The great debate: plastic vs. wooden chicken houses

You’ll see from our website which type we’re fonder of but this is an important debate in the poultry keeping world so we’re going to discuss the pros and cons of each material.

Bespoke wooden chicken house

Fantastic plastic or wonderful wood – the debate between poultry keepers continues on a yearly basis and there are strong supporters on both sides. Of course, our website makes it pretty clear which side of the chicken houses fence we’re on but we thought it was important to show both sides of the story.

Remember, which ever style of house you choose it’s important to make sure you buy a good quality house that gives your chickens the space, comfort, and security that they need to stay happy and healthy.

Let’s take a look at wooden chicken houses first:

Wooden chicken houses

Wooden houses are obviously more traditional and some poultry keepers would say prettier too. A high quality wooden chicken house will robust, practical, and less likely to blow away in a storm than a plastic coop.

One of the most common complaints about plastic chicken houses is that they aren’t breathable and reports of condensation are common. You won’t get this problem with a wooden design as wood is naturally breathable.

If you have specific needs you’ll also find that a wooden house is more flexible as they can be built to order. In fact, our own bespoke order service is very popular with our customers!

Customisation in terms of colour is also easier when you have a wooden house. You can paint them any colour you like and if you change your mind you can sand the paint off and start again, or simply paint over the original colour.

Goose House_JimVyse

And now for the plastic chicken houses:

Plastic chicken houses

In recent years plastic houses have become increasingly popular, especially with urban chicken keepers and school or college poultry projects. The bright colours make them popular with children and removable lids make it quick and simple to collect your delicious eggs.

They’re also easy to clean, give a contemporary look to your outdoor space, and can be cheaper to buy and maintain than their wooden counterparts.

Plastic coop fans often tell you that the biggest plus point of having a plastic chicken house is that the risk of pesky red mite is removed.

However, if you think that a plastic hen house will make your flock red mite proof, unfortunately you’re wrong. Red mite can not only live on the bird but it can also live in the cracks of the house, hiding from prying human eyes.

Lurking in the cracks allows the red mite to sneak out at night and feast on your flocks’ blood whilst they sleep so the truth of the matter is that a plastic house isn’t always a red mite free house.

Plastic or wooden? We’d love to hear your opinion on which material you prefer for your chicken houses.

Keeping chickens for the first time? Here’s what you need to know!

Keeping chickens is a brilliant hobby and if you’ve been thinking about starting your own flock here’s our list of top first time poultry keepers FAQs.

I love chickens

How many chickens should I keep?

How many chickens you keep is entirely up to you but as chickens are social animals you’ll need at least a pair of hens. Most people keep three hens as this usually provides them with more than enough eggs.

Where should I get my chickens from?

If you type “chickens for sale” into an internet search engine you’ll be snowed under with adverts for chickens but to ensure healthy, happy birds you should buy from a reputable breeder.

You could also do a good deed by rehoming hens through a charity such as the British Hen Welfare Trust or Fresh Start for Hens.

How much room do chickens need?

Chickens rarely go far from home so don’t think you need acres of space for your flock. A minimum of 10 square feet for three to four large hens is required by welfare laws, but we would suggest that 20 square feet is a better starting point for free roaming chooks.

Will free range hens ruin my garden?

There’s no getting around it, chickens will scratch in the grass, soil, gravel, woodchip, or any other surface they come in contact with. If you’re worried about them ruining your garden then investing in a purpose built chicken run or enclosure will keep your chickens and your plants happy.

What should I feed my chickens?

There are many brands of chicken food out there and you can choose from “layer’s pellets” or “mash”. Ask any poultry keeping friends which brand they prefer and always ensure your hens have fresh water to drink.

Chicken feed bucket

How long do chickens live for?

A healthy bird will live for 5+ years and a well-cared for chicken could live for even longer.

How many eggs will I get?

The exact number of eggs you get depends entirely on the individual chicken, their breed, their environment, and the time of year. However, as a rough guide you could expect 250-300 eggs per year.

Do I need a cockerel to get eggs?

Definitely not – you’ll only need a cockerel if you plan on breeding from your flock. If you’d still like to have a cockerel then there is nothing stopping you, just remember that your neighbours might not agree!

Will my chickens attract vermin?

Chickens themselves don’t attract vermin but their food can. You can combat this by clearing up left over food regularly and keep your food in vermin proof containers, such as a metal dustbin.

You’ll also need to make sure your chicken coop is of high quality and regularly maintained to keep your hens safe from predators like foxes, badgers, and feral cats.

Will my chickens fly away?

Chickens aren’t known for their flying abilities but if you are worried about them making the Great Escape over your fence you can clip their wings (one wing per hen). If you’re not confident doing this yourself then get your chicken supplier to do it for you.

free_range_chicken_flock

Chicken Breed of the Month – Old English Game

The Old English Game is one of the oldest breeds of poultry still in existence and is highly prized among chicken fanciers.

OldEnglishGame

The breed was originally developed to be used as a fighting bird and were incredibly valuable to those who bred them. Cockfighting was outlawed in the 1850s and although its main purpose has been removed, the Old English Game still remains a popular breed both for exhibitions and as pets.

In the 1930s the Old English Game Club split into two strands, so there are now two different types of Old English Game – the Carlisle and the Oxford. There is also a bantam variety that is roughly a quarter of the size of the standard Old English Game.

The Carlisle is available in 13 different colours, including golden duck wing, cuckoo, and self-white, and has a horizontal back and large breast.

The Oxford’s back is at a 45° angle to the ground and comes in an amazing 30 colour varieties including black breasted red, honey dun, and black.

Both varieties are small, pretty birds with large eyes and a big, strong beak. They have excellent muscle distribution meaning that they also make good table birds, but we don’t think you’d have much of a meal due to their size.

Old English Game fans says that the hens lay well, are reliable brooders, and make excellent, protective mothers. Generally they are calm birds but breeders warn to keep cockerels away from each other as the fighting instinct is still relatively strong.

The breed enjoys being active and prefers a free range lifestyle, although they can fly to around 2m, so suitable boundaries need to be considered.

Keepers report that they are a friendly breed of chicken and are known for their good health and longevity. They mix well with other breeds and could be a fantastic addition to your chicken coop.

The lovely "Mavis" owned by Jim Vyse customer Millie of Millie's Bantams

The lovely “Mavis” owned by Jim Vyse customer Millie of Millie’s Bantams

How to bathe your chickens

Whether it’s for a show or just to keep them clean bathing a chicken for the first time can seem daunting. Here’s our quick guide, with videos, to giving your chicken a bath.

Photo credit: Community Chickens

Photo credit: Community Chickens

If you’re only keeping chickens as pets chances are you won’t need to bathe your flock on a regular basis. In fact, you might not even need to bathe your chickens at all.

However, sometimes a chicken can end up in a sticky situation or look a bit dirtier than usual and you might want to give them a quick freshen up. Other times when you might need to bathe a chicken include when a bird is injured and you need to clean their wounds, when a bird is sick and unable to maintain its own hygiene, or when a hen is suffering from fly strike, a prolapsed vent, or is egg bound.

 

Here’s our step by step guide to bathing a chicken…

You’ll need:

  • A bath, sink, or large washing bowl
  • Several towels
  • A non-slip mat/extra towel to stop the bird slipping
  • Baby shampoo
  • A jug/large cup for rinsing
  • Nail brush if you’re cleaning feet
  • A hairdryer
  • An apron – this is a job where you’re going to get wet!

It’s important to never use harsh chemicals when washing a chicken as this will strip the natural oils from the feathers and can cause permanent damage.

Also be sure never to leave the bird unattended and ensure that its head stays above the water at all times. Some chicken keepers report that their birds enjoy a bath so much they fall asleep so it might be harder than you think to keep their head up!

If at all possible choose a warm, sunny day to bathe your chicken – obviously if there is injury or illness this might not be possible. Be prepared to use two tubs, or drain and refill your bath/sink, as you’ll need clean water to rinse the bird after washing.

A step by step guide to washing your chicken

  1. Fill your washing container with lukewarm water. Water deep enough to come half way up their legs is the safest amount. Add a few drops of baby shampoo to the water. 
  2. Place your chicken in the container. Expect flapping and you’ll need to hold the wings gently and prevent any escape attempts.
  3. Gently dunk your hen in and out of the water. Use your hand to “scoop” water over them until they are wet through. Be careful not to scrub or rub as you might damage the feathers.
  4. Carefully scrub the feet and legs with the nail brush to remove any dirt or poo.
  5. If the vent feathers, or any other feathers, are matted with poo you might need to let the feathers soak. Do not pull the feathers as you may tear the skin in the process.
  6. Lift the bird out of the “washing tub” and transfer it to the “rinsing tub”. If you are refilling the bath or sink wrap the chicken in a towel to keep them warm whilst you do this.
  7. Again, gently dunk your hen in and out of the water to remove most of the baby shampoo. Then use the jug/cup to pour clean water over the hen to remove the rest.
  8. Lift your chicken out of the container and hold them above it until most of the water has dripped off.
  9. Use a dry towel and gently pat/press the water out of the feathers. Remember to dry under each wing and don’t rub as you will damage the feathers.
  10. If you’re using a hairdryer keep your hand between the chicken and the dryer at all times to test the temperature. If it’s hot enough to burn your hand, it’s hot enough to burn your chicken!

Giving your chicken a bath is an excellent opportunity to check for lice/mites and to treat them with powder once they’re dry if you spot any parasites.

It’s also a good idea to clean your chicken house before putting your hens back so they’ll stay clean for as long as possible.

You can find an instructional video on chicken bathing from The Hen Cam here.

If you’re thinking of showing your chickens and you need to bathe them in preparation Sam Cromwell from Heavenly Feathered Farms has a great video showing them bathing their Polish for a show.

DIY Projects That Your Poultry Will Love

If you like to have a few projects going to keep you busy and you fancy yourself as a bit of a DIY whiz kid then you’re going to love these poultry related DIY projects we’ve found.

Just like humans chickens are always looking for something new and exciting to keep them entertained so they’re sure to be grateful for all your hard work. It’s time to dig out that tool kit and get yourself down to B&Q.

Wine bottle grit dispenser

We love this DIY wine bottle grit/oyster shell dispenser. Not only will you be doing something good for your hens but you’ll also be doing something good for the environment by recycling your old wine bottles.

This project is fantastic if you like to recycle as you can also use any piece of timber and an old tuna tin!

Get the full step-by-step instructions from Fresh Eggs Daily.

fresheggsdaily_gritdispenser

Chicken swing

If you fancy something a little more ambitious and you think your chickens are lacking entertainment then why not treat them to a homemade chicken swing?

The beauty of this project is you use any materials you have to hand so you won’t need to spend money buying special materials or a specific type of wood.

Well’s Poultry has full chicken swing instructions – including pictures – if you want to try your hand at the ultimate chicken entertainment project.

Chickenswing

Duck pond

Although ducks don’t need a vast expanse of water to be happy they do enjoy having a decent pond to splash around in. If a plastic tub or child’s paddling pool isn’t cutting it you could always build a more permanent solution.

This video has everything you need to know about building a duck pond that will keep your webbed footed friends amused for hours on end.

duck pond

 

Pond filter and shower

If you’re considering revamping your duck pond then setting up a decent filtration system would benefit both you and your birds. Plus, who wouldn’t want a duck shower?!

Again, this project can be completed using things you have sat around at home, so you shouldn’t need to buy anything except the filter.

Get the full instructions, plus advice and tips for design and build, here.

200x400px-LL-804ff1c8_Filter-2

What To Do With Your Hens When You Go On Holiday

chicken_suitcases

Last week we looked at three businesses that offer either chicken sitting or chicken boarding services so you can ensure your feathered friends get 5* treatment whilst you’re having a much needed holiday.

However, those aren’t the only options when it comes to keeping your chickens happy when you’re away. Here are some ideas that will make sure your hens are looked after and your holiday can go without a hitch.

Helpful neighbours

If you have a good relationship with your neighbour, and they’d be open to some free eggs, then they might agree to check on your hens whilst you’re away.

Remember to leave them with enough food and clear instructions about what’s expected of them. It might also be a good idea to give them a number of a chicken friendly vet or fellow chicken keeper in case they’re worried about one of the flock.

Automated equipment

This can be a good option if you’re only going away for an evening or weekend and your hens have a secure enclosure. This option might also work for you if you can only arrange for someone to visit once per day.

You can purchase automatic pop holes and feeders that will make sure your chickens are secure and fed. A large water drinker should be adequate for a day until your chicken sitter can visit and top it up.

Friends and family

Friends and family are also usually willing to help look after hens with the promise of free eggs and maybe a few bottles from duty-free.

If you only a few chickens and an easily moveable ark you could also take your flock to have a little holiday of their own. As chickens require checking twice daily your friends and family will find it easier if they’re at their home.

Other chicken keepers

It’s always good to get friendly with other chicken keepers as you can share chicken sitting duties between you. if you’re going away for more than a week try organising a rota between your other chicken keeping friends so you’re not leaving one person with the responsibility of keeping your hens happy.

Take your chickens with you!

Obviously this won’t work if you’re off somewhere exotic, but if you’re having a “staycation” in a self-catering property there might be the option to take your flock with you.

However, chickens usually dislike big changes to their routine so if you can arrange, or pay for, someone to look after them they’ll be much happier at home.

Hen Sitters and Holiday Destinations for Your Hens

chicken_holiday_amensiaIt’s the time of year when you’re starting to think about your summer holidays and where you’d like to go for some much needed R&R.

Whether you’re looking for fun in the sun or you prefer to find some summer snow there are plenty of options for the adventurous traveller.

However, if you have chickens you’ll also need to consider who’s going to care for them whilst you’re away. Luckily there are a variety of options and your hens will probably enjoy their summer holiday as much as you enjoy yours.

Here are our top three holiday destinations and hen sitting services so your hens can be looked after whilst you’re away:

Hens for the Holidays

This pet sitting service is based and Macclesfield, Cheshire and is run by poultry enthusiast Jane Wilson.

Jane specialises in poultry, although she does also cater for other small pets such as dogs and cats, and visits homes across the local area to look after chickens that have been left home alone.

Jane, herself a poultry keeper, spotted a gap in the market and the business has since gone from strength to strength. Take a look at the Hens for the Holidays Facebook page for more information.

The Chicken Hotel

If you think your chickens would like a little holiday of their own and appreciate a change of scenery then The Chicken Hotel in Helston, Cornwall could be right up their street.

The Chicken Hotel is similar to a kennels or cattery and offers a reasonably priced boarding service for your feathered friends. Your hens will be housed in high quality coops with secure attached runs.

Extra services include collection and delivery of your flock, brooding/egg hatching facilities, and personal grooming. If you have an extra-large flock The Chicken Hotel may also be able to provide a “visiting butler” for the duration of your holiday.

Take a look at The Chicken Hotel website for more information, prices, and how to book.

Animal Aunts

This long standing pet sitting service has kept up a great reputation and might be a good choice if you have other animals as well as your chickens.

Their motto is “any property, any animal, anywhere” and they’ve had over 100,000 bookings in the 25 years since they started. The team of over 450 animal sitters have been chosen for their experience and will stay in your home whilst you’re away so your flock can continue their usual routine.

You can find out more on the Animal Aunts website.

chicken_suitcases

Packed and ready to go!

 

Please note: we haven’t used these services ourselves, so cannot give a personal testimonial. We have chosen the services based on reviews from other poultry keepers.

Chicken Breed of the Month – Yokohama

YokohamaThe Yokohama is a spectacular breed of chicken known for its long tail feathers which can increase by up to 3ft every year in the right living conditions.

The breed originates in Japan from a mixture of other ornamental Japanese breeds, although Yokohama is not where the breed was originally created. Yokohama was in fact the port that the breed was first exported from by a French Missionary named Girad.

Once the breed had been imported to Europe a mixture of breeds including the Onagdori, the European Phoenix, and the Black Sumatran Fowl were used to create the modern day Yokohama.

Yokohama chickens come in large and bantam varieties with a complex standard for the breed. If you’re looking for a striking, elegant breed then the Yokohama is for you.

However, don’t mistake them for a purely ornamental breed. Their calm nature makes them ideal for keepers wanting a small group of birds. Cockerels are known for being quieter than other breeds so if you’re considering breeding and you have neighbours living close by, they are a good choice.

They’re not the best layers in the world, laying around 80-100 cream coloured eggs per year, but they do make good mothers. In fact, Jim Vyse team member Alice had a Yokohama bantam hen sitting on 18 eggs earlier this year!

There are a good range of colours in the breed standard: Black, Black-red, Silver Duckwing, Gold Duckwing, White, and our personal favourite Red Saddled. Their long tail feathers can mean that they’re more suited to being kept in a run or enclosure, however, they will happily free range.

The Yokohama is not widely kept in the UK and they appear to be most popular in Germany where there was a big movement to improve the breed when it was originally exported from Japan.

 

Our Top 5 Reasons Why Chickens Are Great for Your Garden

It’s International Garden Month so this week we thought we’d look at how to have a harmonious relationship between your poultry and your plants.

Chickens in the garden

Image source: Jessica Bloom

If you’re a keen gardener you’ve likely recoiled in horror when a chicken keeping friend suggests you invest in some new feathered friends, but believe us when we say that chickens and gardens can go together…

In fact, there are many benefits to keeping chickens that extend well beyond a daily supply of delicious eggs.

And believe it or not, these benefits even extend to improving your garden:

  1. Free fertiliser

In return for your love and attention your chickens will provide you with a plentiful supply of nitrogen-rich fertiliser – ideal if you grow veg that particularly appreciates a nitrogen boost, such as tomatoes or aubergines.

Such is the amazing power of chickens to turn weeds and scraps into fertiliser that a city in Belgium is giving three hens to 2000 homes in an effort to reduce the amount of food waste that goes to landfill.

  1. Pest control without pesticides

As well as their daily diet of commercial chicken feed your hens will snack on slugs, snails, bugs, and other insects that may harm your garden.

With an increased interest in organic gardening, or at least reducing the number of chemicals we use, having a pesticide free method of keeping the bugs down has to be good.

  1. A+ soil

Good soil is the key to good plants and luckily there’s nothing chickens love more than helping you to improve your soil.

Never again will you have to hand-mix mulch into your beds, your chickens will happily do it for you, digging out the weeds as they go. What more could you ask for?!

  1. Reduced water bill

Well looked after soil generally needs to be watered less often, so you’ll be able to put the watering can away and not worry about a hose pipe ban.

  1. More plants, less space

Top quality fertiliser, excellent soil, and no pests all add up to one thing – you’ll be able to grow more plants in less space.

So whether you rave about your roses or you’re fanatic about fruit and veg having some chickens in your garden could be the key to an outdoor space that any horticulturalist would be proud of.

free_range_chicken_flock

An exclusive interview with Jim of Jim Vyse Arks!

This week we’re going back to our roots and telling you where it all began in an exclusive interview with Jim Vyse!

Jim Vyse

The man himself!

Can you tell us how Jim Vyse Arks began?

I’m originally from a farming background and spent over 30 years being involved with dairy cows and milking equipment. Then, a mid-life crisis encouraged me to change direction!

A friend suggested I put my carpentry skills to good use and before I knew it I was making chicken houses. A few adverts later and my houses were spreading across the UK.

The rest as they say is history!

What makes Jim Vyse Arks stand out from its competitors?

I have always believed that providing our customers with a combination of practical designs and sensible prices is the key to success. When you add in an attractive design that looks great in a garden, orchard, or field you’re on to a winner.

I think that’s why Jim Vyse Arks has carved a niche in the market and been successful for over 10 years.

Where is the most exotic destination a Jim Vyse Arks’ product has been shipped to?

We’ve had our products go all over the world, including Swiss Chalets in Switzerland and Arks in the Orkneys. Personally I think that sending two shipments of Swiss Chalets to the Falkland Islands has been the most exotic location so far.

We also regularly send products to France, Italy, Spain, and the Channel Islands.

Of all the poultry houses you’ve created, which has been your favourite and why?

Since we began I’ve created over 10,000 houses for every species of poultry imaginable, so it’s hard to choose a favourite.

However, if I really had to pick it would be the Standard Duck House, one of our most popular products.

A Jim Vyse Standard Duck House

Standard Duck House

I also really enjoyed designing and building this large bespoke chicken house and run. 

A Jim Vyse bespoke chicken house and run

Bespoke house and run project

Who or what first inspired you to get involved in poultry keeping?

As with most things it all goes back to my childhood. Many years ago I won, what was supposed to be, a table cockerel at a village fete. Readers will be pleased to know he joined our family flocks and never made it to the table, providing much pleasure and amusement to the family for several years.

Do you still keep your own poultry?

Unfortunately I don’t have the time I would like to devote to chickens or ducks at home, but my neighbours keep me up to date with latest trends in poultry keeping and provide me with manure for my garden!

In your opinion, what makes a good chicken house?

A practical design made from durable materials, which combines a high standard of welfare, good ventilation, and is easy to clean and control disease.

Jim_workshop

What is the top piece of advice you would give to someone shopping for a chicken house?

I think taking our motto of “attractive, robust, and practical” provides a very good guideline for buying a chicken house.

What has been your career highlight since starting Jim Vyse Arks?

Seeing products in the press or on television (our Goose House was featured on the Alan Titchmarsh Show and model Jemma Kidd has a chicken house that was pictured in Elle Decoration) has to be right up there.

Blue and white Jim Vyse Goose House

The famous Alan Titchmarsh Goose House!

However, my favourite part of the job is getting to travel around the UK and meet such wonderful and welcoming customers when I deliver their purchases. I’m privileged to be able to leave the workshop and explore the UK when I get orders for places I haven’t been or don’t know well.

 

 

 

Finally, how do you like your eggs?

The best way to have eggs has to be slightly runny scrambled eggs because you always use more that way!