Keeping chickens

A "Black-tailed Columbian" and a "Light Sussex"!Keeping chickens is great fun and very easy.

This page won’t promise to be the exhaustive answer to all things chicken, but it will help to get you started and it will be a place where we post new info from time to time.

Who has chickens?

Currently two members of Transition Town Farnham keep chickens. Paula Burgess and Nicci Shepherd each have two. (Finn Jackson also started out with four, then his kids have just brought three new chicks home from school. (An egg-hatching experiment in science class!!!) Then the fox got them, then he had seven for a while, and currently he is temporarily chickenless again :).)

Why keep chickens?

We keep chickens because:

p1020962> it’s fun
> the kids love them
> the eggs taste great
> it keeps us in touch with the seasons — I like going out to feed them twice a day just to be reminded what the weather is doing!
> it means we don’t have to cut the lawn
> they keep the slugs down
> they provide great manure
> we get huge pleasure just watching them scratch about the garden being chickens

p1020972During the second world war people all over the country kept chickens (and grew their own vegetables). By 1943-44, domestic hen keepers were producing about twenty-five per cent of the country’s officially known supplies of fresh eggs. By the end of the war the “Domestic Poultry Keepers’ Council” had over one and a quarter million members owning twelve million birds.

(Pig keeping was another craze. There were almost seven thousand ‘Pig Clubs’ with hundreds of thousands of members, feeding their beasts on kitchen waste. But we haven’t started on that in Farnham yet :))

How do I keep chickens?

A home-made runKeeping chickens is very easy. You just need:

> a hen-house
> a pen (if you want to keep them fox-proof)
> a metal dustbin to keep their food in
> food and water dispensers
> grit (to help digestion)
> ground up oyster shell (to help them make eggshells)
> access to grass

If you have enough space you can let them run free (in which case you need to be prepared for foxes to take some from time to time.)

Or you can keep them in an enclosed cage which you move around the lawn each day (thus keeping the grass nice and short).

Or you can keep them in an enclosed pen (in which case they are likely to eat every green plant inside the pen…)

Or you can try any combination of all these.

The ‘Balfour Method‘ (named after Lady Balfour who invented it) involves keeping the chickens in an enclosed pen, feeding them your kitchen scraps and prunings/greenery from the garden. They eat some of the greens, peck over the rest, and turn it into a good mulch which you can shovel up every fortnight or so and put into the compost. Plus they have controlled access to one or more runs.

This page on downthelane.net lays out some ‘personal experiences’.

Where can I get some chickens?

p1020913Apparently it is possible to get ex-battery chickens very cheaply. Sources we have found (but not tested) are:
> http://littlehenrescue.co.uk/default.aspx
> www.bhwt.org.uk
> http://www.freewebs.com/henrescue/
> www.northlondonhenrescue.org.uk

(This forum includes the comment — “Last time I heard the BHWT had a three month waiting list in Surrey…….happy farmers!!”)

If you know of others, please add a comment and let us know.

Susan Hammond (thanks Susan) says the main hen rescue site is at http://www.bhwt.org.uk/, and says be aware that if you rescue a battery hen, her best laying days will be behind her. (Laying decreases about 20% a year.)

Two local people that (in 2008) sell hens are:

o Toby, GU9 7DB, sells a wide variety of hens — (01252) 733755

o Gill, just south of Bordon, sells chickens (and ducks and rabbits) through www.backyardbunnies.co.uk. Her mobile number is (07726) 334831.

Anna’s Country Store in Rushmoor sells chickens. Tel 01252 792044.

It is worth visiting the website of Golden Valley Poultry (in Grayshott) just to experience the singing chickens!

And Perfect Poultry, just off Junction 3 of the M3, also has a good range, though perhaps a little more expensive.

If they don’t have what you want then further afield there is Southmead poultry in Leatherhead, and Cooped Up in Dorking.

Alternatively you can buy fertilised eggs and incubate them till they hatch. Or you can buy chicks and keep them for the first few weeks.

But if you are starting off then you will probably want to keep it simple and buy some old commercial layers that are being sold. Or you can buy young hens about six months old and just coming into lay, which are called “point of lay” hens.

Which sort of chickens?

There are various different breeds, which will lay different numbers of eggs per year. Chickens bred for the table will generally lay fewer eggs.

This page gives some examples, and you will be able to find others on line: http://www.outgatepoultry.com/Point-of-Lay-POULTRY-

Where do I buy chicken feed?

Finn gets his from SCATS in Godalming. Layers pellets and mixed corn, cost about £7 each for a 20kg bag (which together feed about 4 birds for about 6 months).

Susan Hammond buys hers from Pets at Home in Farnham (much closer than SCATS) — thanks for the comment Susan — and says one bag of pellets will last four hens about two months.

Paula buys feed for her girls Countrywide Stores in Liphook — good selection of Organic Feed and other poultry supplies

They also love kitchen scraps (boil up peelings and add some oats for a lovely winter porridge) and lawn cuttings in the summer.

Where do I get a coop/henhouse?

I built my own (though discovered that red spider mites LOVE living in the gaps between the planks, which is not good for the chooks.) Paula got one from Omelet (which, because it is plastic, has fewer nooks and crannies for red spider mites to hide).

Nicci is doing the “latest thing” of using a plastic compost bin as a hen house. (NOT one of the spinning bins, I hasten to add!)

SCATS in Godalming sell them, as do Ana’s Country Store in Rushmoor (01252 792 044).

And Mary Green has told us about the great-looking painted hen houses that you can get from Oakdene Coops, just the other side of Dorking.

Chicken Health:

Chickens, like any animals, do get worms and you can buy treatments from SCATS or on line.

Generally chickens are healthy and do not get ill.

Further information / Chicken Forum:

Susan Hammond, in her comment below, recommends http://www.kelseyinfo.co.uk/cgi-bin/yabb2/YaBB.pl as a very active forum on all things poultry, and a good place to go for advice and help.

Golden Valley Poultry in Grayshott is about (2012) to publish a book on keeping chickens.

You will be able to buy it from their site, and in the mean time there is a useful summary of key pointers here.

Newspaper articles:

p1020939Quite a few newspaper articles seem to have been appearing lately. Here are a few of them that we have spotted. Do add a comment to tell us if you see any, and we will add them into the text.

The Guardian in March 2009 asked, “Can you save money by producing your own eggs, growing your own fruit and veg, and making your own honey? Hilary Osborne is cock-a-hoop at the prospect.” She also looked at turning an unused bit of your garden into a vegetable patch and keeping bees.p1020918

In January 2009 Huma Qureshi reported that interest in cooking, sewing and even hen-keeping is soaring as people explore ways to economise at home.

In May 2009 Charlotte Popescu reported in The Daily Telegraph on what to feed chickens, and how to protect your borders.

Other Resources:
Thanks to Vivan Scaldwell for these links:

www.practicalpoultry.co.uk – go to the Forum for anything you want to know about, from housing to feed to selling eggs!

www.flytesofancy.co.uk – good for feeders & water hoppers by mail order, they have all sorts of equipment as well as housing, and also a general advice section – recommended supplier

www.forshamcottagearks.com – they have some highly recommended poultry housing but it can be a bit big and heavy.

www.omlet.co.uk – for Eglu housing, very light, easy to move, durable, perfect for 2 or 3 hens but relatively expensive. However a good investment as they sell very well second-hand on EBay. They also have an interesting forum.

Pets At Home are now offering more poultry products than ever before including housing, feed, and hoppers.

Chicks need chick crumb until they are 6 – 8 weeks old, after which they should move on to growers pellets or mash. At 18 – 20 weeks they will need to have a diet consisting mainly of layers pellets (with some greens) and only the occasional treat to ensure that they remain healthy.

Chick crumb can also usually be found on EBay, as can new and used poultry housing, drinkers/water hoppers etc.

9 Responses to Keeping chickens

  1. Lisa Kirk says:

    The British hen welfare trust rehomes ex battery and other ex commercial hens. Last month I got 3 hens 12 month old ex free range commercial hens for £12. All laying well and waited just a month to get them. Go to their website and register your interest. They email you when a new batch is available.
    http://www.bhwt.org.uk/cms/re-home-some-hens/

  2. Chris says:

    A good place to buy chicken food and supplies in Farnham is Snack & Tack in Runfold. 20Kg layers pellets only £7.51 and they put it in the car for you.

  3. Robin Dulake says:

    Thanks for the tip @ boiling up the peelings etc. My father kept hens in the war, in our back garden in Finchley, I still can smell the winter mash and see him stirring it up carefully. In spite of frugal living (I wore my older sister’s Start-right sandals with the toes cut out) we lived well. Now in Dorset, I have just built a hen house entirely from wood from the dump (especially pleased with the wooden shingles), & my 2 hens have just laid their first eggs. Happiness.

  4. Lynne Vos says:

    Hi there, I have one chicken left now of my original six. She is seven but still lays lovely eggs from time to time. I think she is very lonely so if anyone would like an additional chicken, I am willing to part with her. She is very chatty and enjoys gardening
    Lynne

  5. Mary Green says:

    I live in Dorking, near Farnham and I happily keep four lovely light Sussex hens. I brought a fantastic painted chicken coop from Oakdene Coops in Brockham. It looks great in the garden and the chickens seem to love it! The website is http://www.oakdene-coops.co.uk

  6. finnjackson says:

    Sally Cox recently added this comment to our noticeboard:

    Re Places to buy chicken feed- POULTRY.
    I just found a relly reasonably priced supplier in Selborne, near Alton- on the Farnham to Selborne- go off the A31- Farm and Country Supplies- I bought 20kgs Layers Meal, non GM for £7.99. Its at The Old Dairy. Also the Oyster shells are a good buy too.
    Hope this helps as its better than the suggested Pets at home, where we were buying before.

  7. Joe says:

    Thanks a ton for the chicken related information. We live in the upper peninsula of Michigan, and are eager to try the Balfour Method. We have two acres with neighbors pretty close by. We don’t want our chickens to get into our neighbors yard and fencing our two acres to keep chickens in is not an option. Thank you for the handy information.

    Joe Basso

  8. Susan Hammond says:

    I get hen food from Pets at Home in Farnham (much closer than SCATS), the price has gone up a lot in the last year and one bag of pellets will last four hens about two months. They love lawn cuttings at this time of year.
    The main hen rescue site is at http://www.bhwt.org.uk/, but be aware that if you rescue a battery hen, her best laying days will be behind her (laying decreases about 20% a year.
    Check out http://www.kelseyinfo.co.uk/cgi-bin/yabb2/YaBB.pl for very active forum on all things poultry, place to go for advice and help.

    • Paula says:

      I buy feed for my girls at Countrywide Stores in Liphook – good selection of Organic Feed and other poultry supplies (redmite powder, grit, diatomaceous earth, fencing etc).

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