Foxes & badgers can climb, jump and dig, and they do them really rather well. To deter the little darlings, we have sunk chainlink fencing a foot into the ground and a fox still dug their way under it and wiped out a momma duck and her 8 ducklings. The only thing that will keep your birds totally safe overnight is being shut in a coop with a built in floor.
If you are keeping ducks as well, don’t keep them in the same house as the hens as they turn to the floor to slop and make keeping the house clean a daily job (there is no other reason not to keep them together, they can all get on as well as any pecking order allows)
We are lucky enough to have this old barn to house our hens. It has a dirt floor which gives access to rats sadly but, having lost so mush food and so many eggs to them over the years I have no qualms in using rat poison these days.
One useful tip I was given was if you are buying/building a coop, get one bigger than you initially need. It gives you more options in the future for not a much bigger investment now.
The easiest feed to give your hens is a ready mixed pellet. You can put this in a feed hopper for them to go to when they’re hungry, or you can give them a scoop twice a day. The latter is probably better if you want to tame them or if they are difficult to get into the coop at night – this way their tummy’s will be rumbling and they’ll be very glad to see you!
If you want to feed an Organic mix that’s fine, it will burn a whole in your pocket quicker than other brands but you’ll no doubt gain a euphoric glow knowing that your girls are getting spoilt rotten. My morals don’t stretch as far as organic, however I am very serious about not using gentically modified food for us or any of our animals. I won’t air my rant on the subject here, but suffice to say, I am more than happy to pay an extra £1 per 25 kilos of chicken feed to avoid this mutilated crap. (OK, that was a teeny little rant wasn’t it? Let’s quickly move on…)
2012 will be the year that we start a dedicated chicken forage system on our plot. Watch this space to see how we get on.
Grit & Shell
A hen clearly doesn’t have teeth, instead she’ll gobble up a load of small stones and they’ll sit inside her gizzard to grind up all the food she eats. My hens are free range over a large area of land and they still eat a lot of the grit I put down for them so even if it’s included in the feed you buy, I’d still offer some separately. The shell is used to give them extra calcium for making lots of lovely eggs.
Goes without saying really, they have to have constant access to clean drinking water. If you are very clever, try training them to drink out of a large rabbit style water bottle – this would be perfect as they won’t be able to poop in it. Did you know that chickens love pooping in absolutely anything? Food, water, nest boxes, they aren’t fussy. If anyone invents a chicken nappy, call me. OK?
Every year I get a few more laying hens than I had the year before as I always have a waiting list of people who want them. I sell them to my colleagues at my various jobs, I sell them to my neighbours via The Egg Shack, I give my parents a dozen a week and if there are any left over Jon gets them in his sandwiches (he rarely gets egg sandwiches these days)
I currently charge £1 for half a dozen for no other reason than it’s easy and doesn’t require much brain power.
The Pecking Order
It’s horrid. Get over it. They’re chickens, it’s what they do. You getting upset about it isn’t going to make any difference at all. It can become more serious if you have too may birds per floor space of the house/run, or if they get bored. If you have to leave them cooped up in a small run whilst you’re at work for example, give them lots to do – hang apples in bird feeders, hang bunches of millet up for them to peck at, a suspended hanging basket with lawn clippings (not too long) or weeds will give them something else to think about.
If one hen is bleeding the other hens will peck the sore spot and won’t stop. Get yourself a can of Septi Cleanse next time you’re at the feed store and spray any sore bits, it will clean the wound and lessen the inviting red hue. It’s purple and will stain anything it touches, you have been warned.
When we first got our hens, Jon and I agreed that they are farm stock, not pets and as such we wouldn’t be taking them to the vets if they got poorly, we’d put them down. I have managed to only break this rule once.
I picked up a trio of Cuckoo Marans at auction years ago, and not long after, hens starting dying. In desperation I took one of the almost dead ones to our vet (who just happens to specialise in poultry – lucky me!) to find out what the problem was, and more to the point what I could do to stop it. (Sadly, in this case he diagnosed it as Mareks Disease and there was nothing I could do to prevent our hens going down with it. There is a vaccine, but it has to be given within 24 hours of a chick hatching to be effective)
I have also brought in Scaly Leg and a massive worm infestation the same way. I now only buy hens from a breeder I trust, who only supplies great quality, healthy, vaccinated birds.
To keep them well, worm them regularly. I use Flubenvet which is good, although the instructions on the pot are a little confusing if you only have a handful of birds. I have noticed you can now buy a feed which is pre mixed with the correct dosage of Flubenvet per chicken, if you only have a small flock I would definitely advise using this.
Have I missed anything? Ask away…