Chick c’est chic – part two

So where was I? Oh yes…Feeding your chucks is very easy and they tend to be voracious eaters. Feed them layers pellets or mash – we go through about one £7 20kg bag every two months or so for three girls – plus kitchen scraps, sweet corn etc. They also go mad for pasta and bread, which fed as an occasional treat is fine, apples and lettuce and bird seed. But be careful not to feed them raw potato peelings or anything rotten. And they love foraging for snails, slugs, worms etc. Don’t assume chickens are vegetarian. They will happily eat anything they can get their beaks on. I have had to prize our girls from dead frogs, slow worms and – horribly – an old chicken drumstick somebody threw over our fence which they found delicious. Thelma regularly raids the kitchen looking for cat food. Yuck! You’ll also need to offer them grit to help them digest their food, and ensure they get enough calcium. Sometimes older birds can have a problem with calcium uptake, so ground oyster shell in a small feeder can help. Don’t forget to give them regular flea and lice treatments too.

Many people ask whether it’s safe to keep cats and chickens. Don’t worry! While chickens are wary of cats, they will happily have a go at one that gets too close. Dogs and foxes are another matter, though. You need to be very careful of them. If you have a dog, introduce your new pets under supervised conditions, especially if you have a hunting breed of dog. Foxes are the enemy and will quickly kill every chicken in a coop if they get in. Usually they are around during the early morning, twilight and night hours but they are getting bolder and I have seen many in broad daylight. So don’t take any chances. After Thelma survived a fox attack a couple of years ago we now only let them out when we’re physically in the garden or the kitchen to keep an eye on them.

Of course, the whole point to keeping chickens is that they will provide you with lots of eggs. Usually you will get your hens at ‘point-of-lay’ – about 18 weeks old. Normally you have to wait a couple of weeks until they’ve settled before they will start laying. How many eggs they lay will depend very much on the individual breed, and there are lots. Choosing and Keeping Chickens by Chris Graham is a great book on breeds. Our girls are hybrids and lay one egg each day, six to seven days a week. They will tend to take the odd day off, and stop laying altogether during their seasonal moult because they need their energy to grow new feathers. They also lay less as they get older.

Get them to respond to your voice so you can get them back in the run when you need to. We find using sweet corn or other treats to reinforce our whistles helps enormously as chickens love food! They will quickly come running as they learn to associate your calls with grub. Also ask the person selling you the chickens how to hold them and clip their wings.

Find a good vet who understands poultry or birds. This was the mistake we made when we got our girls first. When Louise fell ill, we took her to a small animal vet who didn’t have a clue. The problem is farmers who keep hens tend not to spend a fortune on them at the vet because it’s uneconomical. So many vets are only used to diagnosing illnesses in poultry at post-mortem, which isn’t much help! Ask around. Hen keeping is becoming more popular so some vets are taking the time to do their research. We’ve now found a great vet who is fascinated by chickens and keen to learn more about them.

Something else to bear in mind is your neighbours’ reaction. It’s a good idea to let them know that you’re getting chickens and make sure they’re happy about it. We find leaving eggs on their doorsteps helps! After all, you might want to enlist their help when you go on holiday need somebody to take care of the girls!

Almost forgot. Be aware of the pecking order. One chicken is always the top bird and the others will quickly learn their place. Another ‘deputy’ may take over the reins when the top bird is ill or dies. So do bear in mind that if you bring new birds into an existing pecking order pandemonium can ensue as it is re-ordered. Louise was top chicken and when she died and when we bought new birds Thelma spent a lot of time pecking Lexi and Molly and bullying them as she established her authority. It wasn’t pleasant – she wouldn’t let them out of the hen house to eat or drink at one point – but it did settle down eventually. Some owners resort to keeping two sets of hen houses when they get new chickens to avoid the fights.

Have a great weekend xxx Piper.

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11 Responses to Chick c’est chic – part two

  1. Christine says:

    Do you find it hard to get a chucky sitter when you want to go away for a few days? Bit of a tie for going out I would have thought. Also if you stop working from home at some point, it will be one more job to do morning and evening on top of the working day. I\’m not entirely sure that keeping chickens the way that you do is entirely cost effective – fine if they go for the pot once their most productive laying days are over but otherwise ….Sorry – that\’s the farmer\’s daughter speaking there with a completely different perspective on things. But chicken keeping for us was yes eggs but then other food too. Once we had eaten chicken for Sunday lunch, the remains of meat became a dish for Monday lunch in some form and the carcase was put in the pot for basis of a stew for Tuesday.

  2. piper says:

    Hi Christine – I thought I wasn\’t allowed to go out anyway as it\’s too expensive! Just kidding.
    Not really – we had chickens for two years before I started working from home. They\’re pretty low maintenance. You just need to check they have enough food & water & take out the eggs. And let them out for a bit of a run. No more than you would do with a cat. Luckily our neighbours are very kind and look after the chucks and our other pets if we go away for a weekend or on holiday in exchange for eggs, which saves us a lot of money at the cattery etc.. But if you didn\’t have friendly neighbours it could be an issue. It\’s definitely something to consider before taking the plunge.
    They might not be as cost effective as farm animals but if you sold all the eggs they would be. Not to mention the good the chicken manure does the garden/compost heap. Whenever there is a drought our lawn remains green and lush when everyone else\’s looks like a desert. And let\’s face it, they are more cost effective than most other types of pet. DJ often complains that Dougal the cat doesn\’t exactly earn his keep!

  3. Tattyhousehastings says:

    Hi Piper
    Loving the chicken keeping articles, definitely something lots of us are thinking about…even me, although am slightly concerned they might peck my toes whilst sunbathing, but since I never do that anymore probably don\’t need to worry! Had a lovely conversation today about all the different types of hens you can get, and the different coloured eggs they produce. My friend here has one that makes green eggs! And at playgroup today we all agreed there is nothing nicer than a big bowl full of brown, white, pale blue and pale green eggs! Keep up the chickens!
    p.s. oh, and even frugal living people need to get out sometimes! Mine\’s a gin and tonic.

  4. Unknown says:

    hello all
    Ive had chickens for just over a year now. We live in Derbyshire and have some space as we live on a fam (but are def not farmers). They are the very best pet, as they are great characters AND the are a pet with benefits ! We got them for the kids but grew to love them to bits. we were swamped with eggs last year, but since Henrietta went for a walk in the wood and never returned (fox ?) we are down to 3 a day. They are easy to keep dont worry – just do it. We never have a problem with getting people to water and feed etc when we are away, its amazing what fresh eggs will do. We use Organic feed for them – that when they are not running around everywhere. the comment about the chicken poo being good for your garden is semi right. if however you have a small garden and let the roam then they will mke short work of your beds and plants !
    The pecking order can be VERY vicious and you have to watch out for canibilism. we replaced Henrietta when she went off, only to find that the new one was terrible mutilated by the others. after 3 weeks we gave her away to a friend who had 2 chickens and she was fine.
    Oh and how come this is in the frugl column ? they are definatley not cheap to get – fencing, house, bedding, etc and each one costs about £12-£15 so they work out to be expensive eggs. BUT they are the very best tatsing and its fun keeping them. who wants a rabbit or cats/dogs CICKENS RULE THE ROOST.
    Robert x

  5. fast says:

    Comment regarding neighbors …. most are worried about potential noise problems … however, it is cockrels who make the noise whilst hens just cluck a bit & get on with life ( similarities here with humans ? hehehe ) … if you just want to keep some hens for eggs then you will not need a cockerel … problem solved.

  6. ukferrets says:

    What you have to remember is that hens are in their prime only for two years only and by the time they reach three years old egg production falls dramaticly and hens can live to the age of 12 years old.
    Recycling of birds. If you live within 30 miles radius of the A49 Preston Brockhurst and you are killing off or have no more use for any unproductive, old or unwanted birds such as pigeons, poultry or waterfowl don\’t just bin them, please let me have them as a source of natural food for my pets. (I can dispatch them on your property if needed)

  7. Shirley says:

    I have kept chickens for about 5 years when I need to replace any I get ex battery hens from the Battery Hen Trust for 50p each. They lay for years, and the bonus is you have great fresh eggs with a bright yellow yolk not a pale thing from most supermarket eggs.

  8. Karen says:

    Pimlotts Poultry click on the link to find out more about keeping chickens.
    we breed, exhibit, judge, sell & run chicken keeping courses in the lancashire area.

  9. Unknown says:

    We kept six chickens in our back garden in the centre of town (Bromley, Kent) with no problems for many years. It was a childhood dream come true.
    As others here have said, it is not just the money side. They are just such great fun characters to have picking their way around, always pleased to see you and the eggs – well – unbeatable! 
    Fox problems took out two lots and they are often not killed outright so, as with any animal husbandry, you have to be prepared to kill them yourself if needed, even if it really pains you to do it, or find someone else that will help.
    There is no eating on a modern hybrid, even if you could face up to eating your own bird. You have to go for one of the heavy breeds, like Rhode Island reds etc and they lay less eggs. 
    Never could face eating one of my own. Small farmers sometimes have an arrangement where they swap a hen for one of their neighbours when they want meat, because it is much easier to kill and eat one that you don’t know.
    We moved more into the country and went from six hens to fifty. They were absolutely great and it is like a different world just sitting among them listening and watching them go about their business, acting like everything is so important!
    The eggs are variable though, either flooded during the first lay period, or famine during the moult, which lasts for about three months after the first nine to twelve month laying period. Sure they are extra work but so are most rewarding things in life.
     We have not kept any for about eight years due to two lots of disease in birds we bought and pressures of work but having seen this article, I have sorted out the pen and next week we will do what we have constantly promised ourselves and get some more. There’s nothing like them. Thanks

  10. Susan says:

    Have kept chickens in the back garden for about 11 years.  They are really great to have.  At the moment we have four – called Frodo, Tikka, Korma and Vindaloo.  Tikka, Korma and Vindaloo are ex battery hens.  When they arrived they looked very sad and sorry for themselves, but it is really great to see their feathers grow back and to see them strutting round the garden like they\’ve been there forever.
    They love to come in the house at any opportunity and some days spend hours staring through the glass patio doors to see what is going on, and in the summer, to keep them out we employ a fake straw cockerill who we stand in the door way (I kid you not).  They chase anything that dares to come onto their patch, pheasants, squirrels and our cats and dog.
    Could never and would never eat one of my own chickens, but am very partial to their delicious eggs. 

  11. Eriwold says:

    Had six hens once. Was great getting the fresh eggs daily. One big problem though. What to do when we moved. They had become dear pets. There was no one we could give them to. Couldn\’t get to slaughter them, they were dears although they hardly laid any eggs anymore. Nobody in the family would have eaten them…
    Coward that I am, I shot each with a headshot from behind a hidden place so it would be over quick and they didn\’t see who\’s dunnit…

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