KEEPING YOUR OWN CHICKENS
I have been keeping chickens for well over ten years now. I remember when first deciding to embark on this fabulous hobby I bought a book, talked to people I knew who kept chickens and then talked to the farmer from whom I got my first hens.
If you fancy keeping your own happy hens, totally free range and have a supply of genuine fresh eggs every morning then this blog should help you.
For the past five or six years I have taken “rescue chickens” which can be in a sorry state when they arrive but within four to six weeks of tender loving care from you they will be absolutely fine and laying well.
Chickens are very good at looking after themselves though I believe the points listed below are important if your birds are to stay well and safe.
Children love to get involved with the birds, collecting the eggs, feeding and watering etc but don’t allow them to chase your birds. They make think it is a great game as the chicken will always be able to run the fastest but this is stressful for your chicken and ultimately you want your birds to become tame. They will not trust you or the children if you chase them. Give them time and they will come to you – my birds even come when called !!
2. You need to establish a daily routine – about ten minutes every morning is all it takes. I collect the eggs, clean the house of droppings (wearing rubber gloves – I gather any soiled sawdust and put it on the compost heap), check the food hopper and water.
3. Every morning change the water – a chicken will die within 24 hours without fresh water. In the summer time check it twice a day because like us your bird will need more to drink. Similarly in the winter check to make sure the water hasn’t frozen.
4. Chickens, like wild birds enjoy a dust bath. If your birds have a run they will probably create their own. It helps them keep free of mites. If not a shallow box of sand will come in useful and you will find they will settle down in it and literally turn upside down and “bathe”.
5. When the weather is dry I open up all the doors of my chicken house, remove the bedding and give everything a good airing. This prevents any pests or mites getting into your housing and infesting your birds.
6. From late spring and during the summer, particularly when the weather is warm and damp look out for red mite. Unchecked they will multiply and take over your chicken house in no time. They literally eat your chickens alive during the night. Check the ends of your perches and corners where they would start. The first time I knew I had red mite some 5 or 6 years ago I thought my chickens were roosting outside because the weather was warm – little did I know it was a living hell inside the housing. If you find mites the first thing to do is to burn all the bedding and sawdust. There are sprays and powders on the market so give everything a good treatment. At the first signs I bath my chickens in a bucket of warm water containing 4 tbsp cider vinegar. This kills any mites immediately. The best thing to do however is to prevent them in the first place. They hate sunshine, fresh air and daylight so opening up your chicken house regularly is the best way ovoid red mite.
7. Be sure to lock your chickens up at night. Even though you may have never seen a fox – believe me there will be one and it is part of their DNA to destroy chickens. A fox in a chicken house will not be content to kill just one for food – it will go on a killing frenzy. It will take off the heads and leave your poor chickens massacred just for the sake of it. In my early days of chicken keeping I remember being woken in the night thinking we had a burglar when in fact we had two foxes tearing at the roof of the chicken house. We had to replace the roof with corrugated metal as they would have had no problem ripping off the roofing felt had they not been disturbed.
8. It is great being self sufficient in eggs but do remember to date them. I use a pencil to write on mine each morning.
9. Chickens will eat absolutely anything but do be careful as rats do too. Keep your chicken food in a hopper that only releases food as the chickens eat it and do not give them left over meat from your kitchen. They will love left over bread, pastry, pasta and rice but don’t overdo it – like us they need a balanced diet which is provided in their special feed. Chicken pellets and chicken mash are available – I use the pellets as the chickens seem to enjoy scattering the mash all over the place.
10. Your chickens will soon destroy your garden if left to wander anywhere. However, during the winter months I allow my girls to have the run of the place as there are no precious vegetables or plants they can demolish. Also, they love to help with the digging ! As soon as a spade or fork goes into the ground they will be there to grab the worms as they are unearthed.
11. A chicken probably doesn’t ail very much as long as it is kept clean and well fed. As a chicken advances in years there may be times when the bird appears lethargic and generally unwell. Sometimes this is due to moulting – often in the spring. Your chicken will lose its feathers, will not lay eggs but will recover after a week or two. Alternatively, your old girl may be egg bound and I have found a warm bath in a bucket can sort this problem out. On the other hand your chicken may just have reached the end of her natural life and I think it is only fair to humanely destroy your bird rather than see it deteriorate day after day.
12. As well as food your chickens need special grit to help with shell formation. A saucer of chicken grit should made available every day. If you are really on the ball you can always wash your egg shells, dry them in a cool oven, break them up and give back to your chickens.
Obviously the number of chickens you keep, the size of the housing and the size of the run will be determined by the space you have available. There are moveable chicken pens which can be moved from place to place in your garden and then you are in control of how much or how little damage they can be allowed to make. One thing I promise is that they will give you pleasure, are not expensive to keep and will become very tame. Remember though you will have to have arrangements in place if you go away on holiday.
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