Thursday, 5 November 2009

Cluck, cluck,cluck, cluck, cluck!

So here they are. My three little hens: Snowflake, Chickie and Speckledy (named by the children, of course - can you guess which is which?).

I've not given them much blogspace since they arrived in the spring, partly because I've been very busy with so many other things, not least sorting out their poop - yes chickens do a lot of that as I've come to learn. However, as my thoughts this week are focusing on the garden and how composting and wormeries can help with food waste, I thought it would be great time to share news of how my hens are getting on....or indeed how I'm getting on with my hens.

I remember when I announced that we were getting chickens.

"Bloody hell!" exclaimed my mother in here lilting Welsh accent. "What ew getting them for? Havven ew got enough on yewer hands woman?"

Then I'm sure CompostWoman sent a note saying "Just wait till you see what they do to your garden".


But I ignored the advice and took the bull by the horns, or rather went to the hen breeder just off the A14 past Newmarket and came back with three hens.

And within one week the Speckledy Hen was laying. Within a month the other two were following suit.

But my mother was right. I have had to juggle around routines to fit in the extra work. But that's okay, because what it means is that I am now happier to stay at home watching the hens than gallivanting around town shopping.

Chickens have an amazing therapeutic and calming effect. I just adore watching them and their funny little movements, scratching with their feet, and pecking at the ground.

But I often think of CompostWoman's wise words about what they would do to our little suburban garden.

It's all come true. All the leaves that are spread on the lawn are thanks to the girls getting busy hunting under the bushes.

And the view from my living room has changed a lot, on account of them digging out the gravel from the flower beds. This is the scene from the French windows as I write my blog this morning.

We don't mind the leaves so much or indeed the poop that gets dropped on the lawn. Indeed parts of our garden have never looked so good.

But it's the gravel digging that has caused us the greatest problems, because the stones have spread across the lawn, killing the grass in many places.

So as a temporary measure (while we work on redesigning our space), Mr A built a chicken run to keep the girls in one place.

What he hadn't anticipated however was how the chickens would plot their great escape, particularly Chickie who appears to be the ring leader.

First she dug under the fence and was successful, so we soon put a stop to that and blocked her escape route.

Then she learned out to jump up onto the chicken wire and with a bit of a wobble was the free bird she wanted to be.

But I put a stop to that, by digging in some extra canes to block her path to freedom.

However, not to be beaten, her final "piece de resistance" has involved jumping on top of the eglu henhouse, flapping her wings and launching herself over the fence, to the admiration of the other hens she's left behind.

She's most definitely worthy of a part in the animated movie "Chicken Run". In fact it was Chickie who sent me into a Benny Hill kind of dance, with me and the boys following her up the stairs and down again the first time she "broke into" our house.

Despite our "teething trouble" with the garden, they are the most wonderful pets. The children adore them and so do their friends. Where my youngest boy is a natural in picking them up and handling them, my eldest son has been more cautious. But even he can catch and hold them now too.

And as for the scraps, they help out in many ways, supporting my 5 year old bin saboteur with his leftovers. He's not much better than when I first started The Rubbish Diet, and still leaves half-munched apples and a compulsory amount of pasta or rice, no matter how little is served on his plate.

So the chickens are now my best friends, when it comes to reducing my little one's food waste. Better on their hips than mine. Anything that's too spicy for them, I add to the wormery.

And the thanks we get are the eggs we collect each morning. Mostly three a day, except when they are broody, but even then Chickie, the Calder Ranger, kept laying every day, when all around her had stopped. They've been so productive, I've only had to buy eggs on one occasion since we've had them.

At least that's some compensation for the destruction of the garden.

And long may it continue...the eggs that is...not the gravel!



Sarah said...

I love my hens too! But ours have to be securely penned - council rules but it suits them and us and their pen is HUGE. They do eat most of our cooked food waste and help with the veg peelings too and the wood shavings/poo mix from the hen house is fabulous in the compost!

Oh and the eggs....

sooz said...

Aww they look ace! I love chickens!

Spicy Cauldron said...

They're beautiful. But have you not clipped their wings? It's essential to stop those great escapes, entirely painless and simple to do. Just one wing. You do need someone to show you, though I believe there are some visual guides on the net in various places. Clipping one wing unbalances them in terms of flight. Is one of them a Cuckoo Marans I see? Notorious jumpers and fliers they are. I wouldn't dream of having one in our urban garden without a wing being clipped.

We've got 17 adults and four youngsters (three hens - well, pullets still - and one four-winged cockerel - our little mutant!). No way could I let them roam free, they've got half the garden with just a four-foot high chicken wire fence and they don't even jump on that with a wing clipped on each of 'em.

They are indeed great composters, turning vegetable matter quickly into something that, once added to compost bins and heaps, break down everything else because of the corrosive elements in their poop. We use hay in the nesting boxes and for the floor of the coop, and straw and hay on the ground outside when it's been stripped bare so that can easily be removed onto the heap and replaced with fresh.

As a veggie household we've had zero food waste going to the council bins for over a year and a half now; what the chickens can't or won't eat goes in the compost bins directly, everything else gets snaffled! :-)

It's worth pointing out that every poultry keeper in the UK routinely ignores and breaks the stupid EU law that makes it illegal to feed food scraps to chickens. It's all the more insane when one considers the EU wants to push for poultry in commercial farms to be fed chicken and pig meat in the feeders, to save money and address the increasing cost and scarcity of wheat and corn. x

Pavlina said...

Thanks for sharing the story! I loved reading about your wee Henery!

John Costigane said...

Hi Mrs A,

The names are quite descriptive, and easy for identification.

Their hi-jinks have been a most entertaining read, possibly a book, or a chapter?

My wild birds are funny as well and are good for meat/fat waste.

The eggs are fantastic and fresh-laid every day.

Anonymous said...

Daisy is the ringleader in escapes in our house- never misses an opportunity! DH nicknamed her Steve McQueen :0) She's too heavy to fly (she's a Cuckoo Maran), but Bessie and Gladys (an Araucana X and a Czech hybrid I've forgotten the name of) are light enough to be quite good at flying (for a chicken!) even with clipped wings...
Gladys, it has to be said, looks terrible at the moment. She's moulting and looks completely moth eaten!
I love the photo of yours in the middle of the lawn. Wait until next spring, when you happen to notice some POL pullets for sale, or fancy blue eggs, or feel compelled to keep a Transylvanian Naked Neck...and decide that 3 hens just isn't enough! I started with 2 hens...and now have 12 and 4 ducks. I'd love some quail, but I'm worried about the noise. It's addictive, this poultry keeping :o)


Layla said...

lol!! :) GO egg power!!

Had to chuckle all the way through this (including Hazel's warning!:)
I'd soo love to have hens, we small suburban area here and there's just no space..
Uncle has to lock 'em up because of foxes (martens and dogs running around there too, especially at night) I'd love to give 'em more sun, but they'd need to be under fence from all directions!!

My relatives had tons of chicken and ducks and geese at their small space (not so suburban though) and I wondered why, now I know the reasons!! :)
It's better than watching Cartoon Network, I guess!! :)

I'd probably have 'em fenced and then have movable cage/s or fences to allow them to certain areas.. (Not a big fan of chicken poo on walking areas)

Also, why is gravel on your flower beds (??)
Genuinely interested, we just have regular soil.. Is there a particular reason?

Oh and I'd LOVE to have a few goats and sheep too!! /sigh/

Fr. Peter Doodes said...

They are utterly addictive. Our village allotments now have 3 collections of them, soon to be four I understand and they are now a major attraction.

As for the EU laws re 'chicken feed' *+££+&"s

tracy said...

Lovely story! And the eggs are looking delicious. Ha Ha !!!
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Oh my word, doesn't time fly. I'd meant to get back to reply to the comments on Friday and then the weekend came and went.

Hi Sarah - the droppings are great for the compost aren't they, that's where ours go too. We've also just dug there old bedding into our veg patch this weekend after clearing it out, so that will make some good ground preparation for the spring. :-)

Hi Sooz and thanks for dropping by. Lovely to see you :-)

Hi Spicy Cauldron - great to see you over here too and I appreciate your advice.

Yep, we clipped their wings this spring, which is why they can't go great heights. Should we clip them again do you think? Your brood is on the rise. I would love to have more but don't have ths space. We use Hemcore for the bedding and the coop, and I've been wondering what to put outside, now that they've stripped the grass. Straw sounds like the ideal thing. LOL, well I never knew I was breaking a silly EU law with the food scraps. For once I'm happy to be a rule-breaker....p.s. what if they're not scraps and you actually cook it for the chickens, LOL. :-D

Hi Pavlina - thank you so much. Glad you enjoyed their tale... :-D

Hi John - Thank you. They have really been the source of some great fun this year. I remember when poor Chickie got the wrong end of the brush when Thomas was busy painting in his shed and she popped in to have a look what was going on. We've noticed extra birds coming in the garden this year, not necessarily linked to the chickens but because our plants have now matured and are producing seeds. They're are great to see and are a wonderful addition to the garden :-)

Hi Hazel. I didn't know that you've got hens too and they sound as adventurous and moth-eaten as mine. Chickie is most definitely looking like a character from a Wallace & Grommit programme. I can see that I will have to fight my broody moments in the Spring. It will be tough....but you will have to remind me that I haven't got room for an extension :-)

Hi Layla - sounds like you're a farmer's wife in the making :-) If we had more space and were out in the country, I am sure we'd have a bigger menagerie than we've got now. Now the thing with chicken poop is that is can be easily spotted in the garden in the summer and either washed away when watering or carefully removed with a trowel. I think this Winter will be harder as we won't want to be out in the garden so often, so will need to revise how we manage it. As for the gravel, one of our flower beds was given over to different types of grasses, so the gravel stones were used as an ornamental mulch to help keep the weeds at bay. It was never any trouble until the chickens arrived, LOL. The plan is to dig it up and give it away on Freecycle before they create any more damage :-)

Hi Peter - Chickens on allotments, even better. It means they probably get a lot of attention from the community and the eggs can be shared too. LOL, I think I can agree with you re the *=££=&. :-)

Hi Tracey - thank you. Indeed I am now getting hungry. I think it's time to check what's been laid today. :-)

Anonymous said...

I've got plans for more animals. Bees are next on the list, but like Layla I'd love a couple of goats (2 Golden Guernseys called Blackberry and Custard, since you ask...;o) )

Mrs A, you only need to reclip the chooks wings after they've moulted as their feathers only grow once a year, not continously like our hair.

I thought the non-scrap thing was a DEFRA regulation rather than an EU directive, but it may be Europe-wide. Whichever, it was brought in after Foot + Mouth etc, when it suddenly dawned on our meat industry that feeding dead cow to other cows/pigs/poultry etc wasn't a good idea, especially as BSE/CJD isn't destroyed by heat/metabolism/very much at all and so an infected cow was still infectious even when dead and eaten by another animal... (Not to mention ruminants aren't designed to eat meat :o( )
Consequently it was decided to ban any kitchen waste from beeing fed to any domestic 'farm' animal because of the risk of contamination by other meat products. So, in answer to your question, it's the fact it's from a kitchen rather than leftovers that is the issue. Technically, you need to buy food designated for animal feed and prepare it outside away from human food preparation areas. The regulation (not sure if it's a law?) is so sweeping even vegan restaurants cannot supply the animals.

I do think they've thrown the baby out with the bath water, and like Spicy Cauldron I don't know any 'hobby' poultry keeper that actually sticks to this, but on the other hand, the fact that the gvt at the time brought in such strict regulations after BSE is why we still have a meat industry, as other countries could see our measures worked and we were virtually BSE free within 2 years.

Sorry, another essay....! Just thought you'd like to know why though.

Have you read 'Animal,Vegetable, Miracle' by Barbara Kingsolver? I love it. It's about a family in the US who eat locally for a year, but covers all areas of the global food industry. Very readable and made me think about some of my food choices, like being vegetarian- I think you should put it on your Christtmas list! I borrowed it from the library first, but have bought my own copy now :o)


Hi Hazel - thanks for all this. It clears up quite a lot. The chickens are moulting at the moment so, I guess in the spring we'll be clipping their wings again. That sounds a really interesting book. Will most definitely check it out (if you can excuse the library pun - LOL). Good luck with the growing menagerie...Bees sound very exciting. :-D

Ericwipe287 said...

Nice story. And yeah, enjoy your eggs.

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