If you want to reduce your household waste, and save yourself some money on eggs (with 6 free range eggs now running at £2.50) then take a look at keeping chickens at home in your garden.
You don’t need a lot of space to keep a few chickens at home, and you don’t need too spend loads of money on expensive chicken runs and chicken huts, you can make pretty much everything you need out of some in expensive chicken wire and a few old pallets.
It has been proved that keeping chickens will significantly reduce your household waste, they basically east anything but chicken and will happily munch through most of your household food waste, everything from carrot and potato peelings to leftover salads and mouldy bread.
And in return they will bless you with delicious free range, organic eggs. The average hybrid chicken Rhode Island Red’s etc will produce around 5 or 6 eggs a week, with some of the more specialist breeds still producing around 4 eggs a week each. If you work on a chicken per family member you will almost never be short of an egg or three, you might even wind up selling a few to pay for their feed.
So What Do Chickens Eat?
Yes you can go our and buy Chicken Feeds, sacks of mixed corn, and layers pellets, the latter being essential and the former being a treat, personally we mix the two together to give them a balanced diet and whilst we put most of their feed into a rodent proof feeder, we also scatter some on the ground to give them something to scratch and peck at.
On top of bought feeds if you can let your chickens run free in the garden then they love grass, all the little bugs they can find, spiders and a good number of your favourite plants, they will also want to dig in your boarders to make dust baths these are essential to the chickens health and wellbeing.
Your Chickens will also love you forever if you bring them your kitchen scraps and they will eat pretty much everything you throw out, anything from the salad draw, even if it is going off a little, carrot peelings, or boiled up potato peelings, they go mad for bell peppers and tomatoes, and even stale rice and noodles from list nights chines takeaway, and even the prawn crackers if you have any left, bread is another favourite especially the ends of baguettes as they can pick it up and peck at it to get what they want. And for a regular treat you can thrown them a bucket full of grass cuttings from your lawn.
If you are feeding scraps you will quickly find them waiting for you when you come into the garden to see if you have something for them. They might have small brains but they are very clever birds and learn very quickly when food etc comes from.
Keeping Your Chickens Safe
There are multiple threats your chickens will face in your garden, and not all of them are external, your 1st duty is to keep your chickens safe from themselves, they are amazing escapologists and if you don’t watch them they will be over a fence and off down the street.
To prevent your chicks from flying / jumping over fences etc you need to trim their flight feathers on a regular basis, there are plenty of on-line guides that will show you how to do this, but basically if you cut the flight feathers on one wing when they try and jump / fly they basically just go sideways into the ground, rather than up and over the fence.
Next we need to think about Avian / Birdflu, ideally you will have a chicken run with a covered roof to stop other birds messing into your chicken run, you really really don’t want a dose of birdflu in your birds, as it is impossible to treat and is usually terminal.
Now we get to the real threat which is foxes, make sure you chickens are locked away in their coop at night, ideally off the ground, and if you are creating a permanent run for them then you want to dig chicken wire under the ground for around 12 to 18 inches before the actual fence so that the foxes etc cannot dig under it.
Chicken Coops and Feeders etc
There are all kinds of Chicken coops and Hen Boxes available. We have once made from recycled car tyres, but the main thing to go for is Security, is the laying and overnight area off the ground, warm, and safe from foxes or other predators.
As far as feeders go, you want something that won’t leave loads of feed around for rats to find, otherwise you will have a large community of rats living nears you chickens and once they are their it’s bloody hard to get rid of them.
We eventually purchased this rat safe pedal feeder from a local farm shop and it has been running now for the best part of 3 years. You will also need a water feeder although it is less critical to secure this in the same way as food. if you can’t stretch to one of the more expensive feeders then there are plenty of low budget options for both water and feed dispensers around.
The only other thing you might want to consider is an automatic door for you coop, which opens and closed automatically at dawn and dusk.
So How Long Do Chicken Live & Lay For
A lot of people think that chickens only lay for a couple of years but then live for up to a decade, so what do you do with them the rest of the time….
Well luckily the above is fake news, whilst a battery hen which is highly stressed may only last for 1 – 2 years a healthy happy free range hen wondering around in your back yard ruining every inch of your garden can live for around 7 years and chances are they will continue to lay for most of their lives, although yes they are most productive between about 3 months old and 2 years, this not to say you won’t still get a couple of eggs a week for they rest of their days. And of course even if 1 or 2 of your ladies stop laying then you can always add a couple of youngsters to your flock.
A good diet, plenty of room and regular cuddles will give you healthy flock of chooks which should live a long and healthy life and they will reward you with lots and lots of yummy eggs for Years to come.
Our flock is now nearly 4 years old and they still lay a couple of eggs most days between the 3 of them (sadly our 4th lady, Dave recently passed over and went to chicken heaven where is now clucking away with that great chicken choir in the sky).