Thursday, March 10, 2011
It’s possible to keep chickens in any garden
A mazingly, over 80 percent of homes in the UK have, according to official statistics, access to gardens or outdoor space. It varies from the wild acres of the country mansion to a few square metres of terrace in the town and consists of an assorted conglomeration of lawns, flowerbeds, hedges, yards and plant pots.
Although it is impossible to say how many birds the average-sized garden will hold, even the smallest plot of grass should be sufficient space for a combined house and run which, in order to prevent damage to the turf and a possible build-up of parasites, must be moved on a regular basis. Commercially produced units are readily available on any poultry equipment website or through adverts in magazines such as Your Chickens.
With care, a small pen of chickens can be kept without ill-effect to either themselves or the garden. The theory behind keeping free-range chickens is wonderful, but the practice is not always quite so simple and while many people’s ideal is to have birds scratching outside the back door, picking at scraps and living a contented life, in reality things can be very different. Although free-ranging birds will eradicate insect pests and slugs in the garden, some of their habits are less welcome.
A well-tended garden and a pen of chickens are not necessarily exclusive to one another and there are several ways to prevent your poultry from damaging precious plants. In an environment where birds may be allowed free-range for at least some of the time, consider choosing chickens and bantams with feathered legs, as these are less likely to scratch up the grass on your lawns quite as much as other breeds. Lay chicken wire flat on your herbaceous borders in winter – the plants will then grow through the wire the following spring, but the birds will be unable to scratch up the roots.
A dust bath might also help keep them off the flower beds. In its simplest form, it is nothing more than a dusty hole created by the birds themselves, either between the exposed roots of a tree or under the garden shed. An artificial equivalent can be made by placing a mixture of dry earth, fire-ash and sand within the confines of a wooden frame, or even an old car tyre painted to match the rest of its surroundings.
Before you even consider acquiring a few chickens, it is worth checking your property title deeds for any restrictive covenants and maybe consult the local council in order to ascertain whether there are any by-laws that totally forbid their keeping. It is also reasonable to assume that a small garden will be part of a terraced or semi-detached property and as such, will obviously have neighbours, some of whom may be in favour of your venture and others who may not – it is certainly worthwhile having a word with them in order to gauge their opinions. Although there may be adequate space for what you have in mind, it is important to ensure that the chosen location is not likely to upset anyone: the appearance of all types of equipment and housing must not detract from the overall appearance of the surroundings. Exteriors of sheds and other structures should be kept painted and well-maintained, whilst a little natural landscaping can help muffle noise. Check for any holes or gaps in the boundary fences: you might enjoy the sight of free-ranging busy chickens in your patch, but your neighbours will possibly think differently. Perhaps more important than the fact that your birds could escape through such apertures – and remember to look closely for holes behind shrubs and other plants that may go unnoticed to the human eye, is the very real danger of neighbouring dogs and predators gaining access. For this reason, unless your garden is well and truly fenced, it is probably wise only to let your birds have free range when you are around to keep an eye on them.
Small garden solutions
Even the smallest of back gardens is probably large enough to house a trio of birds such as the Rosecomb, Sebright or Serama bantams; generally though, the smaller the garden, the more imaginative you will need to be as regards space and accommodation. An area sufficient for an average-sized dog kennel and run will provide a home for three to six large chickens and a redundant aviary could house a few bantams. A garden shed can be put to good use if an outside run is attached or the interior is sectioned off to provide several smaller units. Do not, however, contemplate using a disused greenhouse – the temperature extremes are too great.
A garden without grass need not necessarily have to be a garden without chickens and, assuming that the area can be periodically disinfected, a static house and run could be a viable option where the ‘garden’ consists of nothing more than concrete or paving slabs. In this instance, it would be best to have the roof of the house continuing the full length of the run and also to enclose the back and sides, leaving only the wire-netting front portion open to the elements. By doing so, it should be possible to include a base of fine gravel, pea-shingle or screened play pit sand that provides both scratching and dusting material which can be periodically taken out and sieved in order to remove the faeces, vegetable stalks and discarded feathers. Wood bark is another option but its size makes it impossible to riddle and is therefore more difficult to keep clean. In any case, whatever material is chosen will need replenishing and/or replacing from time to time.
The middle-sized or large garden
An average-sized back garden is more than suitable for a pen of prolific egg-laying large fowl, whilst, in the paddock of a country property, examples of almost any variety of the chicken world could, quite literally, be on the doorstep. With a large secluded garden at your disposal, there is, within reason, no limit to the breed or types of chicken you can keep; indeed, your only restriction may be how much space you wish to utilize and how much time you have to ensure that your birds are kept healthy and are correctly managed. Indulging in the ‘Good Life’ is undoubtedly much easier in the middle-sized or large garden as there is likely to be more space in which to grow vegetables – some of which will prove useful greenstuffs fodder for your birds – and also somewhere to construct a permanent chicken run.
For practical as well as security reasons, you might like to consider confining your chickens to a large run during the times you are not around to supervise. Generally, a run should be as big as practicable and, in the interests of hygiene, two runs can be advantageous – one in use and the other ‘resting’ – although this does, of course, double the area needed. Finally, no matter what the size of your garden, never forget that, as the chicken-keeping bug takes hold, you will undoubtedly need extra space for broody coops, runs, and maybe even separate penning areas for breeding stock and show birds!