sure you come back to learn a little bit more about keeping chickens and to see how all the animals are doing at my smallholding.

Where can I keep chickens?The answer is anywhere you are allowed to. There may be certain local regulations not allowing the keeping of poultry in your neighbourhood. You need to check with your local authority to make sure. Having said that, as long as you have a friendly chat with your neighbours, no ones going to even know you got them (As long as you don't keep a cockerell that is! Your neighbours may not like being woken up at 4am with his energetic crowing).

By the way, you don't need a cockerell (That's a male chicken for the complete beginners out there) for hens (female chickens) to lay eggs. They are perfectly happy and will lay as many eggs without a man around. How many woman out there are now thinking "Lucky things!!". It's the ultimate in 'Girl Power'.

We will go into the types of housing for chickens later on, but a space of about 6ft x 4ft is needed to keep 3-6 hens. Their accommodation consists of a sleeping and laying area (which is covered and protects them from the elements and a covered 'run' area. This is where they spend the day scratching around. 'Scratching' is when the chicken uses it's feet to scratch the ground looking for bugs to eat.

Ideally their house will need to be portable, so that it can be moved over fresh grass every day. You can also have a permanent hen house and alternate the areas of grass they use with the use of a fence. It's important to change or rotate the area they use, otherwise they will soon scratch it up and it will be bare earth in a very short time. Keeping any animal on the same ground for a long time is not a good idea as parasdites will soon start to build up and cause health problems.

Even though it's what they naturely prefer, you don't have to keep chickens on grass at all. You can put them on a thick layer of straw or woodchips. Change it every four weeks and you will not only get great eggs, but you will also have the best compost for miles around.

Whichever route you decide to take, the most important thing of all is to make sure the chickens are treated with care and respect. They must have a dry, comfortable and safe place to sleep, a dark and clean place to lay their eggs, access to food and fresh water and a safe and sheltered outdoor area to spend the day.

Keep these things in mind and you will raise the happiest chickens in the world. And in return, they will keep you amused and provide the best boiled egg and 'soldiers' you've ever had in your life.

Bye for now and don't forget to come back as I'll be adding new posts and pictures.


Keeping Chickens at Home