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Chicken Information

About Chickens

Here you'll find everything you need to know about raising chickens in your back garden, why they are the best pet to have, how best to care for them and which chicken breeds are best for you.

Here are eight really good reasons to call them your own:


1.  Great-Tasting, Nutritious Eggs
We all love our dogs, cats and fish, but do they actually produce something edible? Do they pay their own way? Chickens do, and once you've dined on their eggs you'll never reach for a dozen in the supermarket again. They have far more flavour, partly because you will eat them when they are only minutes or hours old, not weeks or months. You'll even see the difference in the yolks, which are a healthy orange not a pale yellow.
Organic eggs are easy to achieve, all it takes to get organic eggs is organic chicken feed! Research shows that chickens allowed to roam freely and eat grass lay eggs that are higher in Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E and at the same time lower in cholesterol than store-bought, too. 

2.  Chickens Have Personality Galore
Each chicken has their own completely unique quirky, kooky and endearing personality.  You will name them, spoil them with treats, and pick them up at any opportunity.

3.  A Healthy Lawn without the Chemicals
Chickens LOVE to range freely.   They will eat any garden pest they can get their beaks on (earwigs, grubs, beetles, even moles) and they'will turn it all into treasure in the form of fertilizer. Say goodbye to toxic, costly pest control solutions and wasteful bags and bottles of store-bought fertilizer. Chickens will even cut down on the amount of mowing you do because they love to eat grass.

4.  One Man's Unappealing Leftovers are another Chicken's Feast
Good quality layers pellets or mash should be the main staple in your chickens diet. After this chickens can eat almost anything people can, and they adore "people food"!  You can throw those unwanted leftovers into the chicken run. No more feeling guilty about letting them rot in the fridge or throwing them out!

5.  A Balanced Compost Pile
Composting is a wonderful way to reduce your ecological footprint, and a nitrogen-rich compost pile is a healthy compost pile. What better to provide the nitrogen than chicken poo? Eggshells are a great addition, too, especially in areas where there's lots of clay in the soil. At the end of the composting process you'll have "black gold" soil, so called because it's so rich and fertile.  

6.  Save a Chicken from a Factory-Farm Life
If you're aware of conditions in factory farms, even in some of the so-called "free range" farms, we needn't say more. If you're not, please research it. Factory farming is terrifyingly cruel. The good news is that by keeping a few pet chickens of your own, you're reducing the demand for store-bought eggs and sending a message to those factory farms that you don't want what they're selling.

7.  The Very Definition of Low-Maintenance
Chickens do not need to be walked, brushed, or fed twice a day. Essentially all you have to do is gather eggs daily, fill their food and water containers a couple of times a week and change their bedding once a month, very low maintenance!

8.  Be the Coolest Kid on the Block
Despite their many merits, back garden chickens are still relatively uncommon.  Although this trend is increasing at a fast pace.   Wow your neighbours, friends and family by being the first person they know to have chickens.  Chickens are, after all, the most "chic" pet you could possibly have.

Which breed to choose?

If you have decided you want to raise chickens, CONGRATULATIONS!! You have joined a growing number of people who realize all the benefits these wonderful pets have to offer.

How Many?
Chickens are social birds and they do not fare well on their own, so you should have a minimum of two. As a rule of thumb, two hens per family member should cover your egg needs.

Which Breed?
Did you know there are over 400 varieties of chickens? With all those options it can be tough to choose!

Standard vs. Bantam
The first decision to make is whether to get a Standard (normal size) also known as "Large Fowl" chickens, or Bantams. At just one to two pounds each, Bantams are a fraction of the size of Standards and are kept mainly for ornamental puposes. Being cute and flashy, they make great pets. But they lay less frequently and their eggs are small. They are also more susceptible to predators - for instance, crows will take your bantams but would not dare to go after your large fowl chickens. At Alfresco we prefer Standards because of their larger eggs and reduced susceptibility to predators.

Chicks or Hens?

An important choice is whether to start with baby chicks or "started pullets", hens that have just started laying.
Baby chicks are extremely cute but there are drawbacks. They require much more tender loving care than full-grown hens and it will take approximately 4 - 5 months before they start laying. 
Ensure that you purchase "sexed" female chicks as opposed to "straight run" (mixed male and female).  If you purchase mixed male and females you will end up with roosters - lots of them!
Baby chicks can be purchased at poultry hatcheries, farm supply store and some garden centres.  Grown chickens can be brought at a hatchery or a local farm near you.

Coop Requirements:

Space needed - For healthy chickens we recommend you allow 4 square feet per chicken if they have access to a run.  If they do not have access to a run they will need 10 square feet per chicken.  The more space the better.
Ventilation - Ventilation and a fresh air supply is vital for the health of your chickens so do not insulate your coop.  Your chickens have sufficent feathers and down to keep them warm, insulation is not necessary.  In harsh winters , below minus fifteen, a heat lamp may be required.
Perch's - It is recommended that each chicken should have 8" of perch each. This may not seem much, but they like being fairly close. New chickens may not use a perch for a few weeks. Perches should be between one and a half and two and a half inches wide. Branches are the best as they are more natural for the chickens to use.
Nesting Boxes - Nesting box should be raised from the floor and should be lined on the bottom with nesting material.  Straw is ideal but a lot of people use wood shavings.

The Norfolk Chicken Coop is suitable for 3 - 4 chickens.

The Suffolk Chicken Coop is suitable for 5 - 6 chickens.

The Boston Hen House is suitable for 6- 8 chickens.

The Rutland Chicken Coop is suitable for 3 - 4 chickens.

The Hereford Chicken Coops is suitable for 6-8 chickens.

The Warwick Chicken Coop is suitable for 5-6 chickens.

 

How to tell if your chickens are healthy

  • Watch your chickens and ensure that they are all busy, they should all be carrying their wings and their tail in the same position.
  • If one is holding its wings or tail down you may have a problem. If you suspect you have a chicken that is unwell you should seek professional advice as soon as possible. 
  • You can also check their eyes and nasal passages for any discharge.
  • You can check if it smells differently from the rest of the flock.
  • Check for an infestation of mites; check the body, head, the base of the feathers and the feathers themselves.
Mites, Lice and Parasite Infestation in Chickens

If you see signs of mites, lice etc dusting powders are available from poultry and farm suppliers. If you have a small flock of chickens it is worth treating the entire flock at the same time. If left untreated, mite infestations are very debilitating and can lead to death.

Mite and lice infestation can be a secondary cause of illness as they will infest poultry that are below par.  If your chickens are affected by mites you should always check for any other primary causes of illness.

You should also periodically check the legs of your chickens. If you notice the scales on their legs looking swollen, with perhaps white crusts around the top, there could be small critters living down there. You should wash the scales with warm water and obtain a treatment available from the local poultry or farm suppliers, this will evict the mites or lice.  If you are unsure seek professional advice.

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