Quite a few of you have asked about my experience of keeping chickens, so I've written some pros and cons that I have encountered this past year. Here goes....
A Bit of an Intro
|Beryl, Jean, Maisie & Martha (rip)|
My sister in law (Karen), has kept chickens in her garden for about three years. I have always loved them. They strut and peck and scratch about. They follow her about, and often toddle into her house. They are wonderful time wasters; watching them is very relaxing. Karen lives at the very top of St Ives, in a very old cottage with a very large garden. Hers is the kind of house that demands at least one or two hens pecking about (she currently has five chickens, and four ducks).
|Beryl & Jean as chickettes|
Last year I came home from the Infant school with four ten day old chicks. Two for me and two for Karen. They were tiny and I had to keep them in a cat box at night. They were too small to go outside. I would put them in as it got dark, cover them with a granny blanket and pop them under the stairs to keep warm. Beryl and Jean (who incidentally are named after two childhood neighbours of mine) latched onto me pretty quickly. They became quite tame, and allowed me to pick them up and give them a cuddle.
We bought a coop on line in the sale, and Marc fashioned a gate so that I could contain them down the side of the house, where my veggie patch is. And they grew and grew and grew into Rhode Island Reds. Both have distinct personalities. Both are naughty. Both poop. A lot. Both make me laugh. (And don't tell Beryl this, but Jean is my favourite).
The Pros & Cons Of Keeping Chickens
|Our first eggs|
- The obvious one is eggs. I get two a day, every day. Sometimes one of them can be put off, for example, when Marc is power sawing wood in the garden. But they are pretty robust, and there isn't much that phases them, although Seagulls terrify them.
- Children love them. Obviously they won't help you clean them out or anything. But they love to collect the eggs, and make things with them. Olly sees them as two play mates when he is in the garden. They are also funny to watch.
- Pest control. They will happily eat all the slugs and snails you can find. And flies. Watching one of the girls grab a fly on the wing, is truly a sight to behold.
- They are inexpensive to keep. The biggest outlay was the coop, and the wood to build our chicken Camp Bastion. We bought the coop on line in the sale. There are lots of coops, for all budgets. We bought one that would accommodate up to four chickens. I buy their food from 'Cornwall Farmers' which is basically a one stop shop for farmers, horse owners etc. A sack costs less than £10.00 and lasts for months. They will also eat scraps from the kitchen. They love Dandelion and Dock leaves too, which I collect when out walking Honey.
- They give lots of pleasure. I enjoy letting them out in the morning, and feeding and watering them. It marks the beginning of the day.
- They are neither smelly or dirty animals. Of course they need cleaning out regularly, but that is true of any pet. Yes they poop, but it is very beneficial to the garden. My veg has gone mad this year due to Beryl and Jean's poo.
- They do not attract vermin. I would imagine that this would happen if you leave too much food around. I always take any left over food out of the run at night. We had a problem with rats a few months ago, but that coincided with the house over the road being demolished. A few pouches of poison, and they were no more. They haven't returned.
|That in-btween age|
- The main one for me is that they do eat the garden. They will root out seeds, seedlings, chomp on leaves, scratch about exactly where you don't want them to, and jump all over your flowers. They make dust bathing holes right in the middle of your lovely borders. They will decimate the leaves on your Runner Bean plants and love Gooseberries. Of course they aren't really doing anything wrong - but if you want your hens to free range the garden, you need to be prepared that this will happen.
To mitigate this, I never let them out of their run when I am not around. I let them out for a few hours at a time, and if I get too anxious I just pop them back into their compound. In fact, the compound was built so that I had some control over them. It is big enough that they can peck and scratch to their hearts content. There are perches and they can see in through window, which they seem to like to do. I must admit to feeling guilty when we are having roast chicken, and they are sat there....
- They are very good at escaping. Chickens may not be known for flying, but they can and do. Maybe not very far, but if all they want to do is to jump the fence or wall they will. Believe me. And they will keep doing it. Beryl nearly drove me mad with her Houdini antics. They now have their wings clipped regularly. I watched a tutorial on You Tube. It's very easy, and it doesn't hurt them at all.
- They are a tie if you go on holiday. Although the same is true for all pets. I m lucky that Karen and I will baby sit each others animals, but it is a consideration.
- Although this has not happened to me, they are obviously a target for predators. Maisie was attacked and killed by a dog that wandered into the garden. They can get ill, and may need pills and potions. I haven't had to yet. And they may stop laying altogether as they get older.
There is loads of information on line for you to peruse. I bought a Green Guide, when I was thinking about getting chickens. It was very useful, and I have all the information I need at my finger tips. I have also bought this wonderful book, which not only gives a flavour of keeping urban chickens, but also some lovely recipes too. You'll be surprised how quickly your eggs mount up.
If you scroll back though my blog posts, you'll find quite a few references to the girls. They have caused me all manner of pleasure and pain. They are a bit like having children.