Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Chickens.. The Road to Self Sufficency?

Chickens. By now you will be pretty much aware that I am all about the chickens (it’s even in the blog title!). So I thought that in preparation for getting my own ‘brood’ I would take a delve into the life and times of the chicken and hopefully learn some great info along the way..
join me.. “puuu cuuukkk” (that’s a chicken noise! Well, you spell it!)
In 2003 there were 24 billion chickens in the world, more than any other bird in the world. So getting into chickens shouldn’t be too hard, we should be falling over them! When and where chickens were domesticated is under a bit of dispute but they have been reported in Greece, India and Egypt over 10, 000 years ago. It is believed that chickens originated from Junglefowl: our little feathered friends are jungle critters!!

Choose Your Chook
There are a great many varieties of chicken out there so you should first decide what kind of chicken you would like (what you are keeping them for, meat, eggs or just a pet) then look through the various breeds available. Look around your area for any farm shows this is a great place to see a variety of chickens and chat to breeders and owners about what is best for your needs and what each breed can offer. You can also pick up great care tips and tricks! If you are intending to breed your own little flock then a cockerel is a must, bear in mind, however, that he will be noisy and some can be aggressive. It is possible to have the little ‘McNuggets’ without a cockerel, you can buy fertilised eggs and either purchase an incubator and become a mother hen, or if you have a particularly broody hen she will sit on them for you. Hens will accept chicks from breeds other than their own (and even the chicks of the likes of Guinea Fowl) and are usually excellent mums.

With a rise in people wanting to ‘do their part’ by raising their own chickens why not go one step further and rescue a battery hen? There are many charities around that are looking for loving homes for ex-battery hens. These charities will get your birds for you and give you all the help and advice you need to care for your new (probably bald) chicken. How to encourage them to ‘be a chicken’ and how to ensure their feathers grow back successfully. These birds are usually available for a donation each to the charity in question. These hens may not lay as regularly as ‘normal’ chickens but you will still get a good egg supply, think of them as being about half as regular as a non-ex-battery and you should be fine.
So you have your chickens, now where do you keep them? There are various methods of keeping chickens depending on your space and the closeness of your neighbours. The housing of your chickens is the most important thing you will need to decide upon, for both you and your chickadees. They will rely on you to ensure that they are kept safe from predators, even a town house can get a visit from Mr Fox. But you will also need something that you can manage and maintain in the time you have available.
For town livers you may be looking for something small, compact and easy to look after. If kids are involved, and a chicken is a great pet to teach responsibility but also where food comes from, then fun coops can be found like the Eglu. This funky coloured coop comes with attachable run to keep your chooks safe and, perhaps importantly for the town dwellers, in your own garden. The Eglu Company will supply everything you need from the coop to the food to egg-boxes to the chickens themselves! They will also come round and install your coop and give you the 101 on chicken keeping. There are a variety of colours and designs depending on your needs. These coops are easy to clean but are quite heavy and if left on a lawn they will need to moved regularly which is a two man job! They also have a lack of proper roosting bars although there slats but are possibly not a great substitute for the real thing. The Eglu is a complete kit but can be costly so if money is an issue then perhaps…

The more traditional looking chicken experience would be something in wood. There are many, many companies online that would be able to supply you with your chicken coop check online. Also check out your local garden or DIY centre as many of the bigger names are beginning to stock up on a small selection of coops. These coops also lend them selves to being for free range or run enclosed birds. Either have no run fitted at all or allow them freedom from the run when you are happy that they can. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere where there are existing sheds then perhaps the way to go is a shed conversion. Ensure that the shed is secure and draft proof, although some ventilation is necessary to prevent respiratory problems. Add a chicken sized door and a ramp if needed and some roosts. Plans for converting sheds can be found online once again and should supply you with everything you need to know about what your chickens require from a coop. There are also available plans to build your own coop from scratch so if you are handy with a hammer then this could be a great way to save money!

Remember plastic is more expensive than wood but wood will need to be treated to make it weather proof. Wooden coops tend to be cooler in the summer and are simpler to repair, but plastic models are better in the fight against Red Spider Mite.

When choosing a house try to find coops and runs that have

  • good access, preferably from both ends
  • nest-boxes with their own external access to allow the removal of eggs
  • consider shutters to prevent birds using the nest-boxes to sleep in at night
  • if you need to move the coop make sure it has sturdy carrying handles and/or wheels
Useful Links

1 comment:

  1. I can only imagine what my neighbors would think if I actually started raising chickens!



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