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chickens - pros & cons

(27 Posts)
BaryMerry Tue 16-Feb-16 10:45:22

Ok, I'm really seriously considering keeping chickens but I keep to-ing and fro-ing and have a tendency to overthink things... so I need some of you with real-life experience to help me decide.

I need your opinions on the good and the bad of having chickens, and whether my expections are realistic. Aspects I think I would enjoy:

the fresh eggs
the 'company' in the garden (we have a largeish garden and I would let them free-range a bit, especially if I was knocking about in the garden)
looking after the birds (the only other pets we have are fish!)

But some of the things which I have reservations about:

Rats - are they a certainty?
Early mornings - do you have to get up at stupid o'clock in the summer?
The smell - will my garden become a less pleasant place to sit??

FWIW I would plan to keep them in a fixed run in one of my borders, rather than moving around the grass. There is a gap in the planting along the back wall and it's getting to the point now where I either need to fill it with shrubs or chooks - I want to make a decision so I can get on with it! smile

IntelligentPutty Wed 17-Feb-16 07:54:49

following as we are hoping to get some in new house when we move..

PippaHotamus Wed 17-Feb-16 08:20:51

We have kept them for about 5-6 years now.

There are ways round much of it but a lot depends on the individual set up and sheer dumb luck.

Ours used to free range until a fox took three of them at 9am leaving only one. I shut her in the shed and built a walk in run, and then we got another five, but it was never the same without their being able to explore and hide behind trees and rustle about under the hedge.

We weren't in the garden enough to make free ranging viable.

We now live elsewhere with a smaller garden and only one chicken left and she is out and about all day - I figure if a fox does eventually turn up, it will at least be a quick way to go.

You do have to let them out very early, unless you have a shed with run attached (we built the run onto the side with a high up pop hole and a ladder) and then they can let themselves in and out

We did get rats - unless you pave under the entire run, you probably will.

Never leave food out overnight - put their grains and pellets out first thing then hopefully most will be gone by bedtime

They do put themselves to bed, handily, unlike rabbits...

The smell isn't something I've ever found a problem.

Main disadvantage for me is holiday care (though you can build a pretty good set up and they will just need feeding once a day/water checked) and also when they get ill, not knowing what to do - but most vets will have someone who understands chickens, and often they are kind of dead or alive, and not much in between iyswim.

Also mites and lice etc will want treating, we've been lucky and not had too much of that.

But they are generally a joy to have around.

PippaHotamus Wed 17-Feb-16 08:21:22

Oh make that about 8 years - time flies!

BaryMerry Wed 17-Feb-16 11:34:08

Thanks Pippa! Seems like good common sense stuff then.

So when you had the attached run did you bother at all with opening/closing the pop hole? I wouldn't be planning a whole shed, probably a coop with a run attached, so would it be reasonable to leave the pop hole open if they're in a run (hopefully fox-proof of course)?

I would consider paving a section of the bed for the run, and adding material for them to scratch about in, as perhaps this would deter rats as well as making the area a bit less muddy? That's my theory anyway, but like you say in practice it's down to dumb luck and trying different things to see what works!

I'm not put off so far...in fact I spent far too much time yesterday googling to find out where I can get hold of some birds in my area. I fancy Scots dumpies you see (we're in Scotland after all!) but they're difficult to track down I think!

PippaHotamus Wed 17-Feb-16 11:39:23

That sounds fine though if any of the base is not paved, rats can dig up into it. So do it all or don't bother doing any of it iyswim?

You can add material for them to scratch around in, maybe a box of earth and so on...or they can free range some of the time?

The other thing is if you stand it on slabs, the run won't sink into the mud and rot. So it works in that way too.

I left the pop hole open all the time, but it was a 6x8ft shed so they had a lot of room anyway. I closed it sometimes in winter as although they like ventilation, they don't like draughts.

Good luck, I think you will enjoy it smile

BaryMerry Wed 17-Feb-16 12:07:01

Great, glad to know I'm on the right track with what I'm thinking! smile

redhat Wed 17-Feb-16 12:08:57

You will have to move the run a lot because they'll dig down trying to find insects etc. If you pave it you'll have to clean it down with a hose every week to avoid an accumulation of chicken poop (which does smell) and you'll get through a lot of wood chip.

We currently only have three hens. They free range fair bit (perhaps every other day) and the rest of the time they have a 2 metre x 1metre run. After a few days they have eaten all the grass and are digging in bare soil which becomes very poopy and is just a mud bath at this time of year.

We put ours on slabs when we go on holiday and its usually gross by the time we get back two weeks later.

We've never had a rat issue (but we're rural anyway).

Sophie38 Wed 17-Feb-16 12:26:41

My girlie would go insane if I kept her in her actual run, which is the bottom half of a Forsham ark (about 6ft by 4ft)

She was even unhappy in the (10x10) walk in run we had for a while - she would run at the door repeatedly hoping it would suddenly be open. I had to let her roam after she managed to suspend herself upside down with her claws one day hmm

I think it was a protest smile

If you have the actual run on slabs but they are free to roam during the day, you should be alright. Otherwise I would suggest a large walk in run with a proper roof (tin sheets are great) and then the base will always be dry and dusty, and self-composting.

Trouble with that is, rats will dig up into it. Keep the scattered food to a minimum, esp overnight, and you might be lucky.

Rats smell far worse than chooks, IMO, they are the one reason I shan't be getting any more once this one shuffles off the mortal coil. <boc>

BaryMerry Wed 17-Feb-16 14:31:08

redhat are there less rats in rural areas? I would have expected more! I suppose urban = dirt, bins etc, therefore more rats? We are in a village in a fairly rural area, close to a road but backing onto a wood - I'm not sure where that puts us on the likelihood of rats?!

I work PT so would aim to free range on the days when I'm at home, plus weekends if we're around. Our garden is enclosed but I think for my own peace of mind I'd rather do it when someone's at home.

Sophie38 I do like the idea of a walk-in run, but as this would be my first foray into the world of chickens, I reckon I should start small. If I become hooked I can see it eventually taking up more of my garden than I currently have in mind wink

Titsalinabumsquash Wed 17-Feb-16 14:36:15

We used to let our 4 free range completely and they destroyed the garden in a week, now they're penned off in a big corner of the garden, this works well because we can have a nice area of grass and plants without fear of them scratching it all up.

The smell is pretty horrendous, I find it worse in the winter funnily enough, I think the rain/mud and poo all mixing in together causes the smell.

We've dealt with rats once in the 3 years we've had them, we resorted to poison sad I wasn't happy about it but they were everywhere and the chickens too to eating the babies whole. shock
Keeping the pellets in a metal bin works has kept them away because there is nothing for them to eat.

If I'm honest, I wouldn't get chickens again having had them now, they can be a lot of work, clearing them out (especially in winter) but the fresh eggs are nice.

They're quite noisy, we have one hen who's taken the role of cockerel on for the group. confused

redhat Wed 17-Feb-16 15:31:58

I agree, the smell is definitely worse at this time of year. and there is nothing worse than having to clean out chicken poo when its cold and wet. The other thing is that if they are kept in a run which gets very muddy the eggs are often covered in mud and poo too. Not very pleasant.

We've lived here (rural woodland) for many years and Ive never seen a rat. Seen plenty of other things near to the run (badgers, foxes, weasels etc) but never a rat.

We have a very large garden. When ours free ranged in a smaller garden they wrecked it very quickly. TBH I wouldn't have chickens again if ours all died. They are a tie when you go away and the cost of pellets/bedding outweighs the saving through not having to buy eggs.

babyboomersrock Wed 17-Feb-16 15:54:41

I'm also in Scotland (rural village) and we didn't have rats, though I was meticulous about keeping food in metal bins and so on. You really need to put food out fresh every morning and take it in/throw it away at night.

They do make a mess and if you don't keep on top of it, their run will become smelly very quickly. I had a paved run and another grass one, but the grass one was mud most of the time - you know what our climate is like wink

I think I might still keep hens, were it not for the misery of cleaning out houses and runs in the pouring rain, howling gales and heavy snow! Never go and look at chickens on a sunny summer day - it will not give you a true impression of the work involved.

I was never able to leave their door open overnight, apart from the odd summer's day - if it's raining or windy, they get wet and cold very quickly.

Having said all that (sorry), it is lovely to see them mooch around the garden scratching for worms and seeds and of course it's lovely to have fresh eggs. You need to be really committed to the daily grind of chicken care, though - and while I did it for many years, it gradually became more of a chore than a joy.

BaryMerry Wed 17-Feb-16 16:52:51

babyboomers great to hear the experiences of someone from a similar area! Thanks everyone for the honest responses - it's food for thought.

Although I'm not sure I'm any nearer to a decision! I'm not totally running away from the idea, despite the realities of chicken poo/cleaning in the pouring rain etc...but I do fear going for it and then finding, like some of you, that it might turn out to be rather burdensome.

And DH takes some convincing when I present him with a new idea of mine...I need to know before I go to the effort of this that it's something I really, really want to do!

redhat Wed 17-Feb-16 17:13:52

I'd think carefully about why you want them. Keeping chickens has been a bit of a fad over recent years but the reality is it can be a fair amount of work.

Do you want lovely fresh eggs? - if so find a good free range egg supplier and save yourself a whole lot of money. We've had our hens for years and we're still paying a fortune per egg once you factor in the coop, feed, equipment (feeder, water trough etc), bedding, treatments, vet bills, paying for someone to feed them when you're away.

Do you want company? TBH they're not much company. They'll follow you about for food scraps but that's about it.

AugustRose Wed 17-Feb-16 17:14:36

We live on a farm - we only rent the farmhouse and the land is mainly crops, although we now have sheep. We have had our 4 hens for nearly 2 years and they are completely free range. We have been lucky with no foxes but I think that's because we are on an estate with pheasants so the keeper probably takes care of any vermin. We have had very few rats in our time here and none have affected the hens.

We have a small house in the yard and DH cleans the roosting bars and poo out every day but the path does need hosed down regularly to stop it getting smelly and slimy.

Being away from home can be a problem if you don't have anyone close by to look after them, we don't sadly. You really need to want them as pets rather than just the eggs - as babyboomers says, it's not much fun in the wet and wind.

That said we love ours and wish we had got them years ago, they have great little characters - especially when they are tapping on the door for food or chasing the crows from the bird feedersmile

BaryMerry Wed 17-Feb-16 17:30:02

redhat I'm really thinking carefully about this - probably too much! I do want the fresh eggs and company and I suppose I also want the 'pet factor' - we don't have a cat or dog and I'm not interested in small furries - but I do have this notion that we should have something else 'living' as part of our home (apart from the 5 small fish we do have!) and hens seem like a relatively low-maintenance option - I mean, compared to cleaning out rabbits, walking dogs etc.. - with the added benefit of producing something which we can eat! Plus, I believe they've got a bit of personality about them - something that's a bit lacking in the guppies... grin

I've just been looking through old threads about it and am swinging back to a yes...so many chicken keepers seem to love their birds!

Another question though - when they free range, how bad is the poo on the grass? eg will I have to spend ages poop-scooping before I can let the DDs play outside?

BaryMerry Wed 17-Feb-16 17:35:00

Also - the holiday issue - apart from the fact that we don't take many! (Not even weekends away tbh) we have both sets of GPs living nearby, so I would hope to be able to rope them into helping out occasionally - in return for some free fresh eggs of course smile

redhat Wed 17-Feb-16 17:35:59

Its as simple as the more land you have the less likely your DC will step in a large poo.

However mine like to congregate on the deck and patio. It gets everywhere.

AugustRose Wed 17-Feb-16 17:38:06

will I have to spend ages poop-scooping before I can let the DDs play outside?

If they free range then yes, we have to do that - and there can be a lot of poo.

BaryMerry Wed 17-Feb-16 17:59:41

We have a fairly large garden, which is why I'm willing to give up a bit of border to a coop/run. But I imagine I'd have to scoop a fair bit...at least it's good fertiliser. I am a keen gardener so perhaps that's the silver lining on that particular cloud??

Or if it was especially bad I could limit the free-ranging or perhaps restrict to a fenced-off bit of grass?

redhat Thu 18-Feb-16 08:50:05

As long as you realise that the fenced off bit won't have grass on it for very long, it will just be a dug up pile of mud wth every blade of grass gone.

BaryMerry Sat 20-Feb-16 19:00:17

I'm back with another question - I've had hens on the brain for the past week or so! confused

Re grass/garden/free-ranging - if I was to let them out for, say, three days a week (on average - allowing for the odd evening in the summer months or mornings at the weekends etc) would my garden be toast?? I mean, I get the impression that if your chickens free range all the time that the grass is awful and they'll attack every plant in sight, but if it's only for a limited time, could three chickens wreck a reasonably large garden?

Or would I need to plan for some fencing so that I could keep them away from any especially beloved shrubs?!

redhat Sun 21-Feb-16 10:34:27

It really depends on how large "fairly large" is. We have a very very large garden (2 acres) plus woodland. They still cause havoc. When we pen them in we pen them in an area of about 10m by 10m and they wreck that. They eat every blade of grass (even though they are well fed on both pellets and scraps.).

We lost one of ours to a fox yesterday whilst it ws free ranging

BaryMerry Sun 21-Feb-16 12:56:07

Sorry to hear that redhat sad How many hens did/do you have if you don't mind me asking? 2 acres seems like a lot to get through, but perhaps it's not much for hungry hens..

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