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One of the great things about keeping poultry is that they don’t take a lot of time on a daily basis. As long as you have time to feed, water, collect eggs, and cast your eye over to flock for any problems then you’ve got time for chickens. Add on an hour or so once a week to thoroughly clean their coop and accessories and you’re done.

However, it’s always nice to be able to save a few minutes here and there. After all, those few minutes mean more time to relax and enjoy your hens once the chores are done.

Luckily there are plenty of products on the market, and DIY projects you can do, that will help you save time on the boring (but essential) jobs involved in chicken keeping.

Automatic chicken coop doors

Automatic door control units are usually solar powered, so you don’t need an electrical supply, and keep your flock safe as well as saving you time.

You can set the timer for whenever suits you, normally dawn and dusk, and this will ensure that your flock are shut up safely for the night if you can’t be there to put them to bed when the sun goes down.

automatic door

Automatic feeder systems

Feeding your flock doesn’t take a lot of time but if you’re running late or you tend to your chickens before you go to work knowing that they’re fed without needing to lug around bags of feed can be useful.

There are many different designs of feeder available online and in pet/poultry shops. However, if you fancy a weekend project we’ve found a great video from Rob Bob’s Backyard Farming showing you how to make a DIY poultry feeder.

Automatic poultry drinkers

Automatic poultry drinkers are also a great time saving invention and not all designs require mains water to work. In fact, some drinkers can even be attached to a water butt so you could collect rain water and hydrate your chickens for free!

Check Ebay for low cost poultry drinkers.

Remember, automated poultry keeping products are great, but they still need to be checked daily and cleaned weekly to ensure they are working correctly.

Last week Jim gave you 10 things to look for when buying a chicken house. This week he’s giving you 10 more things to look for so you’ll get the perfect home for your flock:

  1. Does your house have a low carbon footprint?

This might not seem important, but do something good for the environment and don’t ship a house in from China. In fact, Jim often delivers houses to local customers which even further cuts down the carbon footprint of the houses.

  1. Is your chicken house made from eco-friendly materials?

See point 1 – this might not seem important but you’ll feel better knowing you haven’t contributed to the loss of a forest. For example, all houses from Jim Vyse Arks are made from Forestry Stewardship Council approved timber, meaning the wood comes from a sustainable source.

  1. Is your chicken house attractive?

Although a more utilitarian design is often more practical than some of the elaborate models on the market, you still want a chicken house that is aesthetically pleasing if it’s going to be in your back garden. Don’t forget, wood stain or paint is an easy way to make your chicken house a pretty edition to your garden.

painted chicken house

  1. Is the door/pop hole big enough?

Last week one of my points was that you should check your chicken house is big enough for the breed of chickens you keep, particularly if you keep large breeds such as Brahmas. The same goes for the door, your birds shouldn’t have to squeeze through a too small door.

  1. Is your chicken house easy to maintain?

A simple design will not only be easy to keep clean but will also be easy to maintain. You don’t want to have to spend your weekends fixing your chicken house, or find that it is cheaper to replace than to keep well maintained. Pressure treated timber and heavy duty metal fittings will extend the working life of your chicken house and keep maintenance to a minimum.

  1. Is the roof made of a suitable material?

Rooves shouldn’t leak or harbour a red mite infestation, so avoid houses with felt rooves. Felt rooves, and those made from similar materials, won’t provide adequate protection from the elements and are tough to remove red mite from.

  1. Are the dimensions right for your space?

Check, check, and check again the dimensions of your outdoor space and of the chicken house you’re going to purchase. Drawing it out on the ground can help you visualise what the house will look like when it arrives.

  1. Do you need a run?

If your chickens aren’t going to free range, is the house you’re purchasing suitable to have an attached run? In light of the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone, and the outbreaks in recent years, having a run may be something that will protect your birds in the long run.

  1. Is the run big enough?

Chickens need room to do “chicken things” so choose a chicken run that offers them as much space as possible. You might also want to let them free range occasionally if your outdoor space is safe and suitable.

  1. Are there enough nest boxes?

Generally speaking you’ll need one nest box per three hens. Nest boxes need to be off the ground and hens prefer if the nest boxes are in the darkest part of the house, such as at the back.

 

Here are Jim’s top 10 things to look for before purchasing your chicken house:

  1. Good ventilation

Poor air flow can lead to hens that are too hot, too cold, or have serious breathing problems. Ventilation holes at the top of the house will let clean air in and draw stale air out without leaving the house draughty.

  1. Make sure your chosen house is easy to clean

Cleaning should be a quick job so you can get back to the important task – enjoying your chickens! Removable roof panels and nest boxes make it easy to give the house a thorough clean without it taking all day.

chicken coop cleaning tools

 

  1. A high standard of welfare

Welfare should be paramount when choosing any poultry housing. Ensure that you have a house which is the right size for the number of chickens you intend to keep. If you think you’ll be adding to your flock then you may want to consider buying a bigger house.

  1. Easy to access nest boxes (both for you and your hens!)

Well-designed nest boxes help keep eggs clean and make collecting them a doddle! Perches located higher than the nest boxes should discourage hens from using them overnight, keeping them clean for egg laying during the day.

chicken house enclosed run rear view

  1. Is your chicken house practical?

Pretty chicken houses are nice to look at but elaborate designs don’t always do the best job. A traditional, rustic looking chicken house that is well designed will always be better than something that looks pretty – and chicken houses are easily painted if you fancy some DIY!

  1. Is your chicken house robust?

Your chicken house should be made of good quality timber that will stand up to the Great British weather year after year. Structural exterior grade pressure treated timber ensures a working life of your chicken house for at least 15 years.

  1. Does the chicken house have enough perches?

Chickens need around 30cm each to comfortably perch so if you have a large number of chickens you may need extra perches. The perches will need to be 4 to 5cm wide, with rounded edges, and a rough surface to allow your birds to grip them securely.

  1. Is the chicken house big enough for your breed of chickens?

If you keep larger breeds, such as the Brahma, a standard chicken house design may not be big enough. You’ll need to look at the height and width of the chicken house, as well as the size of the door. You may want to consider a bespoke design to ensure their comfort.

  1. Can you move the chicken house easily?

Wheels and handles on larger poultry houses make moving them easy without the risk of damaging your back. Larger houses can have skids fitted to make moving them with a car, quad bike or tractor a simple task.

wheels on chicken house

  1. Is your budget big enough?

Cheap isn’t always cheerful and what you think is a bargain may end up costing you your hens’ health. Think of your chicken house as a long term investment. After all, chickens can live for 10+ plus years so you don’t want to be buying them a new house before every winter.

If you already have chickens but you want to add some webbed footed friends to your flock, we’ve put together a few tips for happy mixed species poultry keeping.

chicken and duck

For 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.

30 bird chicken house

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 an all-female flock, 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.

duck treats

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.

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, 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.

chicken drinker

Posted on 12 April 2018 in Chicken Chat and tagged under , , ,

Alice had the pleasure of visiting Jim Vyse customer, and poultry breeder, Millie Jarvis at her home in the outskirts of Bristol and meeting her lovely chickens.

Who is Millie?

Millie specialises in breeding Pekin bantams, Silkies, Old English Game, and Modern Game birds. Her future project is to increase the number of Silkies and Porcelain Pekins she breeds.

Millie of Millie's Bantams

Here’s what Millie has to say about her chickens and being a Jim Vyse Arks customer:

Alice: What first attracted you to chicken keeping?

Millie: I started off with a few hybrid chickens. Unfortunately a family crisis meant that I had to give them up but I had the chicken bug and it wasn’t long before I replaced them.

Having a pet that gives something back is just so rewarding!

A: How did chicken keeping turn into chicken breeding?

M: I love cockerels! They’re more flamboyant than hens. I started off with Barry and went from there.

You have to choose your breeds and colours carefully but you start buying trios of birds because you love the colours.

My favourite are my Porcelain Pekins.

Another reason I got into breeding was because of something my Dad said. He told me about my Grandmother breeding Rhode Island Reds during the war. I’m a lot like her, so it’s in the blood!

A: Why did you choose your current breeds?

M: Pekins and Silkies are just so friendly. They’re also easy to handle and come in a variety of pretty colours. They’re brilliant back garden birds because they’re not as destructive as larger breeds of chicken. They make good “broodies” and lay decent sized eggs, so really they’re a great all-rounder.

I started breeding Modern Game and Old English Game because I love the Red colour, especially cockerels. They’re another small, pretty breed of chicken, but they don’t have feathery legs, so they’re a good alternative to Pekins and Silkies.

red pyle game bird

A: I know you’re not meant to have favourites, but if you had to choose, who is the favourite in your flock?

M: If I really had to pick it would be all of the boys. Their colours and personalities are just amazing. Cockerels are great, if you respect them, they’ll respect you.

But I love all of my birds really!

A: What advice would you give to first time chicken keepers?

M: Invest in secure housing and be sure you’re ready for chickens. If you just want eggs and no real commitment, buy eggs from the supermarket.

There is so much involved in chicken keeping you shouldn’t get them on a whim, there’s more to chickens than their eggs! Keeping chickens shouldn’t be a chore, if it becomes that then you know you need to give it up.

Also, make sure you research everything before you buy your birds.

Finally, keep an eye out for parasites and predators. Prevention is better than a cure!

Millie chicken house

A: You’ve mentioned investing in secure poultry housing – what made you choose a Jim Vyse ark?

M: I was unimpressed with other products that I had previously purchased so I started looking for replacement housing. Jim had a decent website and his products were great.

His bespoke order service is great as well. I just emailed him a picture and a few measurements and he produced exactly what I wanted. It’s brilliant!

A: What words do you associate with “Jim Vyse Arks”?

M: Quality, friendly, great service. You get the personal touch and you can put a face to a name. You definitely get what you pay for.

A: Does that mean you’d recommend Jim Vyse to other poultry keepers?

M: If you’re getting chickens, get a Jim Vyse Ark. He’ll even deliver it for you.
Don’t go anywhere else!

A: Finally, how do you like your eggs?

M: Poached on toast with loads of black pepper and butter.

porcelain pekin bantams

 

We want to feature more of our loyal customers on our blog, so whether you’re a breeder or just a hobby poultry keeper, we’d love to hear from you.

Posted on 13 March 2018 in Other Poultry and tagged under , , ,

Keeping turkey as pets is becoming increasingly popular, and if you’ve ever spent any time with these magnificent birds then you won’t struggle to see why.

They can be noisy, especially adult male birds (stags), which is something to consider if you live in close proximity to neighbours who wouldn’t be as enamoured with your new pets as you are.

These impressive birds are very majestic looking, particularly stags in full summer plumage, and hens have surprisingly pretty heads for big birds.

Although turkey eggs are not commonly found in the shops, they make a wonderful alternative to chicken or duck eggs and can easily be swapped in when cooking. Personally, our favourite way of eating them is scrambled!

Original old breeds of turkey, not commercial hybrids, are fairly hardy birds. However, this doesn’t mean that they don’t need shelter from the elements, and of course you’ll need to offer them protection from predators overnight.

If you’re considering buying your first turkeys then there are a few things you’ll need to bear in mind when thinking about their housing.

The great outdoors

Turkeys, unlike some other breeds of poultry, prefer to spend as much of their time as possible living outside. This means that a secure, good sized poultry pen, is a must have for any turkey keeper.

Turkeys also like to spend a considerable amount of time grazing, grass makes up around 50% of their diet, so the pen is best located on pasture. They’ll need a covered roosting area and it is best to purchase housing designed specifically for turkey keeping, rather than modifying chicken housing.

Electric fence around the perimeter of the house, pen, and pasture will help to deter predators.

Home sweet home

For a trio of turkeys, usually a stag and two hens, housing of 8ft x 6ft should be plenty big enough.

If you’re thinking of keeping a few more, up to six, then a 12ft x 8ft house will give them ample room overnight.

Of course, the more space the better, and you may prefer a walk-in shed style design for easy cleaning, egg collection, and increased ventilation.

Your turkeys will be able to live outside during the day from around 8-12 weeks of age. If you already keep chickens then a single turkey should happily live with them. However, turkeys are always happiest when they have companions of the same species.

Ideally any turkey housing should be moveable, skids or wheels make moving housing easy, to prevent a build-up of manure and allow for thorough cleaning.

The roosts/perches ought to be built all at the same height to prevent your turkeys fighting over the top spot. Lightweight metal or fibreglass roof panels will provide protection from the elements.

For young birds (under 5-6 months) a bale of straw will provide hours of entertainment and a suitable night-time resting place until a purpose built perch is added into the house.

As we said above, turkeys love to graze, so they’ll need access to pasture outside of their pen. Remember that turkeys can, and will fly, meaning that fencing will need to be at least 4ft high.

You might also want to consider netting over your fence to provide extra protection and prevent your turkeys roosting in neighbouring trees!

Posted on 3 March 2018 in Waterfowl and tagged under , , ,

Keeping chickens has undoubtedly become popular in recent years, but that isn’t the only option if you want some feathered friends to share your garden, and we love ducks just as much as we love chickens.

Here are our top reasons why keeping ducks could be the best thing you ever do:

Delicious eggs all year around
As tasty as chicken eggs are, duck eggs are usually richer and creamier, which is why they’re so popular with bakers. Plus, their eggs are bigger, containing more nutrients and goodness than chicken eggs.

Ducks also lay all year around, unlike chickens that stop in the winter, so you won’t need to buy eggs even in December.

They’re cheap to keep
Once you’ve had the initial outlay of a suitable duck house and other equipment you’ll need, ducks are incredibly cheap to keep.

Depending on how many birds you have, one bag of feed could last you for weeks and they’re experts at supplementing their diet with things they find in the garden. In fact, if you’re looking for chemical free pest control, a couple of ducks could be the answer!

Ducks are made of tough stuff
Ducks are extremely hardy and generally less susceptible to disease and infection than chickens. They cope well in harsh weather conditions and if they do become ill, they usually recover fairly quickly with minimal human assistance.

Your neighbours won’t notice you have them
Although most female ducks do make the classic “quack” noise they only do this when startled or frightened. The majority of the time ducks are silent or make quiet noises.

If you’re worried your neighbours won’t like the cackles and squawking that hens make, ducks might be a better choice. Just avoid the infamously loud Call ducks!

They don’t need that much water
Many people think you need a lake, or at least a large pond, in order to keep ducks but depending on which breed you keep that isn’t always the case. In fact, Indian Runner ducks are reportedly happy as long as they have enough water to dunk their heads in, although we’d recommend giving them more.

A child’s paddling pool, a sawn in half barrel or an old bath tub can all make suitable “ponds” for backyard ducks. As long as the water is deep enough for them to get their whole head under then your ducks will be happy.

Ducks are very sociable
Many poultry keepers can’t resist adding to their flock after a while and this can cause disruptions to the pecking order. However, ducks seem to accept new additions to their group more calmly than chickens, so if you’re expecting to expand your brood, ducks are a more likely to welcome them with open wings.

Ducks have great personalities
If you talk to anyone who keeps ducks they’ll tell you all about their individual personalities. Different breeds also have different personality traits, so it’s worth doing your research before starting your flock.

They make loyal friends
Dogs might be mans’ best friend but ducks come in at a close second. Sometimes it can take them a while to trust you, but once they’ve imprinted on you and see you as part of the group, you’ll have a friend for life.

Posted on 2 March 2018 in Chicken Chat and tagged under , , , ,

Chickens are usually fairly hardy creatures and shouldn’t require a lot of human intervention to continue to thrive in the winter months. However, as temperatures drop and snow falls across the country there some things you can do to make your flock more comfortable this winter.

Like many poultry keepers you might find that your birds shut up shop in the winter and don’t lay eggs. This is perfectly normal so unless your chicken looks unwell you don’t need to worry.

Although your chickens might not be giving you anything in return for your hard work it’s important not to let care standards drop in the winter. Keeping them in tip top condition will ensure that they start their new laying period raring to go.

So, here’s how to look after chickens in the snow:

Housing

Generally speaking chickens don’t mind the cold, what they do mind however is draughts, wind, and rain – particularly if they haven’t got any shelter.

Houses should be waterproof, draught free, and with ventilation above head height. Ventilation is vital, as tempting as it can be to block all ventilation holes this can cause frostbite as any moisture in the coop freezes over night.

If your chicken house is usually in an exposed area of the garden it might also be worth trying to find a more protected place for it to live in the winter.

A thicker layer of bedding will also make your birds happy but remember the house still needs to be cleaned out regularly to prevent mould, bacteria, and fungal growth making your birds sick.

How often should your clean your chickens out?

We recommend at least a weekly deep clean that involves removing all bedding, allowing the house to air, and checking for any general wear and tear.

If you do have quite a thick covering of snow you might find your chickens prefer to stay indoors rather than get cold feet. If they do opt to stay in their coop then you will need to clean it more often.

Water worries

Providing your flock with fresh, clean water will probably be your biggest challenge during snowy weather. Drinkers tend to freeze or fill up with snow quickly so you’ll need to think of a solution to the problem before it happens.

Here are our top tips:

On very cold days check the water as many times as you can throughout the day

Remove drinkers at night and empty the water – it’s easier to refill a drinker daily than to defrost one

Move the drinker to a more sheltered spot

You may also want to consider investing in a heated drinker if you live in a part of the UK that is prone to extremely cold weather and snow.

Food for thought

In terms of feed your flock shouldn’t need anything different – although you may want to feed them more. They’ll also appreciate a warm mash on colder days and a few handfuls of corn before bedtime to keep them warm overnight.

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