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Keeping Chickens 

When we first decided we wanted to keep chickens we knew nothing about them other than they laid eggs. So the first mission was to look at websites about keeping chickens. As we went along we found all this information about health and safety issues, i.e. cleaning products advertised, feeds with antibiotics added to ensure good health and so on. This was not what we wanted for our chickens but to be honest we were a little worried that without all the must have chicken keeper products we would harm the chickens wellbeing.

The best thing that could have happened to us was the builder turning up with a chicken. We had no choice but to house it in a cardboard box, as we had nothing else. We knew we had to buy another to keep it company, so off we went to the local shop. I was very shocked at how he treated his chickens...locked in a small cage or the store room out the back. I wanted to buy them all, to give them a better life because, to me living in a cardboard box was better than their life in that shop. Our two chickens lived happily in their box for about 5 months right through the winter. We covered it with a plastic material to keep out the rain and cleaned it out with a scraper when we fed them. This was the first lesson learned, don´t believe everything you read!!!

We wanted our chickens to be free range but this was a problem with our dog as he appeared to dislike them...chasing them through the fence and barking at them. One day, one of the new chickens flew over the fence and the dog (George) didn´t move a muscle. From that day forward our chickens have been truely free range, putting themselves to bed at night and letting themselves out in the morning. This is another lie that we have learnt growing up...chickens don´t fly... oh yes they do and quite well too. But chickens know where their home is and when they hear the food they come running.

First chicks hatched
We have slaughtered our first chickens and it wasn´t quite as easy as the videos and reading made it seem.
Kev tried to wring the neck of the first chicken and thought he was being clever by placing the dead but flapping bird in a large plastic bin until it stopped moving. However when he went back to a silent bin and lifted the lid the chicken promptly jumped out and went back to feeding.
Kev decided after a cuppa that the axe method was probably the way to go...and it worked...the birds didn´t even seem too stressed about it.
Anyway we now have chickens in the freezer to eat at a later date. Another step towards our goal of self-sufficiency.
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Chickens in the garden

 We decided to clip the chickens wings. This is when you cut the longest feathers of one wing to unbalance them when they try to fly. It doesn´t hurt them and stopped them flying over the fence onto the waste land at the side of our house. All the books say you should do this every year but this year we haven´t had to as the chickens still think they cannot fly.

Every year the chickens will moult. When they moult they stop laying eggs. They look very scruffy and their red combs and wattles go a pink colour and droop. This is completely normal as the chicken has to replace its feathers to stay healthy and obviously they would struggle to find the energy to do this and lay eggs at the same time.

Hens need extra calcium in their diet to be able to lay good eggs. In all the books and on the websites it says to buy another addition to mix in with their food, but a friend told us to use the egg shells crushed up. This also acts like the grit to help break down their food in their crops.

We feed our chickens twice a day with a pellet food just thrown on the ground, just like you used to see on the television programmes. We don´t give them that much, one cup morning and afternoon. The chickens scratch for the rest of their food eating plants and insects alike. They will eat absolutely anything, so all kitchen scraps go out to them too.

They are obviously happy because they laid eggs for us throughout the winter, when all the books said shorter daylight hours would mean a lack of eggs.

Wing clipping

This does not hurt the chicken at all. It changes their balance so that they think they cannot fly. We decided to clip the wings of the chicks as they were now (6 weeks old) flying over the 6 foot fences and we were worried a predator would get them.

1. Catch the chicken, hold in both hands with wings firmly gripped. (This is so the chicken cannot try to fly away) Photo 1

2. Choose a wing and splay the feathers. Photo 2

3. Cut the longest feathers only, about halfway down. Photo 3

 Breeding Chickens

In our quest for a self sufficient lifestyle we realised that the garden alone was just not going to cut it. We are meat eaters and most of our shopping money was being spent on meat and fish.

We started to think about breeding chickens and again all the research showed us how difficult and specialised this area was. We wanted the hens to incubate the eggs, hoping that mother nature would give us a helping hand. The information says just leave the eggs and one chicken will go broody when she thinks there are enough there for her to sit on. We left the eggs for 5 days and no signs of broodiness (25 eggs) so we left them for another 5 days (50 eggs) and no broody chicken. So we had to admit defeat and buy an incubator.

We had to think about running the incubator using our renewable energy that was stored in the batteries, especially over night. So we couldn´t just buy any incubator, it had to be energy efficient. We didn´t even know if such a thing existed. There are hundreds of incubators on the market the one we chose was energy efficient (18w) and manual. This means you turn the eggs by hand. We actually bought a kit with a brooder and various other things.

Chickens eggs take 3 weeks to hatch. It is all about temperature and humidity in the incubator to make sure the chicks develop correctly. We managed to hatch 5 chicks. We kept them in the kitchen in a cardboard box until they were 3 weeks old. We then started putting them out during the day. By 4 weeks old they were living outside permanently.

The chickens you eat are normally slaughtered at 6 weeks old, we intend to keep ours until 12 weeks and we can truely call them organic and free range.

Chick update

Chicks are now over 10 weeks old. As you can see from the photos they are nearly as big as their parents!

The black one in the first photo is crowing already...but they are not supposed to do this until they are over 12 weeks!!!!!

We can´t believe how much they have changed while we have been away.  

They now eat anything (piranhas of the bird world!) so we just need to fatten them up a little.

4 of the 5 chicks are now cockerels so no possibility of keeping freezer will be full soon!

 Mother nature taking over

We have been breeding chickens in the incubator now for over a year. We decided to keep a few of the hens hoping that they would go broody and sit on eggs for us.

 We have had 2 of these hens go broody. The first only managed to hatch one chick but the second (Black tail) has managed to hatch 3.

This is brilliant for us seeing mother nature at its best. Watching our eventual food, growing up in the way it should, with a mum teaching and not being so reliant on us.

 March 2014 

This year so far we have not had to use the incubator at all. We had 2 hens go broody and sit on eggs in January. One hatched 9 eggs and the other hatched 3. Unfortunately we had problems with one of the hens. Her eggs hatched over a 24 hour period and so the first 3 were much stronger that the last 6. She left them in the nest and we found them almost dead from cold. We brought them in and I had them up my jumper until they all came back to life. 3 of these little ones didn't make it but 3 did. This means so far this year we have 9 chickens already, with another 2 hens sitting on about 30 eggs between them. If these hatch we will be well on our way to having all the chicken we need for the year! Considering that this has taken about 2 1/2 years of learning to get to this point (not very long really) we are amazed. We can see that we will be able to supply free range, organic chickens to our friends soon and share our good fortune.