25 July, 2008

Chickens: advice sought

I hinted at this in my Royal Welsh report. We are planning to have chickens. This is going to be a joint venture with our neighbours, Rob and Sue, and a thoroughly convivial evening was had last night drinking wine and not really coming to any decisions except that we'd like to have chickens quite a lot. Which is where you come in. I am looking for opinions/advice on chickens. I do have other sources so don't panic if you can't help. But if you want to add your two pen'orth then please do.

So far we've decided that this would be a good location.

It's visible and accessible from both houses and is a reasonably large part of the field. It's been fenced off to stop horses (coming soon) from damaging baby trees, so the fence is to keep horses out, not foxes, and not chickens in.

There are four adults and two children involved. We think we need c. 18 eggs a week. So here come some questions:

1. We'd like to let the chickens range free and then shut them up at night. Do they still need an enclosed run with their house or just the house? And how securely should they be fenced in? We sort of thought not, and let them roam around the field.
2. How many chickens do we need?
3. What kind? I have been recommended Rhode Island Reds. Also I quite fancy Marans but have no idea why. Also Araucanas but that's because they have pretty eggs. We have two small children so want friendly peaceful chickens. Also we live on the side of the Black Mountains in the Brecon Beacons and although it hasn't been that cold here yet, it could easily be and is certainly wet. So I guess they need to be hardy.
4. Some people have suggested we get rescue chickens - i.e. ex-battery. Is this a good idea?
5. What kind of house should they have? And please don't tell me to put it up a 2 m telegraph pole like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his ladder climbing chickens. You have to see the River Cottage Book to get what I mean. Rob was really interested in this idea but I think Sue and I managed to put him off. It's not that there is necessarily anything wrong with the idea itself (feel free to comment on tree hen houses). I just have visions of the house coming off in a westerly gale (we get a few of those round here) and plummeting to the ground, chickens and all. Oh, and apparently you have to teach the chickens to climb the ladder first and I really have no experience of teaching chickens anything.

Can't think of anything else off the top of my head, but as I know little of chickens, no doubt I've missed something crucial.

6 comments:

Ian said...

Hi Eliane,
Thanks for your comment on my blog.

You have a nice blog. I'm afraid I know less than nothing about keeping chickens but my neigbour here keeps them and he sometimes brings us the fresh eggs!!!!!

Eliane said...

Laura over at (not so) Urban Hennery sent me these comments in response to my plea for help - thanks Laura!

Hi Eliane,
I'm taking a break from packing for a few moments and saw your email come in. Here are my thoughts on your questions.

1. We'd like to let the chickens range free and then shut them up at night. Do they still need an enclosed run with their house or just the house? And how securely should they be fenced in? We sort of thought not, and let them roam around the field. This works unless you have predators. We've had to put a 30'x30' (10m x 10m) yard for them with a 5 foot fence around it because we have coyotes and we lost 4 hens so far this summer. If you think they'll be safe from the foxes you can likely let them roam. You can always add a secure fence later if you need it, that's what we did.

2. How many chickens do we need? They don't start to lay until 5 months old and then depending on the breed you'll get between 3 and 6 eggs per week. If you're going to free range them I would get 6 - 8 hens and a rooster. That will give you extra eggs to share with friends and give you a buffer if you lose some to the foxes.

3. What kind? I have been recommended Rhode Island Reds. Also I quite fancy Marans but have no idea why. Also Araucanas but that's because they have pretty eggs. We have two small children so want friendly peaceful chickens. Also we live on the side of the Black Mountains in the Brecon Beacons and although it hasn't been that cold here yet, it could easily be and is certainly wet. So I guess they need to be hardy. With the rain and mud I would suggest birds that do not have feathered feet, and to choose a breed that doesn't mind the cold. That way you won't need a heat lamp for winter. Araucanas are pretty, but mine aren't particularly friendly. Rhode Island Reds are okay, but not necessarily my favorite. I might suggest Buff Orpingtons, Marans (mine are calm), Plymouth / Partridge Rocks or really anything that strikes your fancy.

4. Some people have suggested we get rescue chickens - i.e. ex-battery. Is this a good idea? No. You won't know how old they are, what diseases they're coming with and they likely won't be very friendly for the kids.

5. What kind of house should they have? A simple shed will work. You just need enough space inside for a couple of roost bars and their feeder. It should have a person sized door and a chicken sized door and be tall enough for you to stand up in. I keep the water outside because it's messy. You can build something fancy or simple, it's completely up to you.

Is that helpful? Have fun making your plans!

Laura

Berthddu Suit said...

Hi Elaine, I WOULD recommend ex batts!! I have two and they are wonderful. Battery hens are usually no more than a year to 18 months when they are rescued. Most are checked over for problems before they are rehomed and you are really making a difference to these poor birds. Please check out this blog http://littlebrownhens.blogspot.com/ Greta has a lot of involvement with ex batts and can advise you further. I have had my girls for just over a month and they are doing great. One of them lays every day without fail, she hasn't had a break for over three weeks!! Although they are short of a few feathers, they are both in wonderful health and are a pleasure. Don't feel you have to do it, but I do recommend giving these poor girls a chance.

Berthddu Suit said...

Oh! And they are very friendly, and will always come over to see us when we sit in the garden when they are ranging. In fact they seem to enjoy the company!

Don said...

Hi Elaine, there is a ton of info available, but sometimes it can be overwhelming to sift through it all and figure out what is best for you.
Laura at Urban Hennery has a lot of good suggestions for you. I have a few ideas to add to hers:

1. i wanted to free range my chickens too, but I decided to modify that a little for several reasons. I didn't really want my chickens in my gardens as they can really tear things up. They will eat your vegetables, mine love tomatoes. Secondly, if they can go anywhere, they may begin to lay their eggs in secret outdoor places and once they start that, it takes a few weeks to break that habit. Another reason is predators. Foxes, coyotes, racoons, owls, hawks, weasels, feral cats, neighborhood dogs, to name most of them all love chicken meat. I installed a 176' portable electric poultry fence that gives my flock a large area where they are safe from most predators. Here is a UK link: http://www.ukcountrystore.co.uk/

2. I like what Laura said here. I might pass on the rooster as they can get aggressive with children and are not necesary for egg laying. If you want a brooding hen with little chicks running around, then you'll need a rooster and a brooder hen. Not all hens set on their eggs.

I like my Cuckoo Marans, Buff Orpingtons (may become broody), and Ameracaunas, (not that friendly, but are good cold weather birds with small combs). Someone recently recommended Golden Comets for cold climates.

4. I would say think twice to rescued chickens at first. If you have never had chickens, you may end up with some needy birds, and also they are mature and may not merge well with your new flock. Gradually work into something like that. It is a good thing to do, but you need to be ready. However Berthdu suit is having a great experience with them. It depends on what you want.

5. Laura has good advice on the coop. Keep it simple, and you can always add things. You will need nesting boxes for egg laying, 1 for every 2-3 birds or so.

Good luck! I will definitely be back to watch all of your fun in this great adventure.

Vegmonkey said...

I'm looking forward to following this! This is defo something i want to do, just not got the room in this house!