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
Friday, July 22, 2011
Techno Chicken - The John Travolta of the chicken world ;-)
Keeping & Raising Chickens At Home
Chickens are not only a great source of backyard food, they can also become well-loved pets.
First we wanted our eggs free range, so as not to support battery farming. Then we wanted them organic, without any of those nasty chemicals involved.
Now we want our eggs one stage more wholesome – fresh from the garden and our very own brood of hand-reared chickens.
Keeping chickens has grown in popularity over the last few years, much as traditional crafts and home cooking have done.
Perhaps it is the recession, or the example of TV chefs like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver, or simply our desire to get in touch with an age gone by. Whatever the case, these days you’re almost as likely to see a few Rhode Island Reds or Welsummers in the average back garden as the traditional dog or a cat.
For some, like Philippa Pickworth, keeping chickens came as part of a whole new way of life. Philippa, a former lawyer, and her IT manager husband David gave up their busy lives in Berkshire two years ago to live the good life in Llanon, West Wales.
They now keep pigs, lambs and honeybees as well as six chickens on their smallholding, Banceithin, and rent out eco-holiday cottages on their land.
Getting chickens was all about egg production for Philippa and David.
“It’s a small holding, the whole point was to have as much as possible to provide for us, and also when we do the hampers for the holiday cottages they get some free eggs and then they can buy more,” Philippa explained.
“That said, now we’ve got them, they are very good fun. Two of our original four haven’t laid very well recently but the thought of dispatching them is awful. We’ll keep them as pets now even if they stop laying completely, because you do get attached to them.”
Chickens make excellent pets, responding well to handling and becoming tame, social and even affectionate. Some varieties, such as bantams, are said to be particularly docile and suited to families with children.
After the initial set up they don’t cost very much to look after, and don’t need a huge amount of maintenance. They are also productive pets, with good layers producing up to an egg a day during their peak years.
And of course there’s the possibility of enjoying them as part of a Sunday roast – although most people find that once they’ve had their birds for any length of time, the last thing they want to do is see them on the dining table.
Deborah Longman would count herself among those for whom chickens are definitely more pets than producers. She and her husband Phil got their first chickens three years ago and now have 13 of them, including a few exotic varieties.
“I have some hybrids, some pure breeds; I’ve got a couple of ex-battery hens,” she says.
“I’ve got a real mixture of colours as well, and egg colours – brown, white, blue, green.
“We’ve always been into veg growing and things like that, so it’s about self-sufficiency but they’re pets too; pets with benefits. They’ve got fantastic characters; they really have their own personalities.
“I love it. It’s a whole new world, chicken keeping. There are shows you can go to – I don’t show my birds but I go to the shows and some of my friends show their birds so I go and support them.”
Deborah, who lives in Neath, has seen interest in chicken keeping rise even in the short time she has been involved in the scene, and she now runs classes for those who want to find out more.
“I get a mixture of people,” she says. “You’ve got people who are looking at downsizing their careers and getting a small holding, there are families where the parents think it’s good for the children to know where their food comes from.
“You get some quite middle class people coming along and then you’ve got more working class people. It’s something that’s appealing to a lot more people now.”
Keeping & Raising Chickens At Home
If you are interested in joining the ranks of those who boast a brood of feathered friends in their garden, you’ll need to decide what breeds you’re interested in. Chickens can be pure or hybrid, with hybrids generally being easier to keep.
Some varieties are bred for their egg laying capacity – such as Leghorns and Black Stars – while others such as Hubbards and Cornish-rocks make good broilers, ie they’re well suited to ending up on the table.
Good looking varieties, which make ideal show birds or simply add a touch of glamour to the garden, include such beauties as the Sumatran with its long, shiny green-black feathers, and the fluffy white Sultan, which has a wild crest and feathered feet.
It is important you remember that chickens are social animals, so never buy just one. And consider whether you – and your neighbours – can handle the noise of a cockerel. Unlike in cartoons, they don’t just crow in the morning, but all through the day.
Although it is possible to buy chicks, most experts suggest getting your chickens at ‘point of lay’, ie when they’re about 18 to 20 weeks and ready to begin their egg-producing life.
It’s worth remembering that pure breeds tend to stop laying during the winter months, between November and February, so if you like your fry ups all year round then you’re best off with a hybrid.What you’ll need
As with any pet, there is no end to the number of toys and treats you can spoil your chicken brood with, but the list of essentials isn’t all that long.
First up is a place for them to live. One of the most popular new brands on the market is the Eglu, a sort of plastic kennel that makes keeping chickens a doddle even in the smallest of gardens. At a minimum of £340 a pop though, they’re not exactly cheap, and many owners prefer to knock up a roost and a run with a few bits of timber and a roll of chicken wire. Instructions are easy enough to find on the internet.
Although some people do keep chickens as indoor pets, a garden is by far the better option. It doesn’t need to be big though, and don’t worry if you don’t have grass; as long as you supplement their diets to include greens, chickens are more than happy to scratch about on wood chip.
If you do have grass, they’ll soon tear it up, so you might want to get a mobile run and keep moving them. Whatever the case, it is important to ensure they are secure, otherwise your brood may well fall foul of predators.
You’ll also need a feeder and drinker, both of which come in cheaper plastic versions or higher quality ceramic or metal versions. Choose solid ones that stand above the ground or hang, and are less easy to knock over or to get dirt scratched into them.
Another useful piece of equipment is a grit hopper, where your chickens can access the grit that helps them digest their food.
Regular purchases include bedding such as wood or hemp chip, feed pellets (you can get specialist ones for layers or growers, for example) and, if you want to spoil your brood, treats such as mealworms and corn.
After that, it’s up to you whether you want to treat your new pets to play areas, dust baths, pecking blocks, bales of straw to climb – the list goes on!Tips from the experts
If you’re still not quite sure whether you’re well enough equipped to get started, there is plenty of information around in books, specialist poultry magazines, on forums and blogs online, or you could even do a course like the one Deborah Longman runs.
The best thing to do is to start small, with just a few chickens, preferably hybrids which lay throughout the year and are, according to Deborah, altogether easier to look after.
“With the purebreds they get broody,” she says. “They just want to hatch their eggs so they’ll sit on the eggs and get quite moody. Which is fine if you’ve got a cockerel and you want to hatch them, but otherwise the hens can lose condition and get quite ill.”Talking to other chicken owners is another great way to find out how it’s done, and you’ll discover all sorts of tips and tricks which will make your experience a lot easier, as well as finding out where the pitfalls are.
Philippa, for example, learned through experience that looks aren’t always everything when she chose a couple of attractive Welsummers.
“The Welsummers are very beautiful, they’ve got beautiful golden feathers, which is why we got them,” she says. “But they’re the ones which are laying less well now.”
She’s got a few wise words for anyone who wants to free range their chickens: “If you are going to let them free range and you want parts of your garden to survive, make sure it’s chicken proof. They will soon give your garden a makeover.
“Also, you’ll need to keep an eye on where they’re laying. I found a whole stash of eggs under the herb bushes the other day.”
But, she adds, don’t worry too much about getting it right. Chickens really aren’t difficult pets to keep.
“Neither of us had any experience with keeping chickens,” she says.
“As a lawyer I did lots of research of course, but it’s actually very easy to keep chickens. For all my reading it isn’t as complex as all that.
“They’re fairly self-sufficient, they require very little upkeep. I didn’t expect them to be so much fun. I could spend hours watching them pottering around.”
Deborah agrees: “The main things I’ve learned since I’ve got them is what incredible personalities they have and how they give you so much, not just eggs but affection.
“I thought they were going to be productive pets with the emphasis on productive, but now the eggs are a bonus.”Keeping & Raising Chickens At Home