The Pleasures and Pitfalls of Raising your own Flock of Hens... Part 2
In this article the important subject of food for your flock of hens will be covered. Unless your chickens are fed correctly, both you and they will not be happy. They will not lay eggs and their health may suffer, plus your pocket will suffer.
Feed pellets in the morning and corn in the evening is the mantra. Buy layers pellets as these will contain zinc to encourage egg production. Call your flock of hens to you and then scatter the food on the ground – this encourages the chicken’s natural desire to hunt and peck. How much is the question? Just enough to keep them scratching for around 10/15 minutes will suffice.
Corn is greatly appreciated by hens in the evening. When feeding a large flock of hens and the corn is scattered on the ground – be prepared for a stampede of running and semi- flying chickens. If you have a large chicken house you can hang a metal chicken feeder from the roof inside the house and this is invaluable in very bad weather. Rain on pellets is bad news.
Always have a constant supply of crushed oyster shell available. Put it in a container where the chickens are unable to scratch it out, otherwise they will waste large quantities. As oyster shell is expensive to buy, this will not be appreciated by you, the owner. Oyster shell promotes firm egg shells. Sand is also appreciated by the hens and is simple to provide.
Try to buy your food in bulk and store in a rat-proof container. This must be metal as rats will easily eat their way through plastic and wood. An old fashioned metal dustbin is ideal.
A fresh, clean water supply is paramount as eggs are mainly composed of water. Regularly scrub out the water container because this will become dirtied by mud and soil from the chicken’s beaks when they drink. (They don’t carry a tissue around in their pockets!)
There is no nutritional benefit in uncooked potato peelings for any animal (pigs included). If you do feed kitchen waste to your hens make sure it is all cleared up every day otherwise you will encourage rats. Also Mr. Magpie never misses a trick.
Chickens and the garden
By nature, chickens and plants do not go together. They are particularly partial to your lettuce seedlings etc. If you have free range hens the only way is to separate the two. It will be essential to protect your newly sown seeds with a vegetable protection frame.
Refer to the entries for February, 2010 and February 2009 which give examples of fruit and vegetable cages.
In very bad weather (snow) it is inadvisable to let your chickens out (free range). The snow seems to totally disorientate the hens, therefore an indoor feeder (above) is an asset. Also they are unable to hunt and peck in the snow, so this is just a pointless exercise.
When they are let out after perhaps a day or two in their house, then is the time to quickly clear out their mess/droppings which will have accumulated over this period of enforced ‘detention’. When opening up a large house after a period of snow – stand by for the stampede.
Selling your eggs
You may have a surplus that you wish to sell to friends, neighbours. Technically you must provide NEW boxes and not use second hand ones from the supermarket. This is probably due to some vague direction from the EU. The writer used to be quite a reasonable sized producer and bought in all new boxes, but this is an unnecessary expense for the back yard chicken keeper. Just don’t use a box that is the slightest bit soiled.
You can ‘buy’ this problem in when you take in hens from an outside source. This horrid little mite will make the hen’s feet crusty and crabby and can eventually disable them if left untreated. To counter this, dip their feet in shallow container of paraffin (Kerosene) and hold them there for about a minute. Just hold the hen in both hands to stop their wings flapping. Do this every few days for about a month.
Also buy some appropriate louse powder from your supplier. This will come in a large can with a handle. This will need to be regularly sprinkled along all the perches and in the nesting boxes. Once you have red mite in a house it is very difficult to eradicate.
Free Range Chickens
Some back-yarders euphemistically refer to their hens as ‘free range’ because they can peck on grass.
The following is the Ministry definition
The maximum stocking density for the range/runs is not greater than 2500 hens per hectare of ground available to the hens or one hen per 4m2. However, if full rotation is practiced, whereby certain enclosed segments of allocated land are used evenly throughout the life of the flock, then the ground available to the hens on each segment must not be less than 2.5m2 per hen.
In other words, hens need to be ‘free’ and to range free over a large area.
The back yard chicken may be free to range (over a small area) but cannot be classed as ‘free range hens laying free range eggs’ unless the above directive is followed.
Enjoy your chickens. You will find caring for them gives enormous pleasure, satisfaction and eggs. You will also get a great sense of achievement.
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