BACK TO BASICS
PUBLISHED: 10:16 03 May 2013
What you really need to know to integrate chickens into your life
When you first embark on your chicken keeping experience, there are many immediate issues that you know that you will need to address: housing, feeding, cleaning and so on – the usual husbandry issues. You’ll look forward to their gentle clucking and the delightful way that they gently amble across your crisp freshly cut lawn.
However, chicken keeping is much more than a handful of corn and lovely fresh eggs; they can, and do, impact our lives in many ways and you also need to be thinking out the long term effect on your day to day activities.
Chickens are not just a self sufficient garden ornament; they require frequent attention from someone. You are now their flock leader, the one who must provide food, water, shelter and security.
Fortunately, there’s plenty of info to hand about these tasks, so you can get yourself prepared in advance and make yourself aware of everything that you’ll need to do on a daily basis. You’ll need to make sure they are fed regularly and correctly, provided with fresh water daily and housed in a suitable and (sometimes) expensive coop. You must provide security from predators, vermin and thieves, while all the time keeping stress at a minimum and entertainment at a maximum.
What the books don’t tell you however, is that you will need to be prepared to have your daily routines turned upside down. Your social life, your family life, your free time - all will change but, hopefully, they will change for the better if you bear a few simple things in mind.
Make time for your chickens and you’ll get the best from them. What was previously boring ‘free time’ is suddenly used up by all the little tasks that go hand in hand with chickens. Fifteen minutes here for feeding, 15 minutes there for cleaning, 15 minutes spent egg collecting, two hours suddenly lost watching them dust bathe in the sunshine. Before long you’ll find yourself more outside than in, and feel much better for it!
I can’t deny that your social life may take a hit as you’ll need to make sure that your chickens are locked up safely at night. In the winter this means that, although they are well in bed by 4pm, making an evening trip out easy, day trips can be cut short as you need to get home. In the summer, you have the opposite problem, although day trips are easier; be prepared to be hanging about well past 11pm for the last straggler to make her way to bed, making a swift half at your local out of the question.
Your annual holidays are something that you will need to consider. What happens while you are away? Have you got someone reliable to look after the birds’ daily needs and collect the eggs while you’re sunning yourself somewhere exotic? Chicken boarding does exist, and here at our cattery, we do take in pet chickens with the owner’s cats for a week or two, but up and down the country you may find that experienced animals sitters and chicken boarding establishments are few and far between, so it pays to do your homework well in advance and get your chickens sorted as with any other pet. You’ll find, too, that as your chickens become part of the family, so you’ll not want any old Tom, Dick or Harry looking after them.
Once you’ve sorted time, remember that chickens will cost you money. There is of course the initial expense, where your chickens may cost anywhere from a few pounds for a rescue bird, up to many hundreds for a tip top showing pair. A few years ago, on a day to day basis, household budget was never an issue, as chickens were fed on kitchen scraps and cheap wheat. Unfortunately, these days as feed prices increase, a bag of wheat or pellets can cost more than a tenner and even a small bag from the pet shop is topping a fiver, so you may find that they are more expensive to keep than a few years ago – plus new laws mean that if food has passed through your kitchen, you can’t feed it to your chickens.
Is the rest of the family prepared for the new arrivals and the tasks that they bring with them? Children need to be considered. Noisy, boisterous children can stress chickens and put an end to laying and bring on stress related illness, so consider if you have the correct environment for them and make sure that the whole family are with you on your decision. Calm, sensible children lead to calm sensible chickens that lay well and come running to you for titbits, making them a much more enjoyable pet. Try to get the kids involved with the day to day tasks, it’ll not only give them an education and something to do; it’ll also give you an occasional break from your chicken chores. You’ll be surprised sometimes at just how interested youngsters can get!
The mucky bits
And thinking of the kids, there is the subject of muck. If the sight of a speck of dirt or a sofa cushion out of place sends you into convulsions, then chicken keeping is going to be a horrendous experience for you. Chickens need cleaning regularly, not till their house gleams, but enough to keep them dry, hygienic and poo-free – who amongst us hasn’t put their hand into something smelly when cleaning out! Chickens also invariably create mud in the winter with their scratching and this becomes quite slick at times – often I have landed on my backside in a slippery run! In the summer, dry dirt and dander fill the house making it a dusty job to clean, so if you are a martyr to your allergies then you’ll not enjoy the task.
Many people are concerned about other pets. Well, while some cats and dogs find chickens initially interesting and then tire of the new arrivals, others seem want to kill everything with feathers. So, when you first get your chickens, make sure they are well protected before introducing the family pets, and if you are at all in doubt, keep them separate.
A sore point for many keepers, as chickens will scratch up any piece of greenery without consideration for flower borders, carefully thought out colour schemes or productive vegetable plots. There is plenty that you can do to minimise the carnage, from fences to pots and containers, but be aware that your manicured lawn will never be the same without a little intervention from you.
So, these are some of the things the books don’t tell you and, on top of that, you’ll find many other things that only time and experience will reveal. At the end of the day, you’ll figure out how to work around them - and wonder what you ever did without chickens!