Friday, May 18, 2007

How To Get Started With Chickens - Part 1

Wow, yesterday's post about why everyone should keep chickens got a lot of responses. As Steve said, people seem to want to know more about chickens. I had a lot of the same questions when I got started.

steve said...
what about noise? are they loud? we have a backyard but we have lots of close neighbors. i don't want the chickens waking everyone up (though i don't know why i neighbors have no problems letting their dogs out at 4am to raise all hell).

Nope. Cockerels are noisy, but you don't need one unless you're planning to breed your own chicks. Hens are pretty quiet, they just make this soft clucking occasionally which is very charming. Incidentally, if you have loads of space and you do want a cockerel, you can still eat the fertilised eggs. As long as you collect them promptly and don't let the hens sit on them and incubate them, they're indistinguishable from unfertilised eggs.

You might have heard that eggs with a spot of blood are the fertilised ones? Nope, that's a myth. Some eggs have spots of blood that's all, whether fertilised or unfertilised. Really, there's no way of telling fertilised from unfertilised eggs unless you have access to a lab.

Anonymous said...

Uh, you forgot the number one reason (which is a huge oversight given you repeat reasons to make a "top ten" list), which is that they eat all your kitchen scraps and turn them into eggs.

Actually in the UK it is illegal to feed catering waste to farmed animals. Catering waste is defined as any food which has been in a human kitchen, including domestic kitchens, and vegetarian kitchens. Farmed animals are defined as any animal which is normally farmed, even when they are kept as pets.

So if you feed carrot peelings to your free range backyard chickens you are a criminal. But if you keep thousands of chickens in a warehouse with no windows but with electric lights on 24 hours a day, each one in a box the size of a sheet of A4 paper so their feet dissolve from their own shit, and cut all their beaks off with a hot wire to stop them pecking each other to death, that's perfectly OK.

billy said...
You wait until one falls ill and you take it to the vets and it costs you twenty quid and dies anyway. . .

That never happens with guinea pigs does it?
Then there is the tears when the fox gets one. Then you breed and get seven cockerels. . .

I know we have foxes in our area because I've seen them. A guy down the road feeds them. They've never taken any of our chickens yet (touch wood). But I expect they will one day, c'est la vie. When that happens I'll decide whether the mess and upset makes it not worth carrying on. But from a economical point of view the hens have already paid their way, so even if I had to replace them once a year due to fox losses it would still be worth it.

I'm not breeding them and I don't recommend you breed them either unless you know all about it and have a plan for what do do with all the cocks. I'm talking about keeping backyard hens for eggs. Breeding, showing, preserving rare breeds, and rearing for meat are all very different operations. That's not what I'm talking about.
Guinea pigs are much less trouble and several times more intelligent than a chicken!

You'll get no argument from me there! But you don't get the eggs, do you. I'll stick with my chickens.

There were more questions and I'll deal with them in the next post. In the meantime you might want to look at the Omlet website. I found it very helpful for answering my questions and allaying any fears when I got started. The Omlet products were too pricey for me, although they look good quality. We cobbled our own henhouse and run out of materials we had to hand, which kept the cost to almost nothing. I'll cover that in a future post as well.

Links to Part 2 and Part 3


Anonymous said...

Melanie I found yesterdays post very useful because tomorrow I am collecting 10 Black Rock hens. I have never kept chickens before and I am really looking forward to collecting my own eggs. I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog and find it really interesting.
Thank you.

Joanna said...

We've lost the odd chicken to foxes, but BY FAR our worst predator has been domestic dogs ... the first time, it was a pair of labradors (yes, LABRADORS), that were kept in on their own day after day, anyway, they escaped, ran a couple of miles over here, killed my six chickens in a really frenzied attack (just left them headless), and then ran half a mile up the road and took all the birds in a considerably larger flock. At this point, they were caught, and a magistrate ordered them to be destroyed. Everything about that was horrid. But we got more ... and we have to watch visiting dogs, which cannot be trusted, and, over the years, have taken one or two. My two Jack Russels are FINE with our birds, but can't be trusted with anyone else's (they know where they come in the pecking order here - they know that I mind about the hens at least as much as I mind about them).

When you lose birds, it's horrible, because, however thick they may be, they are very affectionate, at least to the person who feeds them!


Unknown said...

Omlet - small bhuddist :-)

Judith said...

what about rodents? I heard that chickens attracts rats because of the feed thats on the ground. I'd like to have chickens one day, not now, not much room on my balcony with all the potts with lettuce, herbs and tomatoes. I like reading your blog!


rob said...

Great article. I saw it on Hugg. Decentralizing our food production is so key to sustainability.
One of the issues we had to deal with was what to do with hens that stopped laying and our being vegetarian.
We ended up giving them to a poor migrant worker family living on a nearby farm. They certainly needed the protein for their kids and I didn't have to axe my girls.
In previous flocks we would just give the old hens a nice long retirement and they would die of old age, but we had a whole flock traumatized by a dog break in and they all quit laying. We gave them into the next Spring too!
I'm sorry to hear that feeding kitchen scraps is illegal in Britain. Is your government trying to be stupider than ours (USA). They don't stand a chance!

benjymous said...

Have you got any more info on the kitchen waste illegality? Seems totally crazy to me (well, I can understand it on an industrial scale, as there could be issues with all sorts of unsuitable waste being used as feed, but not on a small scale.)

If I pull up a carrot from my garden, take it into the kitchen, cut off the green tops, then feed them to my chickens, that'd be illegal kitchen waste. If I pull up the whole carrot from the garden, and toss it to the birds, that'd be garden waste, which would be fine?

I'm confused

Unknown said...

I suggest that we take a continental approach to these regs (nod sagely and ignore them) rather than a British approach (run round with clipboards in case the Man From the Ministry pops round).

Joanne, rats can be a problem because you have food out - but if you use a hanging feeder from the top of the house, on a tripod, or dangling from the nearest tree, it's less likely. The main ratty problem is that under the house makes a convenient billet, which is why my house is up on stilts; you can see a photo on my blog March 6th 2006.

Greg said...

PLEASE everybody, break laws like those. We're losing control of our own countries. The most sane and expedient thing to do is ignore laws which discourage our attempts at sustainability.

I might add that hens can be NOISY. They do a soft noise as the author states, but they also sometimes do a buck buck buck BAWK buck buck buck BAWK that is very loud. It seems random - ours are happy and housed well, they just sometimes seem to feel like letting off some steam.

At first I was mortified because of the neighbors, then I realised I shouldn't care less because what I was doing everybody should be doing. And, yep, we've got noisy dogs already so I felt I'd have good case in front of council :)

Just be prepared for some noisy, that's all!

Groupholla said...

From what I understand, kitchen scraps can have a higher concentration of dyes, heavy metals, pathogens etc according to studies that have looked into cafeteria food wastes etc. But food scraps from household kitchens can be better sorted so as to remove any potential rotten foods or those high in dyes, heavy metal etc.