Is Your Chicken House Winter Ready?

Chickens in the snowA safe, dry house is essential if you’re going to have healthy hens, especially during the winter months. Depending on where you live you might need to make more preparations for winter than chicken keepers living in warmer climates.

For example, if you’re in the north of England or Scotland you might need to think about hen house heaters or heated water bowls for this winter.

If you live in the south of England you probably won’t need to resort to extra heat for your hens, but having a heated water bowl could save you having to break the ice every day.

Here are some other things that all chicken keepers, regardless of their location, need to do before the cold sets in.

Give your chicken house a good clean

Whether you’re planning on using a deep litter method during the winter or not it’s best to start the winter with a clean chicken house.

Clear all of the bedding out and give the house a good scrub with a pet safe disinfectant. Make sure you get in all the nooks and crannies!

It’s also a good idea to treat your house with a mite and lice product, even if your birds haven’t shown any sign of having an infestation.

Don’t forget your accessories

Now is the time to give all of your chicken house extras, such as perches, next boxes, grit tubs, and feeders, a really good clean. If anything is broken, or doesn’t come clean with a good scrub, it might be time to replace it.

When you’re done, give everything a good rinse and leave to dry in the sun whilst you clean the rest of the chicken house.

Check for wear and tear

If you’ve bought a good quality chicken house it should have a long working life with minimum maintenance, but it’s still a good idea to check your chicken house is up to the winter weather conditions.

Check your chickens, or pests, haven’t damaged the house and that all of the fixtures are in good working order. Do the doors close properly? Are any of the metal fittings rusty? Is the automatic door working? If you find anything that isn’t the way it should be, then now is the time to fix it.

Consider installing solar lighting

Many chicken keepers find that their hens’ egg production reduces, or even stop completely, during the winter months.

This is perfectly natural and when the spring comes around again your hens should start laying. However, if you don’t want to find yourself needing to buy supermarket eggs then you could install a solar lighting kit in your chicken house to give your flock the amount of light they need to continue laying.

Make sure your run is up to scratch

Many chicken keepers prefer to restrict their hens to a run during the winter months to limit the damage done to the garden or field. If you only use a run during the winter then it’s important to check it’s still safe and secure after being stored for the summer.

Just as with your chicken house, give it a good clean and check the wire, wood, and any metal fittings. You might also want to add extra layers of wire to make it harder for hungry predators to get to your flock.

Stock up on bedding and feed

Long nights and difficult weather conditions can make it harder to get your poultry essentials. If you’ve got a dry, vermin free space it’s a good idea to stock up on bedding and feed so you don’t find yourself in a fix if weather conditions stop you getting to the pet shop.

How to Keep Ducks and Chickens Together

If you already have chickens but you want to branch out, you might have considered adding some webbed footed friends to your flock. Opinions are divided on whether you should do this, so we put together some tips for happy mixed species poultry keeping…

ducks_chickensFor some people the idea of keeping ducks and chickens together brings them out in a cold sweat, and even if they keep both species, they are kept in separate enclosures.

Both species are social animals and many people keep ducks and chickens together, usually in perfect harmony. However, they do have different care needs so it isn’t always plain sailing.

Here are some things you’ll need to consider if you’re thinking about having a mixed species flock:

Keeping the peace                                                    

Chickens and ducks will squabble both with their own species and with each other. This behaviour is normal and as long as this doesn’t turn into bullying you won’t need to worry about the occasional ruffled feather.

It’s important to provide your flock with enough room for them to be able to avoid a fight. You may find that they need separate poultry houses within the same enclosure and ensure there are plenty of water and food sources so everyone gets their fill.

However, if there is a squabble damage can sometimes be done by chickens’ beaks, which are far sharper than ducks. Fights are more common between drakes and cockerels during the breeding season than between female birds.

Having bachelor groups and removing overly aggressive birds should help to resolve this problem.

Feeding time

As said above, having plenty of food and water stations will mean that the entire flock doesn’t crowd around one place at the same time.

Chickens and ducks also have different nutritional needs, especially when they’re young. Generally speaking it’s not advisable to keep young chickens and ducks together as they should be fed on different food.

Adult birds can both be fed chicken layers pellets/mash but care needs to be taken to ensure the ducks are getting enough Niacin (Vitamin B3) in their diet. This can be done by adding Brewer’s Yeast to their feed or a Niacin supplement.

Here’s a great post that explains more about Niacin and Niacin Deficiency in ducks.

If you keep drakes you’ll also need to be aware that chicken feed has too much calcium in it for drakes. You’ll need to provide your drakes with wheat to keep their protein levels up and they’ll regulate their intake between wheat and layers’ feed themselves.

Keeping water clean

Of course, both species need water to drink but ducks also need water to wash in and this can lead to water sources becoming dirty quickly. There are a number of ways to combat this.

One common solution is to put a drinker higher up and provide perches for your chickens to access it. Nipple style drinkers, such as these, in addition to a trough or small pond, ensure that your flock can stay hydrated without your ducks making a mess of the only available water source.

 

10 More Reasons Why Keeping Chickens is an Amazing Idea!

A few weeks ago we gave you 10 reasons why keeping chickens is an amazing idea and just in case you’re still not convinced that introducing some feathered friends to your back garden is a good thing, here are 10 more reasons!

  1. You’ll never need to weed your garden again

Chickens are at their happiest when they’re scratching around looking for things to eat and this trait makes them natural gardeners. Not only will they eat the weeds themselves, they’ll also eat all of the weed seeds which have blown into your garden.

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  1. “Chicken therapy” is proven to reduce stress

Animal therapy has been used for many years and chickens are the latest breed to be used as therapy animals. They’re used across the UK to combat depression and loneliness in the elderly as part of the Hen Power Project but really they’re the ideal stress relief for any age group.

  1. You can teach your children where their food comes from

These days, it seems a shocking number of children don’t realise that their plastic wrapped food was once an animal on a farm and this has led to the “farm to fork” movement.

You can have a mini version of this in your own back garden and teach your children a little about farming and agriculture, giving them a respect and understanding about where their food comes from.

  1. Chickens are great entertainment

Even if none of the other reasons to keep chickens has interested you, this one will. Chickens really are great entertainment and each one has their own personality. The whole family will enjoy watching your hens go about their business, providing hours of amusement.

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  1. You’ll cut down on your food miles

Carbon footprints and food miles are things we worry about these days, but having chickens in your garden means you won’t go even a single mile to get your eggs from chicken coop to kitchen.

  1. You’ll be more self-sufficient

If you already have a compost heap or you grow your own veg, keeping chickens is the next logical step towards becoming more self-sufficient. Of course not all of us can live on a farm, but growing your own dinner (or getting your hens to do it for you) is a very satisfying way of life.

  1. You can have city chickens too

Chickens are very adaptable creatures and you don’t need acres of land for them to be happy. Urban chicken keeping is on the rise as more and more people want a taste of the “Good Life” without the need to move to the countryside.

  1. You’ll make a whole load of new friends

Chicken keepers are a social bunch and there are whole communities, both online and offline, dedicated to keeping poultry. Whether it’s a group for a particular breed or just a group of fellow chicken lovers, you’ll have plenty of social opportunities.

Join in with us on Twitter for #ChickenHour on Tuesdays from 8-9pm to chat about all things chicken!

  1. It doesn’t have to be expensive

Of course you’ll have the initial outlay, but keeping chickens doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby. We recommend that you buy a high quality chicken house right from the start, because if you buy cheap, you’ll buy twice.

After you’ve invested in the housing and equipment, food and other regular costs are relatively low and in return you’ll have delicious eggs.

  1. Chickens are fun!

What more can we say? Above all else, keeping chickens is a fun hobby that will bring you years of eggs and entertainment.

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Could YOU Be a Guest Blogger for Jim Vyse Arks?

Here at Jim Vyse Arks, we love hearing from our happy customers and seeing their houses in action. Our customers come in all shapes and sizes, from hobby keepers with three or four hens to specialist breeders with fields full of Jim Vyse chicken houses for their cheerful chickens.

We’re also pleased to see so much variety in the species that are housed in Jim Vyse Arks. It’s not just chickens – Jim has also built houses for ducks, geese, guinea fowl, doves, and quail to name but a few.

We never tire of seeing pictures and hearing poultry keeping tales, which is why we’d like to invite our customers to submit a guest blog post on any poultry topic you like.

Whether you’d like to share your chicken keeping tips, talk about why you love a certain breed, or simply tell a funny story, we want to hear from you!

If you’d like to be a Jim Vyse Arks guest blogger leave a comment below or email Jim on jimvysearks@aol.com with your blog topic and we’ll be in touch.

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10 Reasons Why Keeping Chickens is an Amazing Idea

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If you’re already a chicken keeper then you’ll already know all of the amazing benefits of having a back garden flock.

However, if you’re new to the chicken keeping scene, or you’re still on the fence about introducing feathered friends to your home, then you might need to see the facts in black and white before committing.

Here are 10 reasons why keeping chickens is an amazing idea:

  1. Free range eggs!

This is the most obvious reason to keep chickens and you might never need to buy eggs again if you know how to store them when your chickens aren’t laying.

Keep an eye out for our Free Range Friday posts giving you plenty of delicious egg recipes so you don’t get bored.

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  1. You are what you eat

Depending on the brand of chicken food you feed your hens, you’ll also be able to boast that your eggs are organic and non-GMO, rather than from hens which are routinely fed engineered feeds containing antibiotics.

  1. You’ll boost your nutrition

Eggs are basically vitamins and nutrients packaged in a hard shell. Not only are they protein rich and full of the essential fatty acid Omega 3, but they’re also high in Vitamin A and Beta Carotene which is needed for good eyesight.

  1. You meals will be cruelty free

Let’s be honest, do we really know what happens on big commercial farms? By having your own chickens, you’ll be safe in the knowledge that the eggs you’re eating came from a cruelty free environment and were laid by happy hens.

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  1. You’ll learn something new every day

Did you know that chickens can recognise up to 100 human or animal faces? Or that they have a complex social structure known to us as “the pecking order”? Having chickens in a back garden hen house gives you the chance to get up close and personal with a different species, learning something new about them every day.

  1. You could save a hen’s life

Your chickens don’t have to be a fancy breed and you could help save a hen’s life by rehoming some ex-battery hens. Charities such as The British Hen Welfare Trust has rehoming stations across the UK if you’re interested in helping hens in need.

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  1. Chickens give you free fertiliser

If you’re green fingered and proud of your garden then you’ll know that chicken manure is a highly prized commodity amongst gardeners. You’ll have your own free supply with back garden hens!

  1. Free pest control

Another benefit to garden hens is the free pest control they provide. As well as the feed you give them, they’ll enjoy scratching around and ridding your garden of slugs, snails, and other creatures that will ruin your flowers and vegetables.

  1. You’ll cut down on food waste

Although technically you’re not meant to feed chickens your kitchen scraps, many people do and they’ll enjoy the occasional treat from time to time.

Here are some more ideas for treats your chickens will love.

  1. You could give a heritage breed a boost

If rehoming ex-batts isn’t for you then you could consider keeping rare or “heritage” breed(s) of chickens and helping to keep the breed alive for future generations.

You can find the full list of rare breed chickens on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust website.

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Buying Your Chickens: Which Breed is Best for Beginners?

Did you know there are well over 100 breeds of chicken being bred in the UK? Each breed has its’ own characteristics, attributes, purpose, and personality. The question is how do you choose a breed that suits your lifestyle and needs?

Chicken breeds break down into three categories – chickens for meat, chickens for eggs, and chickens that are dual purpose. The majority of beginners want chickens that will produce eggs and are easy to look after.

Here are the top things to look for in any breed of chicken:

  • Is your chosen breed friendly and easy to tame?
  • Is this breed easy to care for?
  • Is this breed quite common? You’ll find it easier to get help and advice if your breed is well known.
  • If you want to keep chickens for eggs – is this breed known for high egg production?
  • If you want to keep chickens for meat – is this breed known as a good table bird?
  • If you want to keep chickens as pets – is this breed known for being docile and having a good personality?

Our top chicken breeds for beginners

Wyandotte

This breed ticks all the boxes as they’re pretty, practical, and produce great eggs. Not only are they incredibly friendly and placid but they’re also great layers so you won’t be short of eggs.

If you’re looking for a chicken breed to enhance your outdoor space then you’ll be pleased to hear that the Wyandotte comes in 14 different possible plumage variations in the UK.

Orpington

Whether you choose the large fowl or the bantam Orpington you’ll find you’ve got a great pet – especially for children. They’re not always great layers so if you’re looking for high egg production then this breed isn’t for you.

You’ll also need to make sure that your chicken house pop hole is large enough for the large fowl variety and consider keeping them separately if you have mixed breeds as the Orpington can be subject to bullying.

Warren

This is the most common hybrid breed of chicken and people will recognise Warrens as a classic brown hen – seen here in the popular Mercedes-Benz advert.

They’re friendly, docile, and love human interaction making them the perfect pets for adults and children alike. Originally bred for battery egg production they really are laying machines so you’ll never need to buy eggs again!

Silkie bantam

If you’re not worried about egg production and you want a pretty pet then this breed is ideal. Silkies are small, incredibly tame, and have great personalities. They also have some unique features with black skin and bones and five toes rather than four.

They are also great mothers so if you’re looking to start breeding and want a broody hen to sit on eggs then get yourself a few Silkies.

Brahma

If the Orpington isn’t quite big enough then the Brahma is even bigger! They might not lay a lot of eggs but they are one of the friendliest breeds of chicken. They’re great if you have children but standing at up to 30 inches tall they might be a bit big to sit on your lap!

As with the Orpington you’ll need to make sure your chicken house can accommodate these gentle giants – you might even want to consider a bespoke design.

Happy Birthday Jim & 15% Off!

To celebrate Jim becoming another year older (and wiser) we’re offering our customers 15% off selected poultry housing.

The following products currently have 15% off their usual retail price, so grab a bargain while you can:

We also have two special offer “bundles” that are ideal if you’re just starting out with chickens or you’re looking to make keeping chickens even easier…

 

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So don’t delay – get yourself over to the website and take advantage of Jim’s Birthday Bonanza!

Top 10 Most Commonly Asked Questions about Keeping Chickens

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Keeping chickens is a fantastic pastime, one that people have flocked to in recent years, and chickens could make a fantastic addition to your garden and your family.

Here are the most common questions people that are new to chicken keeping ask:

#1 – Do I need permission to keep chickens?

If you live in the UK then you shouldn’t need permission to keep chickens. However, some old houses have bans on keeping chickens so it’s important to check the deeds to your house first.

You might also want to phone your local Environmental Health Officer just to cover all bases. And of course, asking your neighbours if they might is the polite thing to do!

#2 – What do chickens eat?

Chickens are omnivorous which means that they’ll eat pretty much anything! The majority of your hens’ diet should be made up from a commercial pellet or layers mash such as this range from Allen & Page.

You’ll find your hens look for their own food including grass, worms, bugs, and they’ll also enjoy kitchen scraps.

#3 – How much do chickens eat?

The exact answer to this question depends entirely on the number of birds you keep and their age, sex, and breed but here’s a rough guide:

  • Laying hens = 4/6 ounces of food per day
  • Bantams = 2/3 ounces of food per day

Larger breeds, such as the Buff Orpington or Jersey Giant, need more feed and all chickens will need an increased food intake during the colder winter months. Chicken keepers usually make sure food is available at all times so that hens can help themselves throughout the day.

#4 – How do I put my chickens to bed?

Chickens usually put themselves to bed at dusk, although this doesn’t always mean they’ll go to bed in their hen house!

For the first few weeks you may need to herd them in at “bedtime” or lay a trail of food to the chicken house door for them to follow. Chickens are creatures of habit and it shouldn’t take them long to get into a routine.

If you keep your chickens in a run then you could also try not letting them free range for a couple of weeks. After this point they should know where “home” is and put themselves to bed without you needing to get involved.

#5 – How long do chickens live?

This varies from breed to breed and of course depends on whether your chicken is injured or becomes ill. Generally a healthy bird will live for between eight to 15 years, although chickens have been known to live for as long as 20 years.

#6 – How many eggs will my chickens lay?

Again, this depends entirely on the breed and age of your chickens. Commercial hybrids, such as the Warren, could lay 320 in a year. Pure bred or rare breeds tend to lay fewer eggs.

You’ll also find that hens lay fewer eggs as they get older but most breeds are fairly productive layers during their first laying year.

#7 – Do I need a cockerel to get eggs?

No, and your neighbours would probably appreciate it if you didn’t! You’ll only need a cockerel if you want to start breeding your chickens and need fertilised eggs.

#8 –  What do I do if one of my chickens is ill?

Because chickens are prey animals they don’t usually start to look ill until it is quite serious. This means that if one of your flock does become ill you’ll need to act quite quickly.

Remove the ill bird from the flock, place it in a warm, quiet place with food and water, and watch for any changes. If your hen doesn’t improve then consult a chicken friendly vet – finding one can be a challenge, so it’s worth sourcing a good vet before you purchase your chickens.

#9 – What do I do with my hens if I go on holiday?

The easiest option is to make friends with another chicken keeper and take it in turns to look after each other’s flocks when you go away. Another option that is gaining popularity is to send your chickens on a “hen holiday” where they’ll be cared for until you return.

One company that offers this service is Feufield Farm and Trust who are based in South Lanarkshire. A quick internet search should turn up a company that is local to you.

#10 – How big does my chicken house need to be?

This is another question that entirely depends on the number of birds you have and their breed. As a general rule your run or enclosure should provide 2/3 square feet per bird. If your birds aren’t going to free range then you should look at an enclosure that gives them 10 square feet per bird.

The huge range of chicken house designs out there can make it confusing to know what is best to buy. Take a look at our article – “Buying a chicken house? Get it right the first time” for a more in depth answer to this question.

Eight Reasons Why Keeping Chickens is a Great Idea!

It’s pretty safe to say we love chickens and there are thousands of other people all over the world that love their chickens too. Today, we’re looking at the top reasons to start keeping chickens.

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We love chickens!

  1. Fresh eggs!

This is probably the top reason that people start keeping chickens and having a daily supply of fresh eggs is certainly a good enough reason for us.

Not only will you get the satisfaction of collecting your own eggs but you’ll also know exactly what went into making them. You are what you eat after all!

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  1. Chickens are educational

Keeping chickens in your back garden is a great way to teach your children a little bit more about where their food comes from.

Having any pet is a valuable lesson in respecting and caring for animals but having a pet that gives you a tasty treat back in return for your love and dedication is even better.

  1. Your garden will be bug free

If you let your chickens free range you’ll be amazed how quickly they get rid of all the bugs in your garden.

Worms, slugs, beetles, flies, snails, and spiders all make a tasty snack for hens so you’ll be provided with free pest control all year around.

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  1. Chickens are low maintenance

Most common breeds of chicken are hardy, easy to care for, and low maintenance making them an ideal pet.

Usually as long as your flock has food, water, exercise, and a clean shelter they’ll be happy. Of course, how fancy you want to make your chicken house is up to you!

  1. You’ll get free fertiliser

Whether you let or hens free range or not you’ll still have an abundance of glorious free fertiliser that your plants will love.

The high nitrogen content of chicken poo means that it turns into brilliant compost so put it on your flower beds and wait for your plants to thrive.

  1. You’ll cut down your food wastage

Chickens are like compost bins and will happily guzzle down your left over kitchen scraps.

A squashed cauliflower, a handful of sweetcorn, or a few pieces of bacon rind will always be a welcome treat for your flock.

  1. Chickens enhance any garden

Even the plainest breed of chicken is beautiful and there are plenty of ornamental breeds if you want something really spectacular.

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  1. Chickens are entertaining

In return for as little as 15 minutes per day of your time you’ll get hours of entertainment back.

You’ll soon learn that each chicken has her own personality and all of the different breeds have their own character traits.

Now Stocking HenSafe Automatic Door Openers!

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Jim Vyse Arks is pleased to announce that we now stock HenSafe Automatic Chicken Coop Door Openers.

Designed and made in Wiltshire, UK the HenSafe Automatic Chicken Coop Door Opener is robust, rugged, and reliable. The innovative chicken coop door opener has three operating modes built in one compact, weathertight unit. Driven by a microprocessor, the HenSafe unit has a user-friendly display screen to make setting it up a piece of cake.

Take a look at the HenSafe Automatic Chicken Coop Door Opener here.

Key benefits and features of the HenSafe Automatic Chicken Coop Door Opener include:

  • Powerful 5KG lifting motor to lift the heaviest of doors
  • Fully automatic with industry quality parts
  • Fully integrated internal light sensor and timer
  • Manual button for extra flexibility
  • Digital push button display showing settings, battery life, and a system heartbeat LED light so you can see it’s working from 100m away
  • Operate using the time, light level, or a combination of both (time with a light backstop) to suit your location
  • Easy to install
  • Simple to use

Testimonials:

“HenSafe is well thought out to cover all eventualities, well made and reliable. Takes the worry out of hen husbandry.” Mr M from Lanarkshire.

“I would like to compliment you on an excellent product. I purchased my first HenSafe door opener from you last week, installed it, set the time, calibrated closing light and set an opening time within 20 minutes. It works a treat.”