“The eggs are cracking” – why we should all have chickens in our back yards

May 8, 2012
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James' hens enjoying life in his back garden

Most people have probably considered growing a bit of cress or parsley on their window sills; maybe even a tomato plant. But how many people take urban farming to the next level – and introduce some hens?

Apparently more people than you might think. Two keen home-farmers got in touch with us at Growing City via Facebook to tell us why chickens were a great animal to have – just as long as you’ve got a bit of space in a back garden somewhere!

With their families, James and Kate have both built up impressive small-holdings at home.

James built a wooden run in his garden and now has a whopping 80 chickens.

Why is it a good move? “Because of the advantages of having your own small holding in these tough economic times,” says James.

And with so many chickens, he is able not only to feed himself with eggs, but also to make a healthy profit by selling the dozens of extra ones. “We sell the eggs in our pub and make quite a bit of money from them,” he told us via Facebook.

The eggs are sold in the local pub

James built this chicken run in his back garden

James built this chicken run in his back garden

Meanwhile, Kate and her family, who live just outside London, have ten chickens. “They’re a pick ‘n’ mix bunch of five hybrid hens, two Speckleds, one Blue Maran and two Rhode Island Reds,” says Kate. “They’re all, inevitably, named after Eastenders characters.”

“We did want a rooster so we could have chicks but they’re insanely noisy and the neighbours wouldn’t stand it!”

With ten chickens, the family enjoy up to 20 eggs per day.

“Once you get going the whole set-up is actually quite straightforward and simple,” she says. “What is paramount, and probably the most expensive part, is security. When we first had chickens we had the luxury of letting them roam all over the land, but we lost five to a fox in a couple of weeks and soon after we realised we needed to section off an electric fence enclosure.”

Some of Kate's chickens

Some of Kate's chickens

Eggcellent

Of course, for those living in small inner-city flats, keeping chickens is bound to be unpractical, but there’s no need for a huge amount of space just to keep a few. Like James did, you can build a run, or even just convert an unused shed.

But make sure you stick to the law!  It is illegal to have a chicken run indoors and the birds must have a minimum of 250 squared centimetres of floor space each – ideally more.

The law also states that chickens must have a perch, an exercise space and a nesting box. You can check out all the laws surrounding keeping chickens on the DirectGov website here.

The website advises: “Young chicks can be difficult to look after, and you would need special equipment and food to hatch your own. If you are new to keeping chickens you could start with hens of 4-5 months. They are just starting to lay eggs and are easy to look after.”

Kate offered Growing City readers some extra tips on keeping chickens:

To produce really good eggs they need to have their earth turned over every so often to help them find worms and grubs etc; a supply of clean water; grit to help them form the egg shells; chicken pellets for energy and grass to chew. In terms of shelter a shed or chicken hutch with a coop (to lay) and a roost (to sleep) is fine. Maintenance wise you will also need to clip their wings every six weeks ( unless you have a wire roof) and clean the coop every week. There is also mite dust you have to sprinkle on them and vitamin solution to put in the water from time to time.

Another thing to watch out for is the tendency some have to go broody, and this can actually be quite dangerous when there is no way to fertilise the eggs because they won’t budge off the clutch of eggs until they think they’re going to hatch. When this happens they forget about eating and drinking and exercising and so they could even die, plus the eggs might well cook. If this happens you have to prise her off the eggs (and probably get pecked – heavy duty garden gloves are good) and restrict her to a couple of hours in the coop each day. Sometime we dunk them in cold water if this (rarely) happens, because it brings down the body temperature, but this is time consuming and not really necessary.

If you’re interested in keeping chickens, check out this blog all about the subject which offers some great advice and ideas.

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