Monday 18 April 2011

To chicken or not to chicken...

Despite our best intentions the weekend wasn't as productive on the allotment as we'd hoped. We were having my family round on Saturday night so spent most of the day tidying the house, doing some jobs in the garden and popping to the shop to get some sparkly new BBQ equipment leaving Sunday as plot day, or so we thought.

However, waking up on Sunday morning I could feel a blocked nose and sore throat had manifested themselves overnight and the familiar achiness in my limbs confirmed I was in the grip of a cold. So, Sunday ended up being a bit of a sofa and box of tissues day which was a pain, although I did pot up the last few unwanted tomato plants that I'd not quite had the heart to throw away as someone at M's work had decided she wanted them (and I was too much of a perfectionist to let her have them pot bound and half dead in their little seed modules).

Yesterday wasn't an entire waste however as it let me give some serious thought to a new project we've been circling around for a while. Ever since we started growing our own and getting interested in the world of self-sufficiency the one thing we've always wanted to do was have our own chickens. Not only does the idea of daily fresh eggs sound great but everyone we've spoken to about it says they're such fun to keep as well.

So what’s stopped us from taking the plunge you may be wondering? We'll there's two things really. First, and most significantly, is the worry that our garden isn't really ideal for chickens to live in. It's not so much a space thing, although we don't have a large garden by any stretch of the imagination, it's more that we'd not really be in a position to let them roam free at any point. We've got two cats, as have next door, and I struggle to imagine just how they'd all get on if the chickens were let out to wander the garden. It'd also be hard to stop them from fluttering over (or under) the pretty poor fence between us and next door (how high a fence do you need to keep chickens contained?) and I'd not want to annoy the neighbours too much by having to keep rescuing them.

Most of the coups I've seen for sale come with a built in run area and claim to be of suitable size to house three birds but they just seem so small, I'd worry our chickens wouldn't be very happy being kept in there all the time. Some companies offer additional run segments which may help but I still need convincing that the chickens would be happy in that kind of setup all the time.

Secondly there's the age old problem of price, I totalled up everything we'd need (coup, run, feeders, consumables, birds etc.) and it seemed to be pretty much about £500 to get up and running. Not an insurmountable amount given a few months of saving (although my damn car spectacularly failing its MOT last week has dented any possible chicken money for the moment) but not one I'd want to lay out only to find that the chickens aren't happy, which brings us back to what I was saying before...

I wonder if anyone out there can offer some advice...?


Mark N said...

We currently have 3 chickens. We started with 2, lost one last winter so introduced two more.
They are currently housed in an eglu cube from Omlet. Although we only had 2 birds, we went for the cube as we were worried the classic eglu wouldn’t be big enough.

We don’t have the additional run, just the cube and it’s fine for our 3 girls. We did chicken-sit two others recently, bringing the total to five and they weren’t happy being cooped up. They HAD to be given free roam of the garden, so I guess it depends on how many you are intending to have.

As for fencing, I think height is less important than holes. They will get through very small openings if they want to! Ours are very disinclined to fly up, though. The chicken wire I have put over the open fence at the end of our garden is 1m high and that’s more than sufficient for our girls.

I’d thoroughly recommend the plastic omlet houses over the timber ones, for ease of cleaning. And, if you’re not too far away, you’d be welcome to come over and take a look if you wanted. We've only had our girls about 2 years, but we may be able to answer any other questions you may have.

Good luck!

Paul and Melanie said...

Thanks for that Mark, very useful. :)
So am I right in saying that appart from when you were chicken-sitting the extra birds your three don't ever come out of their eglu cube and seem quite happy with that?
We'd probably be looking at getting three too so that'd be good to know...
We're in Gloucester, so possibly not too far from Wiltshire... :)

Mark N said...

No, our three do come out, but not all the time - in the winter we keep them in the cube, as they would turn the rest of the garden into one big mud bath. Once the ground is dry in the spring/summer, we let them out two or three days a week. If they had to stay in the cube permanently I wouldn't be too worried though.

Hope this helps, and that offer is open. If you wanted to come down, you're more than welcome.

Janet/Plantaliscious said...

Interetsting. My brother-in-law keeps chickens and loves it, but they built their own shed and run, and anyway very few cats in the area so the chickens roam free. When I worked at an Outdoor Centre on Anglesey a few years ago we looked after the chickens, they had a house with a small run attached to which they were confined for most of the year - four of them. Then we helped build a "compound" of chicken wire (part buried to deter foxes and rabbits). Their wings were clipped but they still managed to escape on a regular basis. We topped the chicken wire with tree prunings which stopped them getting out, but it was a palaver. I'd say the only safe way to keep chickens where there are foxes and/or cats is to have a roofed run, and then move it around the garden regularly if they don't have a separate area or they will destroy the grass... The cost side is something rarely discussed - I think unless you sell some you can't justify it as cheaper eggs, it has to be a lifestyle thing. We haven't decided whether we will go for it or not yet, despite having loved the fresh eggs and looking after them... Good luck with the choices!

john bain said...

I have a dozen hens having a lovely time free ranging around and enjoying dust baths in the dry soil. However when it is wet weather they take on a very miserable look. It's lovely having them about the place but because they are free they are always chasing me for tit bits and get under my feet.Also bear in mind that they won't lay eggs forever. Maybe just a couple of years. If you are not inclined to eat the old hens you will have to keep them for a long time and the foodstuff they require if they are not free range is very pricey at the moment. We had an old bantam given to us which lived til over 20 years. Cats don't normally bother hens. A mature hen with a bad temper is something to marvel at! Are you able to have a hen run on your allotment? I.m enjoying your blog. Cheers