Once we knew we were moving to Cumbria it was one of our main aims was to own chickens – so much so one of my leaving presents was a chicken handbook. When we found the barn it became something we knew we wanted to do sooner rather than later.
Initially we thought we’d get a chicken coop and a run, but after watching our neighbours chooks roaming around our garden, happily eating any worms we unearthed when weeding, we realised the run probably wasn’t necessary, and so we focussed on the chicken coop. Who knew chicken housing was so confusing – whether to go for a wooden coop and run the risk of red spider mite, or go for an eco-plastic house –and worrying about the chickens overheating in the summer. Then, after speaking to our neighbours, we realised we were actually making it far more complicated than needs be. We are lucky enough to have a few outhouses, and one of them was just being used for rubbish before it went to the tip, so why not just convert one of them into a coop? Which is exactly what we did. To be honest, it didn’t really take much work, we started out with a couple of small trees that we’d cut down from around the house, as branches for them to roost on, put chicken wire up at the windows, blocked off a couple of holes in the ceiling and job done.
Then came the ladies themselves, we had been looking at getting some ex battery hens – apparently around Christmas time the farms get rid of a lot of the ‘old’ hens for free, but we wanted something sooner. Then we found a charity who looked to rehome battery hens, but they weren’t doing a drop off in the area for a while. Again we got lucky, our neighbours knew someone who was looking to get rid of their three chickens, the nest boxes and feeders belonged to our neighbours, and so we got them thrown in too. After a bit of late night chicken rustling, we were the proud owners of three lovely ladies.
Once they arrived we kept them in the coop for a week to get them used to it, and so they’d want to come back at the end of the day. We were (again) really lucky and they started laying straight away, we get two, lovely warm eggs every morning – unless we’ve completely over indulged them the day before with too much pasta / cucumber / kids’ left overs. Chickens are not fussy and will eat anything they set their beady eyes on – ladies after my own heart. So now, as I do love eggs (hangover from Slimming World days), I limit their treats to only later in the afternoon and every other day…most of time. The rest of their diet is made up of pellets for egg laying chooks, and whatever they find in the garden – within the first day this was two mice which they ate whole….all good protein though, which is important for egg layers, so no problem there.
I was amazed the first night of their freedom when they all dutifully returned to the coop – though they wouldn’t sleep on the roosts and we had to go in and move them – but they’d jump down and go back to the nest boxes. We did this for a couple of nights before turning to the wonders of Google – turns out chickens don’t like holding onto branches – they prefer flat wooden perches – who knew?? So we found some planks of wood and put new roosts in, it took a couple of nights moving them onto the roosts to get them used to it, but this is now where they roost as soon as the sun starts going down.
The kids also really love them, and love getting the eggs in the morning, and I love the fact that the kids know where eggs come from. We always tell them about meat coming from whichever animal, but this is something more, literally, tangible for them to understand, and I believe it’s really important for children to have an understanding of where their food comes from.
So overall, I would heartily recommend chickens to anyone thinking of it, they are hugely entertaining, surprisingly good company when out in the garden – they often turn up and sit with you or generally get in your way when you’re weeding – and they really haven’t been very high maintenance. We’ve had a lice incident which has made my skin crawl for days, and there is A LOT of poo, but it’s very good for the compost, oh, and they seem to have wiped out my rhubarb plant by having dustbaths on it. But lots and lots of fun, and we’re hoping to expand our flock soon.