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Please help me decide if I have the time and skill to keep chickens - long sorry!

9 replies

TeddyBare · 06/11/2010 17:09

I really like the sound of chicken keeping but I have no experience of looking after them. I've been reading downthelane.net over the last few days, and I have a few questions.

Do rescued battery chickens need expert carers? Are any breeds more suitable for beginners and the Welsh climate (perhaps ducks?!)than others? Does 6 sound like a reasonable number to keep together for a beginner?

I'd like to have a permanent run with the coop inside it. The area I'm imagining a chicken run in is about 10m by 4.5m with a few small fruit trees, a tree stump and one fairly large Christmas tree. Clearly we can't put a roof on this area - would it be better to use a smaller area without trees and have a roof? If so, how much space do 6 chickens need? The area is reasonably well drained and protected but when it rains very hard it gets muddy. What do you recommend to make a hard surfaced area for them? Is it worth building a little roofed area to protect them from rain or do they prefer to stay inside if it's raining heavily?

One side of the little area is fenced with a brick wall and the other sides are currently unfenced. For the rest of the fencing I'm planning on using post-and-wire and sink it underground too. Do you also use railway sleepers around the edges to discourage foxes digging under? How do you make the gate bit secure?

We would like to build the coop ourselves. Do you have any tips for features which are essential or might be useful? With the brick wall and the trees, quite a bit of the run will be in the shade at some times of day. Does this mean I will need to adapt the coop in any way to make sure they're warm enough?

How much time per day do chickens need? How easy are they to handle? What do I do if they decide they don't want to get into the coop at night?

How good are they at getting away from toddlers? Alternatively, any tips for training toddlers to leave chickens in peace? She is ok with the dogs but I'm not sure chickens would appreciate such enthusiastic cuddles.

OP posts:
Constance39 · 06/11/2010 17:21

Okay, can help with some of your q's Smile

First of all don't bother with sleepers if you don't have cheap access to them, they are ££, you'd be fine with a row of cheapy slabs round the outside. (plus sunken wire obviously)

Our area is smaller than that - it's recommended 2sqm per chook, we have six and they have 5m by 2.5 m.

There aren't any trees in their run, well one stump - we had them free range till Mr fox killed two, then the risk wasn't worth it as he kept coming sniffing round.

They are a bit bored without lots of trees I think. But if you incorporate a tree or two they will strip it of foliage anyway.

Our farmer recommended some trays or boxes of turf to alternate so they get greenery to eat.

Our run is totally covered apart from one small bit round a tree. I used fence posts in the corners, battens round halfway and at the top and galvo roof sheets on the top...this means it's lovely and dry for them in all weathers and very dusty which they seem to like and keeps them healthy.

Attached to it is their shed, a converted garden shed which is 6x8 and they have a ramp and a pop hole straight into the run.

I close the pop hole at night and remove the ramp.

Hope this helps a bit, I will link pics of the run later if i have time.

Constance39 · 06/11/2010 17:22

Btw - they really don't mind the rain, even snow, but in a fixed run they will turn it into Glastonbury very quickly if it isn't covered, iyswim!

dikkertjedap · 06/11/2010 21:03

I think that six is quite a lot, you will get lots of eggs, up to 42 a week, do you really want that? Also, rescued hens need more tlc and might have more problems. If you start off I would get a few hens (may be 3 or 4) from one place (if you get them from different places there is the risk that one carries a virus and passes it to the others and they die on you, chickens are unfortunately full of all kind of diseases). Also, they are a lot of work if you want to keep the run and house clean and non-smelly. I mean emptying it out, and scrubbing with strong disinfectants and very regularly whatever the weather, included autumn, winter, spring. I would say at absolute minimum every 3 weeks and this job might take a few hours and can be a dirty smelly job. So are you up for that? Because keeping chickens is not cheap, getting/building a henhouse/the hens themselves/feeders/drinker/food and vitamine supplements/disinfectants/bedding. It is not cheap and yes, it is also time consuming. You also need to let them out in the morning and lock them up at night (foxes), so if you want to go away you need to arrange for someone else to look after them. In my experience they never get really tame, and although you learn just to grab them and treat them with louse powder etc (something you need to do on a regular basis), not sure how much pleasure they give to your toddler. Toddler might be better off with smaller and easier pet. Would I recommend chickens, only if you really feel strongly you want to have them, it really is quite a commitment I find. If you do get on, you can probably get your hens for free at the moment (look at notice boards in pet centres and agricultural shops) as at this time of year a lot of people get rid of their hens as they will eat a lot over the winter, need a lot of work and will lay very little or not at all.Good luck with whatever you decide to do!

Lizzabadger · 06/11/2010 22:11

You will need a roofed area for them. They are not clever enough to go back in the coop when it rains. Paving slabs covered with aubiose or elephant grass will do as a solid base, I believe. An electric fence around the run is a nice-to-have if you don't have a solid base. I have 3 chickens and spend about 7 hours a week cleaning/feeding/watering. They cost a fair amount in food, bedding, supplements, cleaning products and vet bills (approx 60 pounds a month, but they are spoilt). If you choose the right breed they can become tame and toddler-friendly. Silkies, Pekins and some hybrids are good from that point of view. I wouldn't go for ex-batts to start with as they don't live long and can have a lot of health problems.

Constance39 · 07/11/2010 07:38

Goodness - I'm shocked at how bad other people find it! Smile

I don't spend nearly that much on mine - in time or money.

Ours have never had lice or red mite, so far. It cost a bit building the run but their shed has a vinyl floor so I just scrape it every few weeks and replace the shavings.

This costs no more than a fiver a month, takes about half an hour. It will get a wash down of the walls etc in the summer when it dries quickly.

The layers pellets cost about 8 quid a month. Sometimes I get them corn or mash to add in for variety.

We get about 1-4 eggs a day atm and happily distribute them among our neighbours and family. Ours are pure breeds and came to us healthy, and have stayed healthy - they have zero contact with wild birds either, which can carry red mite etc. as the run is totally enclosed.

Pictures! (during construction - it looks a bit better now!)

Seriously it isn't that hard.

Though I do think a toddler isn't totally ideal to get to know them - unless they are ex batts, which ironically are the friendliest chickens, having been manhandled quite a lot in their little lives.

often they last a good year or two after rescue and don't always have health issues - and they often don't lay an awful lot either as they are a bit beyond their prime iyswim.

i would go and see someone with chickens who is prepared to show you around their set up, and talk you through it. Our farmer was brilliant. I saw how he ran his farm and it helped me gauge what was important and what wasn't.

TeddyBare · 07/11/2010 09:09

Thanks for the replies.
To clarify a bit, chicken keeping will be for me - dd will not be encouraged to get too near them they wont be her pets. I'm just anticipating that she will want to help out with them sometimes. I'm also not particularly concerned about eggs as we don't eat many. If we end up with a lot then it wont be a problem distributing them around friends.
I hadn't thought about having a roof except for around the trees. Do they mind not getting much sunlight?
We have 2 donkeys and a pony, so I was just planning to add the chickens onto the mucking out list with them.
Do you have a solid base over the whole run or just part of it?

OP posts:
Constance39 · 07/11/2010 12:10

Wow - donkeys! Envy

You are no stranger to muck then Grin

I have the roof to keep it dry, keep the fox out (easier than wire and one side is brick wall, he'd just walk along the top and straight in!) and I have wire round the tree on a batten system. It's totally secure (hopefully)

I only paved round the perimeter as a deterrent to digging under, but the wire is sunk in about a foot anyway. The inside of the run is just earth.

They get plenty of sun, it's quite a high roof (about 6-8ft, sloping) so it comes in from the sides. It's fine. It just keeps the rain off.

OhWesternWind · 08/11/2010 07:36

Hi - we have some ex-batts and some "fancy" hens (well, cream legbars for the blue eggs). The ex-batts have needed no more care than the legbars, in fact they are much easier to catch and handle than the legbars. I know that this might not be the same for all ex-batts, but we said clearly to the rescue people that we were novices and they picked us some of the hens in better condition.

I'd wholeheartedly recommend getting some ex-batts to anyone. They might not be the best looking hens in the world but they are friendly and fun, and it has been wonderful watching them getting used to a proper hen's life and discovering what the world, rather than a shed, is all about. We're planning on getting two more out of the next rescue batch! They are also a lot cheaper than pedigree/hybrids which can be around £12-15 for a hybrid and £20 upwards for a pedigree depending on breed and the area you are in.

If you have animals already, you will be fine with hens. TBH, I think I look after my hens pretty well but over a week I would say I spend maybe only 5-10 minutes clearing their house and enclosure of poo, topping up water and food etc. I do a big clean out of a weekend and that takes maybe 20 minutes to half an hour. If you factor in all the time I spend watching them then the total goes way up as it's quite addictive and they are such fun. They don't cost all that much either in terms of food - pellets and corn are pretty cheap, and although the wormer and disinfectant etc aren't, a little goes a long way. There are a lot of supplements, treats etc that you can buy for them that probably aren't strictly necessary and which do cost a lot of money, but you can get by on a lot less.

We have four at the moment and will soon have 6. This is a good number for us - not too few, not too many - and like someone else said, if you have too many eggs then there will be no shortage of volunteers to help take them off your hands Smile

I don't think the hens will get too cold - it's better for them to have shady areas as conversely they can get too hot in the summer. Ours have a cherry tree and a large shrub (hebe) in their run - they love to hide in the bush but haven't caused it any damage so far. Maybe hebe is one of the few plants unpalatable to hens!

It sounds like yours will be fine - go for it!

Grockle · 16/11/2010 21:23

My chooks take 10 mins a day (feed, water) with maybe 20 mins a weekend to clean them out properly although I can spend hours watching them roam around the garden.

My sussex girls are very friendly and tolerate cuddles (from a 5 yr old) but my Coulumbia blacktail is skittish and wants nothing to do with us.

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