Sunday, May 20, 2007

Getting Started With Chickens - Part 2

(With grovelling apologies for posting these out of order!)

Karla said...

My husband and I are looking into getting some chickens for the backyard but we are worried about what we would do with them in the winter. Any tips?

Your chickens should be fine through the winter as long as they have somewhere cosy and dry to go, and have access to water that isn't frozen solid. You need to check them every day, so if you get deep snow in your area you'll want to put the henhouse close enough that you don't need to dig a 100-foot-long path to get to them. They will stop laying when the days get short. You can put artificial light in their henhouse if you want year-round eggs. but last winter we didn't bother. We just used fewer eggs for a couple of months, and the eggs we did need we bought from the shops.

When I told people we were thinking about getting chickens they often said "You can't do that. They smell." Well, they don't. Like any animal, if you leave their manure until it builds up six inches deep, the house will smell. So don't do that. I pick up all the bedding from the hen house every couple of weeks, dump it on the compost heap and put down some clean bedding. And every month or two I give the house a more thorough clean with a shovel and stiff brush and a hose. The henhouse is right by our kitchen door, and there is no smell and no flies.

welsh girls allotment said...
it is not possible for 'everyone' to keep chickens, people who live in flats or rented accommodation where the tenancy agreement forbids it, personally I would love a few hens pottering around my garden but we go away most weekends and it would be unfair on them for me to be a weekday mummy and leave them to fend for themselves for three or four days.
Good point. If you live in a high-rise flat then chickens aren't for you. There are other circumstances where it's just not possible to have them. But I didn't realise just how little space they need. My garden at home is tiny (about 10 yards square) but the hens fit in a little corner of it very happily. Per chicken, allow at least 2 square feet in the henhouse and 4 square feet in the run. That's really not very much space.

Our chickens live in a converted wendy house with checky red curtains. All we did to turn it into a henhouse was:
  • nail a long stout dowel about 18" off the floor for them to perch on
  • Add a nest box (we use an old washing-bowl filled with hay)
  • Add a layer of bedding to the floor (hay or straw or even shredded paper)
Et voila! Luxury hen hotel. If you don't have an underused wendy house you can buy purpose-made henhouses, or join your local freecycle group and think laterally - old sheds, kennels, rabbit hutches, packing crates, a chest freezer you could cut a door and some ventilation holes in - use your imagination. Chickens aren't fussy as long as it's cosy, dry and ventilated.

You'll also need to provide some water. We bought a plastic chicken drinker a bit like this, and a feeder which is similar. You can top them up once every week or two and then forget about them. I think I paid about £2 each for them.

We originally intended to let our hens run free around the garden but we found two problems with this. One was that they tended to escape and get into neighbours' gardens or out onto the road. We soon get fed up of rounding them up. The other problem was that they did a lot of damage to the flowerbeds, eating plants and digging them up in the search for insects. So we decided to build an enclosed run. We cobbled this together from some timber we had lying around (actually the framing of the stud wall I ripped out of the kitchen), and some chickenwire that was in the garage when we moved here, and some wood preservative left over from another project. It's not a thing of beauty but it keeps the chickens in and so far it has kept the foxes out.

[At this point in the text it should have said "I'll discuss where to get your chickens in tomorrow's article" but since I published the three parts out of order, I already talked about it yesterday]

Links to Part 1 and Part 3


Anonymous said...

I saw a programme where a guy used an old caravan as a hen house. He left the soft furnishings & carpet in-idiot -it must have been impossible to clean. Maybe it ended up on Braniacs!

Anonymous said...

Another great article. I checked out the picture of your hen house. It's great. You certainly used your imagination. My husband made me a chicken hut before I decided to invest in a swanky new one.
Sara from farmingfriends

Joanna said...

When I was a child, my father sold an old car, a small one called a Standard, to a nearby farmer. He drove it around for a while, and then he used it as a henhouse for years and years.

And my grandmother, a farmer's wife in Fife, used an old van as housing for her geese.

We use purpose-built housing from the Domestic Fowl Trust in Evesham - expensive, but very good, best we've ever had, on wheels, fox proof, sturdy (no problems after five or six years), easy to clean out


Anonymous said...

great info...thank you!

maybe part 4 can be about convincing your spouse to let you get chickens! :)

Melanie Rimmer said...

Steve - I've already written about that.

Ally said...

I am very keen on Ascott for poultry stuff - they are close to me, but they also do a *lot* by mail order and their prices for poultry housing is pretty reasonable. ( I have just bought a broody coop and pen from them as we don't have time to make one ourselves.

However - my five pekin bantams live quite happily in a three foot long rabbit hutch and our seven large layers and their cockerel live in 7 by 5 shed that was here when we moved in and which we converted. You're right, you don't have to spend a fortune. I think that there are a lot of people out there marketing to the 'first time chicken keeper' market at the moment.

Anonymous said...

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