Monday, September 19, 2011

Keeping Chickens At Home - Choosing The Right Chicken Coop Or Hen House

Keeping Chickens At Home - Choosing The Right Chicken Coop Or Hen House

What to look for when buying a chicken coop or hen house

With the huge increase in poultry keeping there has been an equally big rise in the range of poultry paraphernalia on sale. Poultry housing is a case in point. It's also a classic example of the good old bandwagon being jumped on as various would-be poultry housing experts peddle an array of accommodation claiming to be the ideal solution to your chicken housing needs.

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

Keeping Or Raising Chickens At Home - Q&A Session

Scratching about for answers about raising chickens at home?Here's a quick Q&A session if you're considering keeping chickens in your backyard;

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.

Q: How many eggs will a hen lay per year?

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.

raising chickens at home