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Posted on 4 July 2018 in Chicken Chat and tagged under , , , ,

We all love a treat from time to time and your chickens are no exception to this rule. Occasional treats are a great way to bond with your birds and they can be useful if you’re trying to help them beat the heat this summer.

As a general rule you shouldn’t give chickens treats when it’s hot as digestion promotes increased internal body temperature. However, frozen and cooling foods can be particularly welcome when the weather hots up.

Here’s a quick list of frozen treats that will help them keep cool:

  • Frozen mint ice cubes – it’s long been known that mint has cooling properties both for humans and animals. Freezing chopped up mint leaves in an ice cube tray and giving them to your hens will give them something to do and help them cool down. You can also add extras such as peas and diced strawberry to the ice cubes for an additional treat.
  • Frozen berries – try throwing a handful of frozen berries into a bucket of cool water and watch your hens go mad for them!
  • Frozen fruit smoothie – if a frozen fruit smoothie sounds delicious to you then it probably will to your hens as well. Including a bit of natural yoghurt can also help your hens’ digestion.
  • Frozen watermelon – you can cube it, slice it, or cut it into quarters, then put it in the freeze until frozen and give to your flock as a fruity frozen snack.

frozen sweetcorn

Remember, treats alone won’t keep your hens cool so you’ll need to take other measures to ensure your hens are happy and healthy in the heat. 

  • Provide as much clean, fresh water as you possibly can, especially in shady spots where your hens will hide in the hottest part of the day.
  • Increase ventilation in the coop by opening all doors and windows. You may also want to leave the chicken house windows open overnight if it’s safe to do so.
  • Create some shade using tarpaulin, patio umbrellas, wind breaks, and ornamental plants in pots.
  • Keep bedding in the chicken house to minimum – save the deep littering for the winter!
  • Give your hens a shallow paddling pool so they can cool their feet and avoid the hot earth.
  • Make sure your chickens have a shaded area to dust bathe in. Not only do they do this to keep clean, but it also helps them to keep cool.

swimming chickens

Have you got any tips for helping hens to stay cool in the summer? We’d love to hear from you if you do!

Posted on 18 June 2018 in Chicken Chat and tagged under , , , ,

Chickens usually adapt well to varying temperatures and if you live in the UK you won’t often find yourself having to deal with extreme weather conditions. Though, it’s still worth having a few tricks up your sleeve for when the summer sun does come out, no matter how rarely that may be!

For experienced chicken keepers the sight of their hens sunbathing is a happy one. After all, who doesn’t like to top up their tan! However, this can be a surprise to novice chicken keepers, and as much as chickens love to sunbathe, sometimes the heat can get a little much.

Liquid refreshment

Dehydration is a big cause of death in chickens and unfortunately sometimes a chicken is too far gone to be saved. Keep your eyes peeled for any signs of dehydration and know what to do if one of your flock does become ill.

Signs of dehydration include:

  • Lethargy
  • Gasping/panting with their beaks open
  • No interest in food
  • No reaction to stimuli

If you do find a dehydrated hen the best course of action is to move the bird to a cool, dark, quiet place and provide water with electrolytes. You may need to help the bird drink every 10-15 minutes over the next few hours.

Once the bird is drinking by itself you can give it watered down food. You’ll need to keep in for the next 24 hours and provide water and wet food at all times.

To try and make sure your hens stay happy and healthy, here are our top tips to help keep your flock feeling fresh when the weather gets warm:

Chickens love cold drinks too

If you find yourself reaching for an icy cold drink in the summer then why not make one for your hens?

Use the cooling blocks you can get for picnic hampers or freeze water in a small plastic container, then place in a bowl of drinking water. The blocks will keep the water cool all day and provide a refreshing drink for your birds.

Make some shade

Chickens need to be able to get out of the sun to cool themselves down so make sure there are plenty of shady spaces available. You can create shady spots using specially designed shades, tarpaulin, old patio umbrellas, or even plastic table cloths.

chickens in the shade

Don’t feed “heavy” foods

Just like we don’t like to eat big meals when it’s hot chickens don’t either. Foods such as corn take longer to digest, therefore creating a higher body temperature and making your hens hot.

Swap to pellets and try giving treats such as frozen or refrigerated strawberries and watermelon.

frozen sweetcorn

Give them a “bath”

In this case we don’t mean a water bath, we mean a dust bath. Dusting bathing is essential for chickens to stay healthy, especially in hot weather. If your chickens aren’t able to create a dust bath themselves by digging holes in the garden then provide them with a shallow tray or box containing sand.

Add electrolytes to water to combat dehydration

You can buy electrolytes for chickens from most country stores or online chicken supply shops. You would usually use them if you had chicks but in hot weather chickens of all ages can benefit from electrolytes.

Keep their coop cool

All chicken houses should have good ventilation but if possible you should increase this during the summer. Open all of the doors, vents, and windows during the day and if safe to do so, consider leaving vents and windows open at night.

You can also direct the sunlight away from the chicken house by placing a sheet of reflective foil on the house roof in the mornings. You could use the screens usually seen on car dashboards for the same effect.

Let them chill out

Interacting with your chickens will make them excited and run around more so keep interaction to a minimum. If you do need to move them or catch them try to do this first thing in the morning or before they go to bed when it’s cooler.

Posted on 4 June 2018 in Chicken Chat and tagged under , , , , ,

Chickens can be messy creatures, but they don’t have to damage your garden – this week we’ll be discussing how you can protect your garden and keep your chickens happy.

Most poultry keepers accept that if they want to have chickens then they’re going to have to sacrifice a perfect garden. However, poultry and plants can live harmoniously together – you just have to know how to do it!

Not every method will work for every chicken, some are definitely more determined than others to eat things they shouldn’t!  Chicken proofing your garden is more trial and error than a hard and fast method that suits everyone.

chicken in the garden

Here’s our quick guide on how to chicken proof your garden so you can keep your plants beautiful and your poultry happy:

Think about the space you have

The most common reason for chickens ruining a garden is having too many chickens in not enough space. Realistically small gardens can accommodate three to five chickens before a trashed garden becomes inevitable. Larger outdoor spaces could fit between five and eight chickens and still maintain a respectable looking garden.

Think carefully about the size of your garden, the number of chickens you want, and whether you intend to let them free range or keep them in a purpose built run before you bring your hens home.

little braxted chicken ark 2

Bulk buy the chicken wire

Even if your chickens have enough space they might still take the occasional nibble of your prize plants. Invest in some chicken wire and create a low wire fence to keep peckish hens away from your greenery.

If chicken wire isn’t strong enough for your persistent hens then try hardware cloth which has smaller holes and can be used as ground covers to protect seedlings or low growing plants.

Use rocks for protection

A hungry hen will easily push or scratch small stones out of the way to get at a tasty looking plant, so using large rocks or bricks around the base of the plant will make them harder to reach.

You might find this method especially useful if you have recently planted pots or containers.

Give them plants of their very own

Robust shrubs and bushes will give your chickens somewhere to scratch around and hide, drawing them away from more delicate plants. The exact type of bush you choose is up to you but having an evergreen in your garden will give hens somewhere to go all year around.

Move their house regularly

If you have a moveable house then rotate it around your garden regularly. This will give damaged areas of your garden a chance to recover and provide your hens with an interesting new view every few weeks.

painted chicken house

Have a purpose built run/enclosure

If your hens aren’t going to free range, or you only want to let them out at certain times, invest in a high quality purpose built run or enclosure. They’ll have enough to room scratch around, bathe, and snack on bugs and the rest of your garden will be protected.

enclosed run onduline roof

Posted on 30 May 2018 in Chicken Chat, Waterfowl and tagged under , ,

If you like to have a few projects going to keep you busy and you fancy yourself as a bit of a DIY whiz 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 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.

grit dispenser for chickens

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.

Attainable Sustainable has full chicken swing instructions – including pictures – if you want to try your hand at the ultimate chicken entertainment project.

DIY chicken swing

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.

Tyrant Farm’s tutorial has everything you need to know about building a duck pond and DIY biofilter that will keep your webbed footed friends amused for hours on end.

DIY duck pond

Pond filter and shower

If you’re considering simply revamping your duck pond, rather than a bigger project like the one above, 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.

DIY duck pond and filter

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 mind 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 which you can buy at your local feed merchants and some pet shops.

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

#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.

raised chicken house

#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.

eggs

#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.

A quick internet search should turn up a company that is local to you.

chickens on suitcases

#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.

 

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.

 

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

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