Keeping chickens in the back garden has become very popular over the last few years. I have had many people come up to me who I have hardly known asking whether I was ‘the chicken man'...
After explaining that 'yes, I did keep chickens', they would go on to explain that they had been thinking about getting a few hens in their back garden but they didn't have a clue about where to start and could I give them a few pointers.
So this was how this article started. I typed out some information for a few people that were interested in learning how to keep chickens and it got photocopied, passed around a school playground or two and before I knew it, I was creating a website and posting it online.
So here it is, modified and improved year on year: The beginners guide to keeping chickens!
Jeremy Hobson (who has lived in France for over a decade) investigates the attitude the French have towards back garden chicken-keeping...and discovers that the hobby is as popular amongst 'ex-pats' living in France as it is in the UK
There's a feeling amongst many French – especially those living in the more rural areas – that there is no point in having anything in the garden unless it can be eaten! This thinking does, it must be admitted, mean that most gardens are full of immaculate vegetable plots, but perhaps it might not bode too well for any chickens kept there!
|La Flèche has a comb that
looks like the devil's horns!
In actual fact, although some do keep a few chickens bought from the local market simply for their egg laying and table bird potential, a good deal more have a keen interest in pure-breeds and chicken-keeping here in France has a very strong following. It is, after all, the country which has given the world a great many breeds – amongst them, the Houdan, Faverolles, La Flèche and, of course, the Marans.
More modern types of egg laying poultry can be seen at any of the country markets around France and are mainly hybrids. One, which is similar in appearance to the Black Rock in being basically black with a few copper coloured feathers around its neck, is an extremely prolific layer – in fact, from personal experience, they will produce eggs on an almost daily basis for at least two seasons without even pausing for a break during the moult.
Keeping chickens is an addictive hobby and once you get a few birds, often you start thinking about others you'd like to introduce to the flock. The big problem is that few people realise the problems that potentially can occur when introducing new chickens to the flock.
Chickens are best kept in small social groups as they live in the wild. Everyone has heard of the phrase 'hen pecked' or 'pecking order', well this comes from the order within a flock of hens and every hen knows her place so when introducing new chickens there can be problems until the pecking order is re-established again.
Jeremy Hobson, author of Success With Chickens, tries to uncover the truth (or otherwise) behind some long-held chicken health myths and potions.
Many chicken keepers and gamekeepers of my generation will have been told of, or perhaps even seen it done, the cure for an infestation of gapeworms in young birds, particularly gamebirds.
Basically, a strong feather was first found, perhaps pulled from the flight feathers of the unfortunate chicken itself. The feather was then stripped of almost all of the barbs, leaving just a few at the end in the manner of bristles on a brush. Next, it was inserted down the poor bird's throat (sometimes with the addition of some noxious fluid) and twisted the same way all the time before being withdrawn. The corkscrew action of the movement collected and removed many of the gapeworms living in the windpipe.
A Chicken Suffering from Gapeworm
It has to be said that, looking at the worms it brought with it, the method worked reasonably well, but one could obviously not tell what actual percentage of gapeworm numbers had been removed and what remained – and at what cost stress-wise to the bird? It is definitely not recommended. For any type of worming problem it is nowadays far more effective to use something like Flubenvet 1% 60 gram packs which, despite the restrictions imposed by the Veterinary Medicines Act, can still be legally obtained and administered in the food.
If you are keeping chickens or other poultry, you really do need to learn about worms and worming. Ectoparasites are found on the outside of your poultry - for example, lice and mites but Endoparasites are found on the inside of your birds body and are refered to as Helminths in the veterinary world which is a term used to cover a wide range of internal parasites or 'worms'.
Nematodes are the group of worms that we are mainly concerned about in poultry. These are listed below. The links take you to more information about the particular worm.
An increasing number of people are starting to keep chickens in their back gardens and 'backyard hen keeping' is fast becoming one of the most popular gardening 'hobbies' not only in this country but around the globe.
Aside from the campaigns to improve chicken welfare beyond that of a cheap egg laying machine, people are now seeing them as more just a source of food. They are filled with character, make a great addition to the productive garden and can fill both the boots of accessible livestock and those of household pet.
"As rare as hens teeth" is a saying that most of us have heard at some point. Well the closest thing you can get to hens teeth is insoluble grit that chickens and other poultry use to grind down their food in their gizzard and is essential for hens to be healthy.
There are essentially two different types of poultry grit available: Insoluble or Flint grit (show right) and soluble grit (usually crushed Oyster Shell) but do you know what each is used for in a hens body and whether you should be supplying them to your hens?
Breeding chickens is of course a fairly straight forward process, you put a good cockerel in with some hens and providing both are fit and healthy and your cockerel is fertile, he will mate with the hens regularly and before you know it, you have fertile eggs.
There are a few other things to consider though if you are hoping to create a strain of birds for utility, show or if you simply want to keep to or improve the standard of the breed you have chosen.
Getting good results can take years and to get the best results, you need to hatch as many chicks as you can, raise them and have an eye for the best birds that will improve your line and next years offspring. Breeding top birds doesn't happen overnight but hopefully if you are new to breeding chickens, this article will give you some ideas of where to start.
Clipping the wing of a chicken can stop her from flying which is sometimes essential to keep her safely confined behind a fence, away from predators or off your garden.
Before clipping a wing, you should first consider whether it is actually necessary. Heavy breeds such as Orpingtons can't fly very well but lighter, Mediterranean breeds such as Leghorns can fly reasonably well though and some bantams can fly almost vertically.
We frequently get owners asking questions about the risks of getting Salmonella from their chickens and eggs. So what exactly is Salmonella?
Salmonella is a bacteria which can infect both animals and man. There are several species of Salmonella, each species has it's own type of animal that it prefers to infect e.g. Salmonella Dublin prefers to live in cattle. Whilst most Salmonella species prefer to infect a particular type of animal they can usually also infect other animal species and humans. Not all Salmonella species cause illness and not all Salmonella species which cause disease in one species will go on to cause disease in other species. E.g. Salmonella Enteritidis prefers to infect chickens it does not normally cause the chickens many problems but this species can occasionally infect people.