Monday, 8 February 2010
Owning Chickens - A Guide to Domestic Poultry
Why keep chickens?
Whether you are thinking about taking the first steps towards self sufficiency or you are simply looking to save money by producing your own food, chickens are the perfect way to start.
Owning chickens is great for the environment. You'll be reducing your carbon footprint with zero food miles on your eggs. You will also have a constant supply of free organic compost.
Chickens make excellent family pets. Many chicken owners say keeping chickens is less work than looking after a dog. Friendlier breeds are ideal companions for children, and are fun and educational too - teaching children where their food comes from and how to look after a pet.
There's nothing quite like collecting eggs fresh from your garden each morning. They taste wonderful. You'll never want to go back to supermarket eggs.
Gardeners take note: chickens will gobble up garden pests, so you'll no longer have to use unhealthy, polluting pesticides.
Recent campaigns by celebrity chefs have rightly made people aware of animal welfare on farms. With chickens in your garden, you'll have an intimate knowledge of exactly how the hens that lay your eggs are looked after. The cruelty of factory farming is well documented. Less well known is that even 'free range' chickens are often kept in crowded barns with little access to outdoor space and their beaks cut blunt to prevent them pecking each other.
Feeding and Caring for your Chickens
Chickens are not fussy eaters. Their main diet should consist of layer pellets or mash and mixed corn seed.
Chicks (age 0-8 weeks) should be fed chick crumbs, whilst growers (age 8-18 weeks) should be fed grower pellets or mash.
Chickens love treats, such as leafy vegetables, sweetcorn, fruit, or brown bread. These should be kept to a minimum to stop your chickens from getting overweight. Overweight chickens lay fewer eggs.
Do not feed your chickens meat, fish, or raw potato peelings.
Water should be topped up daily with at least 200ml per chicken.
Chickens need access to a dust bath to clean themselves. You will need to clean out their nesting area at least once each week.
The Cost of Keeping Chickens
Domestic chickens cost £8-£15, and are available from poultry farms and some pet shops. Alternatively, you could choose to rehouse ex-battery hens, available free or at very little cost from rehousing charities such as the Battery Hen Welfare Trust.
Your main outlay will be a coop and fencing for a run area in your garden. Choose a good quality coop to last your chickens for their whole lifetime and to keep predators out. Coops cost from around £100 for a basic model up to £400 for a top of the range design.
Feed costs around £10 for a 25kg bag. The amount that chickens eat will vary depending on breed type, the amount of exercise they're getting, local climate, and the type of feed you use. A small laying chicken will eat 100-150g of feed per day (costing you between 4 and 6 pence for feed per day).
Choosing a Chicken Coop
A poultry coop is the ideal home for your pet chickens. Chickens are sensitive to too much heat, cold, or dampness, and a coop keeps your chickens sheltered from the rain and cold. A secure, well-built coop keeps chickens safe from predators such as foxes and cats.
When choosing a coop, bear in mind that chickens need 1-2 square feet of nesting space and 3-4 square feet of outdoor space per bird. For a small number of chickens, a coop will provide all the space they need. For example, our standard 5'1" x 2'1" poultry ark is suitable for housing three small chickens. To keep more chickens in this coop, you would need to let them roam free in your garden or a larger pen for at least an hour per day.
During the daytime, chickens will need access to exercise space and a dust bath. Day and night, chickens need access to fresh drinking water.
Chickens can live up to 15 years, so it is important to choose a coop that will last.
Living in a coop will help your chickens feel comfortable and secure, so they'll produce more eggs.
Order a coop now so you'll have a home set up and ready for when your chickens arrive.
Edwin Lloyd is the Managing Director of My Greener Home (http://www.mygreenerhome.co.uk), a UK based website offering a wide range of products to cut your household bills. If you are seeing your gas, electricity, water or food bills rising then come to My Greener Home and we can help you push them back down again. With products ranging from energy saving bulbs through to water butts, My Greener Home will have something to make your home cheaper to run.
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