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keeping chickens: all you need to know

How much should I feed my chickens?

April 6th, 2012

Question

I have  a question  how much food do you give the chickens at once my chickens always seem hungry is this normal I have 28 chickens I feed them in the morning and again when i come home at 5pm while collecting  the eggs  then sprinkle some at hen house when putting them to bed  Help!!!!!!!

Answer

It is perfectly normal chicken behaviour to be constantly hungry!  I don’t know the real statistics but ours seem to spend at least 80% of their waking life foraging for  food.  It is not healthy for chickens to become obese though so some restraint in the amount and type of food provided is needed.

Generally, if you can feel a rough outline of the breastbone, a chicken is about the right weight.  If it is protruding, they may be underweight and if you can’t really feel it, the chicken is probably overweight.  This is only very general advice and may not apply to every breed, though.

We feed our chickens about a mugful of mash each a day, though they free range and forage as well.  The amount they need does vary though, such as in winter or when they are moulting so their energy consumption is higher sand the feed needs to be increased.

Chicken coop recovers after storm damage

January 11th, 2012

Some pretty fierce wind and rain came across the UK last week – in parts, the worst since ‘The Great Storm’ of 1987.  We didn’t lose many trees in our area but we did have one casualty: the roof of our chicken coop.

Sometime in the night it parted company with the small coop.  The hinges were torn from the wood and the roof appears to have sailed towards the door to our pen, which it broke open and escaped through.  The roof was recovered from the hedge 30 feet away.

Fortunately most of our chickens prefer to sleep in the other coop, which is about twice the size.  There are 1 or 2 chickens too many, though, so those at the bottom of the pecking order (or last to bed) find their way into the smaller coop.

There were 3 on this particular night but all survived the wind and rain, although I can’t imagine that they were very happy about having such an interrupted night’s sleep.  They were lucky not to become dinner for Mr Fox with the door wide open.

The roof was surprisingly in one piece and relatively easy to get back on.  The hinges had stayed attached to the coop so we were able to just turn the roof around 180 degrees and affix it to the undamaged baton.

We could reconsider our chicken coop design so it doesn’t happen again but winds like those are rare in south east England and the larger coop with the heavier roof survived just fine.  I suppose the answer is longer screws!

 

chicken coop damaged by a storm

The coop in question on a fine spring day

Why is my chicken’s belly bald, inflamed and red?

January 10th, 2012

Question
Could you help me? One of my chickens has gone bald on her belly but its very inflamed and red. If you touch it you can see it hurts her. I’ve got four chickens. I have recently wormed and put mite power one them and their coop. Anny is a rhode island red. She sits in the nest box and night and she goes broody very easy. I’m not sure if its to do with her sleeping on her poo ect. The other girls are fine. I know its not red mite. 

 

Answer
The problem you are describing could be a number of things.

A possibility is that she is suffering from a reaction to the bedding you put down in the nest box. Hens are quite commonly allergic to hay and will need an alternative bedding material such as straw, which is much less irritating.

If your hen feels heavy when you pick her up and waddles when forced to move around, it is likely to be that she is suffering from Egg Yolk Peritonitis, where the yolks of her eggs are discharged into her own body instead of going through the normal egg production process.

Although chickens can live with this condition for many months, it eventually becomes infected which may be the heat you are feeling. In this case there is little you can do for her but the kindest thing.

 

Must-have chicken keeping accessories

January 1st, 2012

A particularly wet and windy day over at the chickens has reminded me of how much I appreciate our favourite robust windy/wet/cold weather gear and other chicken keeping accessories.

We’ve been through so many rubbish pairs of boots and other bits and pieces that we thought we’d share our recommendations to save other chicken keeping enthusiasts time and money.

 

Waterproof, rip-proof coat

I have this coat, or an almost identical previous version, in green.  It has a zip-in fleece which is a 30 second job to take out for the summer months and after 3 years amazingly still has no snags or tears from chicken wire or barbed wire.

berghaus jacket

Super warm neck gaiter

This is a recent addition to my chicken keeping wardrobe but one that I already know is going to stay part of my winter weather gear for years to come.

 It’s like a scarf but one that stays put, and can come up over your nose to keep nice and snug in wind, rain and cold.  The only problem is that if you wear glasses it takes a little adjustment to stop steaming up issues!

neck gaiter

Tough, non-splitting wellies

Wellies are a must have for muddy pens and wet days.  I have been through countless pairs of cheap wellies and they all developed splits within in a couple of months.  Whilst I cannot yet attest to their robustness, I’m now road-testing a pair of classic Hunter wellies.

classic Hunter wellies

Cheap gloves

When I’m doing the chickens, my gloves get covered in mash, mud and all sorts of other things so I use a pair of cheap and boring gloves that I bought for £1 in Tesco.  Any cheap gloves will do so long as they are relatively thin so you can do fiddly jobs like unpicking the string in chicken feed bags.

cheap gloves

If you have a piece of favourite gear for doing the chickens, do share it below!

Buzzards and chickens

December 19th, 2011

After I mentioned buzzards in a recent blog post, I noticed that quite a few people have been coming to the site with various queries about buzzards and chickens.

“Would a buzzard take a chicken?”

Yes, buzzards can easily take chickens, especially bantams and young chickens.  We have had a silkie killed by a buzzard and a full grown Black Rock hen seriously injured by one.

There is a pair that regularly flies above the fields in which our chickens live so the threat is constant.  Unfortunately there is little that you can do about buzzards if you have free range chickens.

“Buzzards are scaring my chickens”

The presence of any predator, especially one that is around during the day as with raptors, is bound to cause nervous behaviour in chickens.

If buzzards are regular visitors and are causing stress to the flock, it may be best to keep your chickens in a roofed enclosure where they are safe from the threats from above.

“What can I do about buzzards around my chicken pen?”

With the number of buzzards shooting up in the UK, buzzards are going to become a problem for more and more people keeping chickens.

Despite their burgeoning population, buzzards are a protected species and cannot be killed.

We’ve heard of various means of deterrent, mostly around using cds or mirrors that reflect light.  We cannot vouch for these methods but for some it might be worthwhile as a first line of defence.  Setting up a decoy bird of prey is another possibility.

The only sure-fire way to keep your chickens safe from buzzards is to have a pen with a sturdy roof so attacks are physically prevented.

Remember, buzzards are protected

If you have buzzards near your chickens you have an extra duty of care to ensure that any rat poison you lay is managed as cleanly as possible.  There are serious penalties for illegally killing protected species so the onus is on you to be an even more responsible chicken keeper.

How will my chicken’s feathers grow back?

December 16th, 2011

Question
Hi.. My pet chicken lost her back and shoulder feathers because of getting mated by cock…How will they grow back? Its almost a month they haven’t came back. Old feathers are a bit in the skin. R

 

Answer
Your chicken’s feathers should grow back next time she goes through the moult.

If the cockerel is still busy with her when she comes to grow back her new feathers, they will wear down straight away and she will remain bald.

You might want to separate her from the cockerel when it comes to moulting time so she has a chance to recover.

However, as long as her bald spots aren’t getting pecked by the other chickens and the climate is not too hot or cold, she should be ok with a few less feathers.

Chickens 2011 – a whistlestop tour

December 13th, 2011

13/12/2011

A romantic moment in the chicken coop at the beginning of 2011 has meant that we’ve been busy planning our wedding and not updating this site as much as we would have liked. The wedding isn’t until next year so updates may be infrequent for a while yet.

The chickens are getting old and lazy and aren’t doing much laying at the moment. We’re barely getting half a dozen a week from the lot of them, who number about 16 now.

It has been a strange moult this year, with our Barnevelders and one remaining Warren all moulting early and our Black Rocks & Rhodes leaving it to the very last minute. One poor girl is still trying to get her feathers through – must be chilly at this time of year.

We’ve had an excellent year so far as predation goes. I don’t think we have lost a single bird, even though they have been free ranging almost every day. The buzzards still hang around a lot and we’ve seen brief evidence of foxes, although never for long.

Captain Stupid, the nasty cockerel, is no longer with us, having suffered a suspected stroke in the summer. One afternoon when we went to shut them in he was flailing around on the ground and could only move in circles. He seemed in quite good spirits though, eating, pecking at us and being generally mean, so we gave him a couple of days in the hope he would recover before doing the kindest thing.

Other than that we have lost one or two of the older birds from egg-related conditions but most of them seem in pretty good spirits at the moment.

Why have my chickens lost their feathers on their underside?

December 13th, 2011

Question
Could you tell me why my chickens have lost their under side feathers please? I have 9 birds and I had a mite problem last summer,I’ve been treating the coop ever since with shield. I haven’t seen any mites so far this summer,the birds are laying well,i feed them on layers and a small handfull of corn in the afternoon.I don’t know what the problem is and how to sort it out so please help me. Jason

 

Answer
Your chickens sound healthy enough and whilst the feather loss may make them look a bit messy, I don’t feel you have much to worry about.

If your hens are just coming up to a year old and went through their first moult last autumn, it could be their age playing a factor. Our older hens tend to maintain much better feather condition than the year-olds. If this is the case, time will be the best help in solving your problem as the next moult should see them re-grow much more fully.

Breed may also play a factor. Our hybrid Black Rocks and Black Rhodes tend to look much more tatty than our pure breed Marans and Barnevelders.

One thing that may cause feather loss on the underside of the bird is if they sleep on the floor rather than perch. If this is the case, you could try installing a perch in your chicken coop and encouraging your chickens to sleep up there instead – they may take some teaching though!

If your chickens won’t perch or your coop does not easily accommodate a perch, try changing their bedding. Chickens can be irritated by some types of bedding, particularly hay, so try replacing it with hempcore which is much less likely to cause such a reaction.

The other possibility is that your hens have lice or mites, though this is less likely as you are taking the right precautions by using Poultry Shield. Give your birds a thorough inspection, looking around the vent, under the wings and down the back of the neck in order to ascertain whether this is a relevant issue.

As well as Poultry Shield, I would recommend that you use Diatom also. This a 100% natural powder that you can dust your birds and coop with to help prevent infestations – as well as add to their water to improve nutrition.

It really is great stuff. Here are some of the things it can help with:

  • Residual Red Mite control
  • Natural Wormer
  • Increasing digestability of the feed
  • Helping in supplying adequate minerals
  • Aiding in greater utilisation of feed value. It will save on feed as less undigested feed passes through the large intestine as waste matter
  • Causing noticeably better health, less sickness and a faster growth gain
  • No Egg withdrawal period necessary.

A grand feeder!

December 13th, 2011

27/07/2010

We have always used pheasant feeders for feeding our chickens in the past but have had problems with rats stealing food and the chickens dropping it everywhere. However, we recently acquired an excellent new feeder from Grandpa’s Feeders which seems to have solved our food wastage issues!

 

Grandpa's Feeders

See more photos.

It is a metal feeder with a treadplate mechanism that means the chickens have to place some weight on a plate for it to open. There is quite a good lip on the feeder which means that they can’t hook out the feed and dump it on the floor as they like to do with normal feeders. This stops the local wild birds helping themselves and we’ve noticed a marked decrease in the rat activity in and around the pen.

We weren’t sure how easily our older birds would take to the treadplate system so we tested it out on the 1-year-old Barnevelder hens and Legba. It did take a while but they got the hang of it after about a month thanks to the learning programme that came with the feeder.

 

Grandpa's Feeders

What ripped the heads off my chickens?

December 13th, 2011

Question
I moved 12 mid size chickens over to a new enclosure. it is very well contained although the man who was looking after them left them out thinking they would be safe. We only moved them 2 days ago and went out today to discover we had lost 5 of them. All look as though they have extensive damange to their heads and some have actually lost their heads by them being ripped off. We live on a farm in a rural area.

I have since moved them to a safer location and intend to set a trap but wondered if you had any idae what could have got in the area is pretty secure and did this. Thanks, I really appreciate any help you can offer. ps one of the remaining hens has to scratches down one side of its face and a cut on his head. Liz

 

Answer
When I first read your email my initial reaction was that it sounded as though it was a fox attack, I still consider fox as a main suspect but since the pen is enclosed it does make things a little more mysterious.

Sheep wire is not much of a barrier to a young fox, a dog fox of about a year old or a vixen could easily fit through the standard sized wire squares however if they did I would have expected the culprit to still be inside the pen.

I’d like to ask a few more details from you please to get a better understanding of your setup.

How high is the chicken wire portion of the chicken pen perimeter and what size holes are in the chicken wire? Is there any damage to the wire, or dig scrapes from either the outside or inside of the perimeter?

Does the door into the pen fit tightly and snugly or is there a gap that could be prised open even a couple of inches? Is the door kept locked, or is it possible for a member of the general public to open? Is your chicken pen within sight of a public footpath or road, or overlooked by houses?
Have you noticed an unusual sag to the roofed wire in any way? Or any traces of fur (of any colour) that has snagged on the wire joins?

Do you have rats close to your chicken pen? Do you have many rabbits close to your chicken pen? Is the chicken enclosure clear of dense vegetation, brambles, nettles, scrub etc? Is the chicken pen close to any bodies of water? Are there any trees or other structures that overhang or stand close to your chicken pen?

Do you what time of day the attacks took place? What the weather was doing at the time of the attack?

I’d like you to stand at your chicken pen and have a look for any mounds, tree stumps or landmarks that stand out close by, once you have identified them go and take a look and see if there is any kind of territorial markings present, you are looking for scrapings and poo mostly but also keep your nose open.

Lastly it would help if you could send me a few pictures of the chicken pen itself and, if it’s not too late or you feel it’s overly macabre, some pictures of the carnage caused.

 

Reply
The chicken wire goes a few metres high and makes up all the walls of the enclosure and its only the roof made of chicken wire, only really designed to keep buzzards out. The floor to the pen seems in good condition with no holes or gaps, its all tight on the ground. ON the outside is a few feet of metal. The door is also a tight fit against the ground with no gaps. The doors kept locked at all times and were very rural so no-one can see the pen.

There’s a few gaps in the roofing where the chicken wire overlaps and we couldnt find any traces of fur round or near the enclosure. There are rats nearby but many have been trapped/ shot in recent weeks so numbers are at a minimum. There are other adult chickens in nearby pens which havent been bothered by any rats or other pests.

Theres no rabbits near the pens but a few minutes away theres a wood where there are rabbits. he enclosure is clear of bushes and suchlike and the surrounding area is vegetabgle garden. No structures hang over the pen but there is one or 2 trees nearby and there is a very small burn thing near the chickens. The chickens were attacked over-night and it was cold and frosty over-night. Doesnt seem to be any territorial markings nearby. Liz

 

Answer
After looking at the images you sent me and reading the further information you supplied I maintain my initial opinion that this was caused by a fox. I have passed on the pictures to a gamekeeper friend of mine for a second opinion although I expect he will come to the same conclusion.

For further confirmation that this was a fox attack you can pluck feathers from the back of the dead birds, you should find in most cases a set of teeth marks from where the bird has been grabbed and shaken. Count the amount of puncture marks to be sure that they were caused by teeth and not by claws.

 

Update:
I have heard back from my gamekeeper friend who I forwarded these images to and he is in complete agreement that this has all the hallmarks of a fox attack. The big question in both our minds is not how the fox got in, but how the fox got back out again. When this kind of attack happens it is often the case that the fox is still trapped inside the pen. I think it is likely that the fox climbed on top of the shelter shown in your pictures, and then hopped back out of the chicken enclosure through the roof.

It is almost a certainty that the fox will be back to finish the job and eat the carcasses left behind. I would recommend that you place a humane fox cage trap inside your chicken pen and bait it with one of your dead birds. It’s probably too late to do anything about it, but it’s worth mentioning that the less you handle the dead chickens, the more effective they will be as bait. Acting quickly in this case is key to capturing the culprit.

I should also point out that it is in fact illegal (in England) to release a captured fox back into the wild in a different area to where it was captured. I’d suggest you find a nice local farmer or gamekeeper to errr “release” it for you should you don’t want to deal with it yourself.

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