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Chickens - to be, or not to be??
Wed 30-Sep-09
7:59 am
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Stolistes
Suffolk

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Sat 26-Sep-09
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Hi

We're thinking about getting chickens and I'm keen to understand what's involved.  I have a whole host of questions in fact:

- how time consuming are they to care for?

- what do we need for a basic set up?

- what do they eat?

- can we build a coup?

- what sort do we get?

Any advice and information would be greatly appreciated so that we can make an informed decision - don't want to get them and subsequently find that we can't cope - after all, a chicken is for life, not just christmas!Smile

Fri 2-Oct-09
8:35 pm
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maureenmcn
South Devon

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Mon 21-Sep-09
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Hi Tracey

Great that you are thinking of getting chickens. First thing I would recommend is a book which became my bible -  Chickens at Home  which is part of The Gold Cockerel Series of books. Available on Amazon. They also do several books on poultry house construction.

Once established they are not that difficult to keep, a weekly or fortnightly  clean out of the chicken house, depending on the number of chickens and size of house. However you do need to have someone that can feed them if you are away and to shut them in at night especially if they are free range.They do need feeding twice a day and keeping water available in the frosty mornings becomes testing.

Start small with perhaps a trio, 1 cockerel and two hens. Although you do not have to have a cockerel we liked him around and it did mean we could produce more chicks of our own. Wellsummers are good egg layers or you might want to take in some rescue hens. They look terrible and are very timid to start but will produce eggs once settled and re-grow their feathers! We went for Wellsummers and then added Buff Orpingtons which have a wonderful characterful, fantastic broodies and lay lovely large eggs. There are many choices. To start it might be best to buy in fully grown birds, as day olds require a lot of care which can be a bit unerving if you have never kept chickens before and pullets will mean you have to take the chance on the sex. One time we bought ten pullets and all but one were cockerels! Are you ready to deal with the unwanted cockerels? Fortunately my husband knew how to dispense with them but it was not something I could ever do and they never ended up on the table!

They eat corn and you can add layer pellets to help with egg production. Although they eat kitchen scraps I found mine were fussy eaters and the scraps just lay moldering on the ground.

I do not see any reason you could not build your own hen house (see book reference above). Even if you build a small one and then get more chickens later it can always be used to split out a harrassed chicken or for a mother and her chicks. It may also be worth looking at the local ads, trade-it or e-bay for a cheap house.

Would you want to free range them? I ask because you need to be very aware of foxes and badgers. Twenty of my chickens were killed in one frenzied hour whilst we were out with friends and in the daytime and even after we erected electric fencing they still managed to get through and kill a few each year. I didn't mind so much when they were taken for food but more often they just went on a killing spree. We even had five geese on sentry duty and they got past them so be prepared!! I had friends who kept their chicken house within a large covered run and their chickens seemed just as happy with that arrangement. Just meant the ground got well pecked over. You could just have an ark with run that can be moved from time to time if you only intend having two or three hens.

Having said all that we loved keeping chickens and ducks and geese................ Managed to sell the extra eggs to friends and goose eggs to local deli which helped out with the feed bill. There is absolutely nothing to compare with collecting warm eggs in the morning or watching new chicks hatch. Every one had a name, even Sunday the Welsummer cockerel, a mean individual, who never did end up as the Sunday roast he was named after. Laugh

So to sum up:

1. Buy the book(s)

2. Source places to obtain chickens

3. Buy or build a coop (and run)

4. Purchase feed stuffs, feeders and water containers ( Mole Valley or similar agricultural store good source)

5. Get chickens and keep inside coop for couple days

6. Let them get settled and then look forward to the rewards.

If I can be of any further help do let me know.

Maureen Smile

Sat 3-Oct-09
1:47 pm
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Stolistes
Suffolk

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Hi Maureen - thanks very much for your response.  It's very useful and thought provoking.  We have both been trying to work out if either of us are able to "do the deed" and use cock birds for the table.  We are still undecided on that one!  We're both baulking at it at the moment.

If we go ahead I think I'd see the birds being kept in a run in our back garden - we have foxes living near by so I would be to concerned about free rangers surving very long.  Our thoughts were to build a movable ark kind of thing.  We were originally thinking about getting six hens and cock - but on reflection I much prefer your idea of starting with a trio and seeing how we go.  I also like the idea of rescue hens - do you know where we could get them from?

I'll definately get hold of the book you recommend - I'm really keen on the idea of chickens but I need to pursuad Rich that it's a good way ahead for us and also make sure we're doing it for the right reasons. I'll post when we've made a decision.

Thanks again for your response - much appreciated.

Best wishes

Tracy

Sat 3-Oct-09
8:10 pm
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JoannaS
Latvia

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Mon 21-Sep-09
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We had three chickens in an ark which we moved around our veg garden. It also meant that when we went away our chickens could be transported to our neighbours garden and we never had any shortage of people willing to look after them for a week or two. Unlike Maureen our hens were not fussy eaters and any left over pizza or pasta they went wild for. They did eventually baulk at a large number of slugs one year but it was a seriously bad year. We used sawdust from a local saw mill to put in the house and cleaning that out was relatively easy and certainly not a smelly job at all if done regularly enough

Sun 4-Oct-09
1:19 pm
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maureenmcn
South Devon

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Mon 21-Sep-09
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Tracy

Ark idea sounds just right for starting up but make sure it has wire mesh underneath if you know there are foxes/badgers abou otherwise they will quite easily dig under the ark and get in. Experience talking Cry
If you are only having chickens for your own egg supply then two or three hens or a trio are your best bet.

Like Joanna we used 'free to collect' sawdust but just make sure it doesn't come from heavily treated wood. Sawmills or joinery workshops are a good place to ask. If you have an agricultural merchant nearby it is worth looking on the advert boards for all things to do with poultry. You can often find secondhand arks, chickens for sale etc.

Try asking at your local animal rescue centre if they have any chickens that need a home. They often have cockerels but not always hens. Also you need to decide if you want to keep to one breed although we quite liked our 'odd' chickens that resulted from 'Sunday' visiting the Buff Orpingtons on a regular basis. The Buff cockerel was too busy strutting his stuff to even notice they were being appropriated!

Found these links for rescued battery hens, the first is located just outside Norwich and may be worth a visit. Try searching the web for others.

http://www.littlehenrescue.co.uk

http://www.bhwt.org.uk

You do need to be able to deal with the unpleasant aspects of killing a bird that has savaged by a fox or having too many cockerels. You can ask a vet to do it but there is obviously a cost implication. Sometimes a farming friend will help outor at least show you how. However this isn't something that happens every day and the good aspects far outweigh the bad.

Let us know what you decide.

Best wishes

Maureen

Mon 5-Oct-09
7:20 am
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jojo2007

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Wed 23-Sep-09
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Hiya - we live in a residential area, and are surrounded by neighbours on all sides. Our garden is an average size and i have 2 children (complete with slides bikes etc) so had limited space. We got a triangle shaped hut and got 3 pullets from someone we knew who was prepared to take back any cockerels we might get. It became apparant quite quick that we had 1 and so off it went. We now have 2 welsummer girls. We got them in may, and we moved the hut around the grass so as not to kill off the grass too much, we couldnt free range because i was concious of the neighbours and also the poo being around where the children would play! They eat scarps, bread, pasta, mash but are picky and will only eat veg that has been cooked - not peelings etc tho they do like cucumbers and broccolli stems cut in half length ways! Then as they got bigger we realised they didnt really have a lot of room in there at all, so we made a square pen and have lifted the origanal hut up on top of it, so they have more room and a ladder going up to there house. Took a few days to get used to it but they got it. We feed them layers pellets and leave that inside the house so the rain doesnt make a mess of it. We just  have it in a stone dish and make sure theres always some available, and water is in another stone dish outside but keeps getting tipped out so may have to introduce a drinker. I also throw grain down for them now, as the hut is bigger it doesnt get moved about anymore unfortunatley. We used shavings on the floor in the hut and straw now its colder. We never actually needed to shut ours in as they were in a confined area but we have now rigged up a sack over the door to stop draughts in the cold at night. But we got them in May as young birds of about 5 weeks and was told point of lay was about 18 weeks..... as yet (october) they havent laid an egg and now probably wont until after the winter!! I enjoy keeping them and love to sit and watch them but you may have to be patient if you get young birds.

Mon 5-Oct-09
8:39 am
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fn
Newmarket
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Sat 12-Aug-06
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Hi jojo2007

You might be lucky egg wise but our hens are going off lay as the weather is getting a bit chilly.

Our hens (and cockerels Frown) are kept in a run. We have a new flock that roost in an ark similar to yours and a bigger chicken house for the old flock. We need to find a new home for one of the cockerels (he's very dominant and a bit of a bully with the ladies) and then the two flocks can combine for the winter.

We feed both flocks using feeders and water fountains. This is insurance if something happens and you cannot get home. Ours love wild bird food as a treat and greens from the garden.

Chickens are hugely entertaining. I would find it very hard to live without them now. And ultra fresh eggs (when they come) taste delicious.

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