The Pleasures and Pitfalls of Raising your own Flock of Hens... Part 1
Whether your flock of hens or backyard chickens consists of two, twenty two or two hundred and twenty two hens, if they are managed correctly they should give you endless pleasure in chicken keeping and a multitude of eggs.
If you have a small flock and are using a chicken ark move this around regularly as chickens ravage and strip land very quickly. This can be lessened if you can fence off or enclose a large area.
If you have a larger flock of hens and a static chicken house, make sure you set this on a concrete base. Cover the floor with a good layer of sawdust or wood chippings. Your local wood yard, joiner etc., will probably let you have sacks of the stuff for free. Also the concrete base can be hosed down and kept clean should this be necessary. The resultant mix of chicken droppings and sawdust from the hens is just fine on the compost heap. In addition a concrete base has the advantage of preventing foxes from digging into the house.
This is another mouth to feed do you really want to add one to your flock of hens?.
Will the neighbours appreciate the alarm call at day-break very day?
Local Councils are also very wary of this type of disturbance these days.
Having had the main artery in my right leg pierced as the result of an unprovoked attack by a cockerel (His spur) I am slightly biased. Had I done anything to deserve this attack? No, just walking over to the hen house and the cockerel seemed to think I was in his way and he probably wanted to protect his ‘girls’.. Cockerels are viewed as an unnecessary luxury.
Rescued hens (Battery hens)
This is another case of been there, done that. All very altruistic but really but it needs more care and it will never put the chicken world to rights. The hens can be debilitated when they arrive. They will not have seen sunshine or grass for their whole life, and it is possible to import disease. For some of the chickens the stress of this totally new way of life can prove just too much for them. This may sound a harsh view point, but it is realistic. It can be easier for a beginner chicken keeper to invest in a few young pullets and raise them to your ways and standards.
Chickens need to perch at night.
They like to be close together and being on a perch they can poo easier. It is fascinating to hear the hens coo (talk) to each other before going to sleep with their head tucked underneath one wing. Sometimes a chicken will elect to sleep in one of the nesting boxes at night. This needs to be stopped. They will mess during the night which soils the clean hay in the boxes and makes the undercarriage of the hen equally messy. Chickens that sleep in this way eventually develop a ‘bald’ breast. Not a pretty sight!
How to stop a Hen from sleeping in the Nest Egg Boxes
To cure this, check all the nest boxes before you close the house door and relocate any hen from nest egg box to the perch. Pick the hen up gently from the nest – she will squawk – take no notice. Stroke her on her back, talking to her all the time, placing her in a good position on the perch. This may need repeating several nights in succession, but you should eventually win. Chickens to not have much of a brain so do not expect instant results. The secret is to catch the habit as soon as it develops. So each night – check the boxes. Be gentle as you pick up the hen putting her next to her friends on the perch.
I personally line the nesting boxes with hay. Some people advocate using sand but this seems to exacerbate the hen’s need to scratch and is not always successful. Also hay is easier to clear out and replenish when necessary.
Collecting Chicken Eggs
Visit the nest egg boxes around noon to collect eggs, and then around the time you feed them late afternoon. Regular removal prevents breakages. Make sure you have sufficient egg boxes for your flock of hens. They seem develop a liking for a specific box and this can result in over-crowding or queuing. The remarks about a chicken’s brain also apply here. Some chickens unfortunately lay soft-shelled eggs. See next article for a method of prevention. Once a chicken becomes an ‘egg eater’ there is nothing you can do. They are bad news.
Rats in search of left-over chicken food and broken or whole eggs. Always clear up any residue of left-over food. Be resigned to the fact that once you keep hens, rats are likely to become more prevalent.
Magpies in search of chickens eggs – they can be a real menace in the countryside. In the case of large flocks and persistent attack by Magpies a Larsen trap can be employed. This is a last resort, desperate method. And will not be necessary where the back-yarder is concerned.
Foxes Always, always, always close your chicken coop at night. This includes both the doors and pop-holes. The devastation caused by a single fox in one night is not a pretty sight. This is one of the drawbacks of hen-keeping - someone has to be around at nightfall to close the chicken house door. Where really large flocks of free range hens are concerned, the staff spend quite a long time making sure the hens are all away and safe. Once a fox makes a kill, he will return looking for other booty.
Clean the poultry housing ark/coop out regularly. This is a ‘must’. Chickens always seem to appreciate the fact that they have clean saw-dust on the floor and a clean water supply. Hen happiness!
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