Neither of us have kept hens before, so we were exited when we got our first 6 ladies. Little did we know what this would eventually lead to! No holidays, no none ever, hours of work de-pooing, spraying for red mite, trying to get a chicken saddle to fit an uncooperative hen, and then there’s the hardest part, parting with a much loved bird through disease, or more often old age.
Having lots of hens and cockerels (upwards of 30), free ranging around brightens the place. I can’t imagine not having poultry about the garden doing their thing, they bring life, colour and movement in a way that garden plants can’t. Talking of garden plants, don’t forget that poultry have to be excluded from garden borders and vegetable plots, or the results can be heart breaking. You don’t want to see a row of stumps where the lettuce used to be! We have erected low fences in places where anything higher would hide the plants we want to see. This largely works, but you always get the bird that jumps over and scratches around.
We have seven flocks of hens at the moment. They consist of Lohmann Browns, Bovan Neras and Marans, Large Fowl Silkies, Japanese bantams, Mixed bantams, Brahmas, Hamburgh bantams and some Embden geese. All the birds are basically pets and despite all the work involved we get enormous pleasure from them. Over the 8 or so years we have been keeping hens, we have learned a lot, especially about the many ailments that afflict poultry in general.
Many of our hens have names, usually because they have special characteristics that separates them from the rest. Chickens of course are creatures of habit and get used to your presence very quckly, especially at feed times. We give our hens mixed grain twice a day, once in the morning and again near roosting time. In the winter, grain just before roosting is just the thing to generate heat to combat the cold.
The eggs we get from the girls are sold to bed and breakfast’s and the like, any surplus goes into our honesty box. We get 2 to 3 dozen a day, so if we have days with no eggs sales they build up quickly. Our geese also lay fairly well, unlike our hens however they do not lay throughout the year (thank goodness), only from late February to the end of August. Goose eggs are not very popular locally (why?), they are perfect for baking. We have however despatched a number to foreign parts. One guy down in Luton wanted 6 goose eggs for his mother in Iraq, so we sent 6 to him through the post, how he got on with customs I don’t know. His mother loved them apparently. We have also sent goose eggs via post to destinations a little closer, Liverpool and Fife.
During the summer months we always get a few broodies, especially amongst the bantams. Right now we’ve got 4 bantam girls who refuse to budge from their nestbox. It gets a bit irritating when I’m trying to clean out the coop in the morning, I usually put them outside in the run whilst doing the work, that way I know they will at least get some food and water inside them.
So there we are, each day is different, with usually a problem that needs attention. Our regime of letting each flock out into the garden to free range, can be very political. What if so and so meets so and so? Will there be a fight? Currently we let loose two flocks at once and then later in the day change them over, this way everyone gets outside of the run and into the garden to roam. At the end of the day, at least during the summer months, each flock is released for 2 to 3 hours at a stretch.