We toddled off to a local battery chicken egg producer and bought 4 ex-battery hens.
They cost us £1.50 each. Some were a little the worse for wear. They were certainly 'past their best' as far as the egg factory were concerned.
Left: Some of our chickens.
With the chickens safely 'boxed up' in the boot of our car we headed off (glad to get away from the stench of the place where so many chickens were crammed into little cages) to give our four hens a taste of freedom.
Why am I telling you all this?
Well at a quite recent family wedding, I was chatting to a relative I'd never met before and he was saying how he and his wife were thinking of getting chickens.
'Think no more!' was my instruction and I regaled him of what a wonderful thing it was to keep chickens, a labour of love, requiring little real work and delivering a wonderful bounty direct to the family.
You have the joy of having nature working in your own garden and of the wonderful taste of organic eggs for your breakfast, with your chips, as an omelette, in your cakes etc. etc.
At circa 4 eggs a day there is plenty to go around our family and we often give spare eggs to friends, family, neighbours and even our Parish Priest. And these eggs taste better than any you'll get at the local supermarket.
Aside from the initial cost of the coop, there is little cost involved bar the grain and layer pellets.
Here's my tips for anyone thinking of getting chooks:
- Cordon off a part of the garden for them. Even if just 6 by 6 foot - it's freedom compared to what they had. The more room you can give them the better, but the Rhode Island Reds we have just got everywhere when we at first gave them total freedom -- and they will get through hedges, over shortish walls etc. and they do get into flower beds and wreck them (though some breeds are better)
- Shop around for food. Own brand pellets from farm supplies outlets work out much cheaper. Same goes for treats like meal worms. Family Bargains shop sells tubs for £1.50, whereas Pets at Home sell bags (probably twice as large) for circa £15! They are the same and the chooks love the cheap ones as much as the expensive ones.
- Shop around for shavings and hay too. If you have the storage it does work out cheaper to buy big bales/bundles from a farm supplier or similar. If storage is a problem you can buy small amounts more often.
- If one chook gets picked on at the start don't worry too much, they settle down after a week or so. Same goes for non-layers.
- If you do let the chooks wander hither and thither and they seem to 'stop laying' -- they haven't. They will have a 'secret nest' somewhere (we had one in a hedge and one behind a shed, both very difficult to find and empty).
- Feed the birds with scraps and any leftovers you won't be re-using. Why give all that goodness to the rubbish men when your chooks can get sustenance? Ours love cold chips, noodles, bread crusts and much else! What they don't eat gets trodden in, pooped on, then gets forked over into our adjacent compost heap.
- Yes - keep a compost heap nearby, the chicken poop and wee'd on shavings/hay from the coop can go straight on the compost heap and will do wonders for your garden a year down the line.
- On cleaning we find emptying out the coop and putting in fresh shavings/hay once a week suffices. When you choose your coop go for one with a slide-out bottom. Makes it easier to clean. Once a week goes well for raking the earth around it and/or forking out the waste/poop etc. for the compost.
- The only pest we've seen is red mite. Just buy a suitable treatment and spray the inside of the coop once or twice in the Summer. Look out for mites in the joints, hinges etc. The spray can blow about so a DIY face mask is handy.
The hardest bit is getting the right coop, closing off an area (we sank in posts and used (ahem) chicken wire with a wooden gate), in short the preparation.
So my message to anyone - relative or otherwise - thinking of getting chickens is: go for it!
They are a joy to watch, they are funny little characters (from the bossy one to the naughty one) and if you have children, getting them to (help) clean out and gather eggs is an education all in itself.