Saturday, 16 March 2013

Chickens... it all gets out of hand

If you have read my last blog post about how we came to keep chickens, you will know that we had 2 and one (Pots) turned into a cockerel. We actually thought that this was a good thing as we had been considering breeding our own for meat.
In the February of 2011 my brother came for a visit. As we didn't see each other at Christmas we did the present exchange on his visit. He bought Kev 3 chickens as his Christmas present. Brilliant!
The 3 hens were placed in the chicken run with Pots and Roastie and the pecking commenced.  One of the hens at dusk flew over the fence and we lost her.  So now we had 2.
We went down to feed the chickens the next day and over night Pots had turned from this placid creature into the cockerel from hell. As the time went on he got more and more aggressive, jumping for our faces most of the time. Kev used to go in with a big board...like the police shields, to stop Pots getting him. We considered all of the pros and cons of keeping him but realised with the possibility of Grandchildren visiting he had to go! That next weekend he was our Sunday roast! I thought I would be funny about this  but obviously I have come to accept that this is how it is for our self sufficiency life style.
In the August the Grandchildren did come to visit and we took them to buy another 4 chickens to go in our flock.
Now we had six chickens. About 2 weeks later they started to lay and we have had eggs ever since!
 
Obviously we still wanted to raise our own chicks so that we had a supply of fresh meat, but this would mean another cockerel and to be honest we were worried that we would get another monster! We went to the shop in our local village and saw a lovely little cockerel all on his own. So without hesitation we bought him and put him with the chickens. The hens picked on him relentlessly for about 3 days. He wouldn't go into the coop preferring to sleep behind it instead.
We read on the Internet that if you want a cool cockerel you must be the boss. So you need to shoo him away from the food when you feed them, and stop him from mating if your in the pen. This is how he would behave towards another cockerel and so in his eyes you are the boss and not to be messed with. It worked and he has never attacked us.
Within 2 weeks of getting him all of our eggs were fertile. We decided to see if one of the hens would go broody. We stopped collecting the eggs and waited. 12 eggs and no sign of a broody hen, 24 eggs and no sign of a broody hen. We gave up when we reached 35 eggs and bought a small incubator that runs on 18w of electricity!
 
In May 2012 we hatched our first lot of chicks. It was a steep learning curve as the Internet and books make it all sound so cute and easy. They are easy to raise as in they really look after themselves. As long as they have food and water and a brooder to keep them warm they are happy.
 
What they didn't tell us was the amazing amount of poo they produce. We cleaned them out twice a day and they we still paddling in it. They also are not fussy about where they poo...in their water...food...anywhere seems to be the rule.
At 2 weeks because it was very warm here they were outside in a little run we made for them. But the books didn't tell you they can fly at 2 weeks and so getting them to the run and back turned into many candid camera moments with us chasing them around the garden!
 
All this said and done...breeding chickens is one of the most rewarding experiences we have had to date. We have hatched 4 lots of chicks now and  all our chicken meat is now home reared. We are considering keeping one of the cockerels we have raised and starting a second flock. Originally the idea was just to have eggs...now we are breeding and wanting 2 flocks. Be warned once you start keeping chickens it takes over and you always want more!
 
We kept one of our chicks and added her to our flock. This week she went broody and is sitting on 9 eggs. Hopefully this will mean we wont need the incubator any more, but we will keep it as a back up just in case!