Me and my partner John decided to get chickens three years ago because we really liked the idea of having fresh eggs all the time rather than shop bought tasteless eggs that may not have come from the best kept chucks. Neither of us had any idea what we needed to do to look after chickens so lots of research was needed. If you google how to keep chickens you get hundreds of sites offering advice and in fairness it was a bit overwhelming so I decided to go and speak to my friend Jimmy who has kept chickens for years on my local allotment site. So what did I learn from him?
The basics that Chickens need:
• A coop where they can sleep at night
• Nesting boxes where they can lay eggs
• An adequate sized run
• Access to food and fresh water
So having this initial information I identified an area in the garden that would be perfect to put a large run. I set about clearing the area and erecting a run. When choosing a suitable area for a run remember that chickens like to dig and scratch around so placing it on concrete would not be good, so we chose an old flower bed. The other thing is to make sure that the run is a protected area from predators such as Mr Fox. I made sure that I used strong chicken wire to coat the run, and a top tip that Jimmy gave me was to lay sleepers around the outside of the run. What this does is give the fox the impression that the run is on solid ground and therefore can not be dug into (paving flags would work equally as well). Three years in and touch wood no fox attacks in the run at all.
Coops can range in price and styles, so do shop around. We managed to find an absolute bargain on a popular auction website. The coop was large enough to house 12 hens, and also had two nest boxes in it. It came with an electronic door which we have set on a timer to open in the morning and close at night, which is great on cold winters mornings when you don’t want to go down the garden to early.
So with the infrastructure in place we had to consider buying some hens. We went to Cheshire Chickens and went for a breed called Novagen Browns on recommendation. They are very good hens for the first time keeper, incredibly tame and when they get into full flow very good layers. We bought 12 and introduced them to the ‘Feathers’, the name of our new chicken enclosure.
In terms of bedding for inside the coop we have found the best thing to use is fine wood Chipping’s that has had all the dust extracted. Chickens don’t like having wet feet so we had a roof put on the run, but still needed something to dry out the ground. I got in touch with the local tree cutter, who happily drops off large bags of wood Chipping’s regularly which I use to line the ground in the run. The best thing is the tree cutters usually want to get rid of this waste for free, so it is perfect. The other brilliant thing with this is every couple of months you can dig it all out of the run and use it as a rich mulch/feed on your flower and vegetable beds.
When you first get your chickens do keep them in the run for a few weeks until they get familiar with where they live. After this point they are fine to be let out. This for us is where the fun really began, but I think the trouble with chickens eating your plants is a whole other blog article and something I have learnt lots about over the last three years.
I will now tell you about what to feed your hens. Remember the 3 Gs, which are grain, greens and grit. We buy layers mash which has all the grains and nutrients the chickens need for a well balanced diet, we feed them with lots of greens including spinach and all the veg trimmings.
Finally we make sure they have access to grit as this helps them to break down vegetation in their systems. A great place to buy chicken feed is usually from your local allotment shop, and you will probably find lots of advise there too. Don’t forget to always have fresh water available for your chucks!
Chickens really have brought so much joy to our garden, and there is so much more information I can tell you about regarding our experiences of keeping chickens, such as when you are introducing new hens to how to control vermin in the run.
Follow the adventures of life in the feathers and other goings on in my garden at www.gagiesgarden.com or follow me on Twitter @shaungagie. Do get in touch and I will be happy to answer any of your questions.
Happy gardening everyone!
A big thanks to Shaun for sharing his experiences of keeping chickens :) Lottie Land Girl Kaz xx