Sunday, 31 January 2010

Questions and Answers Week - 1

The White Girls, Mother, Cappachino, Latte, Milly, Mona, Molly, Lovely, Big Lovely , Little Lovely and Jemima, the only shot of all ten of them together.
 
As lots of you have asked questions on chickens, I'll start with them.
Firstly to answer Charlotte's questions.
 
We got our first chickens on 31st May last year, and it was a brilliant feeling, something I had always wanted and something that finally made our plans complete. After all it's the birds and animals that turn you from gardeners into smallholders. We were frantically trying to build a fox proof shelter for them, although we got the house ready just in time, we had not finished the run when we had to pick them up.

 
Me, meeting the girls for the first time with their supper in the half-finished run.

 
They were 10 White Star Hybrid chickens, 18 months old and rescued Free-Rangers, they were from a local farm. By 'rescued Free-rangers we mean that the nice farmer allows a group of lovely women a couple of weeks to re-home as many of his flock as they can before they go for slaughter after living a pretty good life and laying for the previous 18 months. (This is the age when you stop being guaranteed an egg a day, every day of the year.)

 
The Brown Girls - Nutmeg, Bournville, Coco and Fudge at 5 weeks old.

The Welsummers were born in a local pet shop and were spotted by me when they were just eggs. After not very much persuading at all Lovely Hubby went and bought them. We managed to get the last 4 of a brood of 10. We got them on 18th June at 5 weeks old. It's been lovely to watch them develop into the beautiful confident girls they are now, all laying eggs. And, no, I don't have any rabbits, I would LOVE some but with a cat that loves the taste of rabbits heads(!!!) and a Jack Russell that would kill one as soon as look at it, I think it's kinder for the rabbits not to go there, please don't read this bit to Humphrey........he'll be traumatised for life!!

And now on to Penny's questions, the lovely 'green stuff' is grass......haha....I realise it's something hens in a small garden soon decimate, but we have about 8 acres of the stuff on our ten and a half acres of land, so it survives, anyway they love to eat in the neighbouring farmers fields as much as in ours so it lasts longer.

Whenever I am preparing ANY kind of veggies or salad I have a tray next to my chopping board and on it go all the trimmings and peeling and any 'bad' bits I cut out of anything, in fact all the stuff that used to go in the compost, goes into the chickens first. They get it at their next meal time. I give them the opportunity to eat everything, cooked or uncooked, they will leave anything they don't like.

When I'm working outside I pile all the weeds, outer leaves etc to the side of me and they are usually there pecking away. In fact if I dig a hole there's usually a chicken in it before I can put anything else in!! You can give them grass clipping, they do prefer shorter ones to longer ones though, there's more goodness in them. I also look out for veggies being sold off cheap in the supermarket when I'm out shopping in winter and we don't have as much of our home grown trimmings, especially things like cabbage and leafy greens, they do great for the girls.

Basically chickens can and usually do eat anything. It's best not to let them eat their own eggs (although they love them), and obviously don't feed them anything with chicken in it!! You can give them finely crushed up egg shell though, as this is a brilliant (and free) source of calcium, just sprinkle it on other foods. I am still learning about veggies myself and having great fun at the moment planning our raised beds for next year. The only difference between us is that I am growing excess to our personal needs this year ready for selling at Farmers Market to go alongside the eggs.

Milly, and Molly on the right.

In reply to Abigail's questions (via email, she has no blog...yet!!).......I do have a favourite chicken, (and I must whisper it quietly so as not to offend the others)....it is Molly, the most cuddliest and inquisitive of the White Girls, she of little stubby feathers and scrawny body, that lays the most enormous of eggs (ouch!), she's just a character and is the chicken that nearly froze to death at Christmas.

We have lost 4 chickens in the eight months we have had them. One to a fox, (Lovely) one to a Red Kite attack (Mona) and two (Mother and Big Lovely), peacefully by natural causes. We have had one bad outbreak of Red Mite which we dealt with by deep cleaning the houses and dusting with powders and sprays. One chicken had a limp the day the vet came to look at our pig enclosures and got herself a free anti-infllamatory injection by being a little cutey. So no, we have not had any vets bills connected to the chickens.

All the chickens come home each night to sleep in their house, no matter what they've been up to during the day. From day one I got them used to eating together at breakfast time and responding to my 'chook chook' call every teatime to come and get some goodies along with their pellets, this means I can at least count them at teatime and make sure they are all okay. I handle the girls on a regular basis, in fact they complain (loudly) if I don't, when they were young the ones that didn't like getting picked up were picked up twice as often, to get them used to it. They will now all let me hold, cuddle, open their wings and generally manhandle them when necessary.

To answer Sue's email questions.....the chicken future? The future is another new Henhouse, (like in the header picture) it arrives on Tuesday this week, and then 24 more White Stars in a couple of weeks. To answer your second question, they are all Layers and not for eating, if you pick up a chicken bred for laying you will feel quite a prominent breastbone as there is hardly any breast meat. Although Lovely Hubby at first used to visualise them in a pan surrounded by roast potatoes even he now realises they would make a mean meal. Thank goodness for that I say, I could not bring myself to eat one of my girls!!

Thank you for your chicken questions, if I've missed anything out I apologise, (sorry I do not have a picture of me cuddling a chicken, as I am usually the one taking the photos....but I'll see what I can do Charlotte!). (I have just had a couple more chicken questions, but I will add them on to tomorrows post.) I can not imagine life without 'my girls', they are the first to welcome us when we drive back on to the farm, they are cheeky and inquisitive, they 'help' in the garden and best of all they give us the yummiest of golden yolked eggs to enjoy as often as we wish and make some money from. I would quite happily live on a chicken farm, even when we visited a huge free-range farm (12,000) the birds came to us to be touched and held, and were just as friendly, so for me it's chickens all the way!!

Tomorrow the theme will be..........Lavender and costings (and a few more chickens)!

Sue xx

5 comments:

  1. thank you Sue ! You write so well. I shall try crushing up their own egg shells - seems a bit odd but I have bought oyster shells from Scats. They are quite picky about the veg but I just pop leftovers into the compost. I find if you try them with something again a few days later they will eat it ! Fickle girls.

    Guess what ? Timid Roxy lets me pick her up now ! Still no eggs from her though. I love the way they bend down & fold in their wings when you go to pick them up !

    They have been patrolling the fenced off area plotting !

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  2. Thanks Sue, It's lovely to have a good round up on your news and happenings from the past year. Looking forward to your post on costings and lavender tomorrow, something else that is very close to my heart too!
    Take care
    Sarah x

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  3. Thanks for your comment... so what you are telling me is that when I go to pick up the girls & they cower down - they think I'm a rather large cock ?

    I've been called some things but never that !!! xx

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  4. I really like my hens, even though they're far less grand than your lovely ones. It's amazing that something with - let's face it - such a small brain can be so characterful... although I mentioned this to my wife and she wasn't amazed at all : )

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  5. Wow Sue, what a truly informative and interesting post! Seriously, it was great to read about your experiences to date.

    One day we really might get some chickens and I know who I can ask for some help in the early days.

    I worry to be honest that I wouldn't cope very well with losses, and also that it might impact on my cooking and meals as we do eat a lot of chicken (sorry girls). I am so sentimental. Mike would go beserk if I was too motherly...

    I think if, over the next few months, I can prove to him that I am Practical and Stoic (and I leave my p/t job so I have more time) he might be persuaded...

    My favourite bit was when you mentioned the chicken appearing in any holes you dig. Very funny!

    Still want that cuddling chicken photo!

    And I didn't read the, ahem, delicate bit to Humphrey - he'd be up all night thumping if I did!

    Love Charlotte
    xxx

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