Living in a residential area, it used to be pretty uncommon to have a flock of birds in your back garden; however, my parents decided, being that they were very much into self-sufficiency at the time, to begin their poultry keeping adventures by getting six point of lay chickens. I was only young at the time, but I have fond memories of collecting the eggs and listening to their relaxing chatter. I can still remember my excitement at hearing the vociferous clucking of the hens as they laid their eggs each day. Their house was a good distance from our house, but it could still be heard clearly at the bottom of the garden.
After a while it became apparent that my parents wanted several more eggs per day than they were getting and decided to take on some ex-battery hens. The flock had now gone from six to twelve. I don’t remember much about their integration into the flock at the time but I do remember enjoying their burgeoning into proper chickens after ‘living’ in a cage for the previous eighteen months.
My love of chickens and poultry keeping was well and truly established at this point and I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of keeping them… Okay, perhaps I didn’t do much of the cleaning out…
Several years went by and it became a bit of a burden for my parents with my younger sister now on the scene and me still being too young to do it all, they decided to give the hens away to a good home. It wasn’t the same without their comforting noises, and it certainly wasn’t the same without the fresh eggs!
Skipping ahead to 2012, I inherited three brown rangers and a house. For several months they would free range in the garden and it would always make me smile whenever I went out into the garden and could hear them scratching around. Often it would be in the compost heap or making a mess of piles of leaves that had just recently been raked up. There were times when they did uproot plants that my parents were desperately trying to grow… On sunny days they would just lie down on the lawn and bask in the sun with their wings spread out.
Sadly this all came to an abrupt end when Mr. Fox turned up and made several attempts to take my hens, and it was at this point that I decided to make a temporary run area for them. It wasn’t plain sailing after this as I had various issues with illness and soft egg shells. Despite numerous attempts to resolve the issues, they became too unwell and I had to dispatch them. I believe the aftershock of the fox attack upset their immune system and I have since learnt that stress is a massive contributory factor to illnesses.
I didn’t give up on poultry keeping and I slowly built up a new flock and purchased a Kentford 6 house for my six hens. The house was sturdy and very easy to clean out. Due to my ignorance at the time, I decided to felt the roof, which later on made treating red spider mite an absolute nightmare and I’ll touch on this again in early spring.
Shortly after this I acquired a few young birds (9 weeks old), which I had to put into my old house until they were large enough to fend for themselves in the main flock. Sadly, at the time I was rather inexperienced when it came to identifying cockerels and hens and it wasn’t until one started crowing that I realised.
This meant I had to try and sound proof the house as best as I could, but I decided that an expanding flock really needed a larger house. This afforded me quite a lot of space and my desire to have a few more hens returned once again. It was around this time that I also begun to think about hatching chicks myself in order to have the experience of hatching and adding particular breeds I was interested in.
I’ve since hatched with both an incubator and under several broody hens. I much prefer the latter as it is easier and more successful in my opinion. Not forgetting how lovely it is to see the mother hen looking after her young chicks; showing them how to eat, drink and forage.
I believe the pleasures of having hens – perhaps a cockerel too – extend far beyond the delicious fresh eggs they produce. To me they are entertaining, therapeutic, educational and mesmeric.
Each month I’m going to be publishing a few paragraphs of information on poultry keeping and what I’m doing with my chickens both at home and on the farm over the next twelve months. I hope to inform people of the trials and tribulations of keeping their own flock and impart advice to help others who also enjoy this wonderful pastime.