Have you ever considered keeping your own chickens? If you have a space outside, back garden hens can be the ultimate rewarding pet! Here’s why….
When we moved to our Little Home several years ago, one of the first things we began to do in a huge sea of things to do, was to design and build a small vegetable patch and a chicken coop within it.
I have always loved the idea of being self sustaining in a world where we consume so much. In an ideal place in time, having a few acres each would be amazing but unfortunately for most of us, a small patch of land is all we have, so there is only so much we can grow and raise ourselves.
A few years ago, when “growing your own” became popular, it also became quite trendy to keep your own chickens. Plenty of cool and fashionable chicken coops and runs appeared on the market, designed specifically for back gardens, which made keeping them accessible for the masses.
So, why should you keep chickens when you can simply buy eggs from the supermarket? Well, for a start, your eggs will be fresh! Supermarket eggs can be a month old before you buy them.
You also know exactly where your eggs have come from. Unless you are buying direct from an egg supplier, it’s difficult to tell how the chickens are kept and what exactly they are being fed. Free Range doesn’t necessarily mean those girls are basking in the sun and pecking for worms across acres of land. Depending on the country you reside in, free range chickens might not even be allowed outside!
They will help around the garden too! Whilst it isn’t advisable to leave them unattended in the vegetable patch (I have learnt this from experience) unless you want to see how fast your lettuces can be demolished. Chickens do make useful gardening helpers.
If you have recently dug a bed over, let the chickens loose! The will help rake the soil to a desirable, fine tilth. They’ll remove grubs, slugs and other unwanted pests and even eat weed roots whilst they’re at it! You can sit back, enjoy the sun and relax whilst the chickens do all (or at least some) of the hard work.
Chickens also make really fun pets! With the right handling chickens can even become quite friendly and affectionate.
They are the best educational pet.
Keeping chickens will not only teach your children how to care for animals, they will help your children learn about food sources.
They are good composters.
Boil up vegetable peelings until they’re soft and feed them to your chickens. Your feathered friends will love you for giving them such a delicious treat. It’s also a great way to use up something that would otherwise go to waste. They especially love them served warm in the winter!
So, what do you need to keep chickens? They need somewhere safe (fox proof) and warm to sleep in. There are plenty of reasonably priced hutches on the market, or you could have a go at building your own. Just be sure to provide them a perch and nesting boxes in order to lay their eggs.
They need an area for feed and water. Be careful not to leave too much food out overnight as you may find them sharing it with rats and mice. Rats, may also steal eggs and even harm chickens if they are attracted to the area. The best option is to buy a specifically designed chicken feeder which you can hang off of the ground.
A shady, sheltered spot in which your chickens can retreat to should they feel the need is important to keep them happy.
Chickens need an area of dirt to scratch and forage in. Chickens also love a dust bath so make sure they have a dry, dusty area for this (a large cat litter box filled with a mixture of soil and sand is ideal, if the ground isn’t appropriate).
Ideally, you should keep chickens to a minimum of 3. Chickens are very sociable creatures and if one should fall victim to predators or disease, having at least 3 ensures that chickens don’t end up alone. Introducing new chickens can take time. However, don’t overcrowd your space!
Choosing Your Own Chickens
Whilst there are many brilliant chicken suppliers out there with a vast range of beautiful hens. Please do consider rescuing some ex battery hens. You still get plenty of eggs from these overworked little madams. And, you will also get a hugely rewarding and fulfilling experience when they come to you to begin the rest of their lives in freedom. I speak from personal experience! My ex battery hens wanted to enjoy their newly found, free range existence to the full. My neighbour (five doors up) found them rummaging around in her newly laid flower bed – oops! This prompted a rather amusing (at least to my colleagues) call to the place I worked and a quick trip home at lunch time to collect said naughty hens and place them back into their run!
…….I also found them the following week sitting on my roof! They clearly loved the views from my Little Home on a hill.
Do you already keep back garden chickens? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.