One of the many ‘extra’ jobs that appeared on our to do lists during the pandemic lock-down was the sudden decision to get some chickens as our current supply of eggs dried up.
This seemingly incongruous decision, hid many and headache and a lot of hard work. Firstly, we had to research chickens…we had no idea of the breath of breeds and the fact that the same chicken can be called a number of different names, which made choosing our flock very difficult! We wanted not only good layers and an interesting array of birds, but also local birds who would not be traumatised by travelling a great distance.
So our search began once having determined that the birds we had chosen would supply a good daily batch of eggs. We found that if you had 5 chickens, you should expect 3 eggs per day, so we opted for 10 to give us a half dozen which could then be backed up by additional eggs from our local egg man, Alan, as and when we fell short. We finally settled on our top-ten: all in pairs so they would keep each other company if the ‘pecking order’ became tough going. A pair of stunning of Sussex (aka Road Rangers), large white birds with colourful neck feathers, then a couple of Mrs Pepperpot (or Cocucu) with blue/grey plumage. Joining these we two Rhode Island Reds, very much your standard looking reddish brown chicken but regarded as one of the best laying breeds you can get. Two speckled couco which are dappled black birds and a further two very elegant pure black chickens called……which completed our chosen flock.
Little known to us was how the pandemic had brought on a surge of chicken purchasing across the country, who would have thought? So we had to goon many lists with breeders around us – lucky for us, the wait was beneficial as after selecting our birds, we then needed to protect them from foxes and other predators (namely our two rescue Bagels (Beagle/Basstets), Hamish and Harry.
So We firstly had to select a space for them and an area adjacent to our soon to be expanded vegetable garden (more in another blog on this) was selected which gave the chickens shelter and interest – we were very much keeping in mind the adage that happy chickens are good layers. Max set to work then digging and concreting in fence posts and erecting hi-tension 5ft deer fencing to produce two runs adjoining each other which resembled something from The Great Escape!
Then how to make the ground interesting for our flock – seven tons of mulch from a local tree surgeon was ordered (complete with bugs and grubs which chickens love scratching around for) was delivered and dumped in our Corner field, so Max had to bring this to the area in our affectionately named ancient ‘Sandy’ (Sanderson) Telehandler which has been a huge asset while creating Piglets over the past few years.
You would have thought at first glance either making or buying a simple wooden chicken coop would be a simple matter; but after much research and advice sought, Chrissie’s brother Michael, being a great font of knowledge, we discovered the dreaded red mite which basically infests anything wooden and then one’s chickens and is a bugger to get rid of. Plus the importance of access not only for one’s eggs but cleaning (chickens do pooh a great deal). So we selected a printed alloy coop which we were initially told would be big enough for our flock, however, once the flat pack had been erected we were mightily concerned that it was too small. So the decision was made to buy another and while this was being dispatch, Max set to work making a elevated base with wheels for the coop to sit on to further protect it from attack from underneath and to make moving the coops easy when wanting to give our birds a different aspect.
Finally we were ready – late one evening Kirsty from Stebbing, a local village, arrived in her transit van with a lovely flock of birds and a huge array of food, equipment and rapid fire advice which seemed rather overwhelming at the time. Instructed how to handle our birds (like a rugby ball so they don’t flap around), they were put to bed in their new coops.
Chrissie immediately took the lead and set up a feeding, cleaning and receding regime that has not changed much since those first days, subject to a small amount of fine tuning and we now have ten very happy chickens. Almost to the day, three weeks after their arrival they started laying, just 2 to 3 small eggs daily, but over the past weeks, this has now grown to all ten laying (which is quite rare we read) and egg sizes increasing. Many of the larger eggs are double yokers so we guess we have got things right?
Treats of corn and meal worms are a welcome addition to their special pellets with additional nutrients they require and our ‘girls’ literally flock to our feet when feeding time comes; after which much scratching around ensues. Harry especially patrols, ever hopeful, but even this is beginning to be a bore for him and his focus is now back on the local rabbit population!
So as you enjoy your eggs Benedict or a couple of sunny side uppers, spare a thought for our little flock of hens busy producing farm fresh free range eggs daily, or even better pop and see them – we’d be happy to introduce you.