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The Pitter Patter of Dinosaur Feet
It is probably a strange desire for a working class gal from Glasgow, but I have, for several years, had an inkling to keep a few chickens. What has that got to do with dinosaurs, you might ask? Well, believe it or not, chickens are actually evolutionary descendants of T-Rex!
See: http://www.livescience.com/1410-rex-rel ... ckens.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Being born and brought up in a city didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the animal kingdom. As a child my summer holidays were spent with my cousins in the beautiful Scottish Borders’ countryside. Whilst there I volunteered at a rather ramshackle place that did pony rides and this helped to stoke my equestrian passion which would lead me in adulthood to own a succession of horses and spend over two decades competing at a modest level. Chickens though? I think that particular desire formed as I became increasingly aware of the often cruel farming practices that prevailed in the production of eggs. Whilst I am not vegetarian, I believe passionately in compassionate farming methods that consider the welfare of the animal from birth through to dispatch. Friends will remember when I became aware of the cramped conditions of pigs raised for meat. I turned to eating ‘happy pigs’ – my term for outdoor-reared. The end game is the same but at least outdoor-reared pigs have a better quality of life.
And so to chickens. There can be few people that have not been moved by images of battery cages stuffed full of half featherless hens raised as egg producing machines, or sheds with no natural daylight at all, crammed with chickens destined for the table, pumped full of as much food as they will eat and topped up with antibiotics to keep them healthy in such unnatural conditions. I have for many years bought only free range eggs and free range chicken. But could I do more?
Could I have some semblance of control over the provenance of even some of the food I eat? I already grow some fruit and veg, and this gives me immense pleasure, so eggs seemed a natural progression. The fact that eggs are produced by lovely creatures that can be pets too gives two things for the price of one. I would have said kills two birds with one stone, but that doesn’t seem appropriate !
A spanner in the works has been that for much of my working life, I have had roles that involve long hours and/or a fair amount of commuting and travel. This made it impossible to commit to chicken keeping. Oh, and the time spent looking after and competing horses also made it a big challenge. I resigned myself to keeping chickens in my retirement. With every year that passes though, retirement seems to get further away rather than closer with governmental changes to the pensionable age. However I have given up horses and, as luck would have it, I have moved to a new job and the door to keeping chickens has now opened. With the stars finally aligned, I began to research chicken keeping.
Him indoors soon got wind of my plans as every time he looked round I was on a poultry-keepers Web site. Agreement was reached and research begun. I have to say it has been highly enjoyable looking into all-things chicken. I soon established the coop and run I wanted and started looking for local breeders. As luck would have it a great little firm called Hippy Chicks http://www.hippychickspoultry.co.uk" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; is right on my doorstep. Two visits later and my first three hens were sourced. A Barnevelder and two Speckled Sussex. Three is a good number for a novice keeper. Enough for the girls to have friends to interact with but not too many to manage from a space and practicality perspective.
And so it was in August 2016 the lovely folks from Hippy Chicks delivered Hamble – the Barnevelder and Florence and Matilda – the Speckled Sussex’s. The dinosaurs had arrived.
Glad to hear that you've finally been able to give this a go. :) Funny you should say that. My husband always says that they look like Velociraptors to him, which they do when you think about it. Especially when a head suddenly pops up amidst some tall grass! Always makes me chuckle. Looking forward to hearing how they get on. :)
"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need."
I let the girls out into the garden to ‘free range’ as much as I can. I need to be out there with them to discourage foxes, who see my little chickens as feather-encased snacks, or any errant felines who might fancy ‘playing with’ these larger than life cat toys. In real terms this means that playtime comes after work and at weekends. In between times, the girls stay in their ‘very well-appointed’ coop and run combo with everything a feathered girl could desire: water, food, vegetable treats hanging from the roof which double up as toys too, and a variety of perches and places to hide, dust bathe, snooze and of course lay their beautiful eggs.
When I took delivery of my three new friends, I kept them in their run for the first week. It is big enough for me to get in and sit with them, which is exactly what I did in this first week, so they got used to me at close quarters. Cue early photographic evidence that I was becoming a ‘crazy chicken lady’! Makes a change to being a ‘barmy cat lady’ or even a ‘nutty garden lady’, all of which were and are possibilities. Did I just say that out loud? Oops! Anyway, it wasn’t long at all before the girls saw me as a provider of food and treats and not a scary threat to them.
So to their first taste of freedom…
My garden is fairly large. Not huge, but big enough for small brown birds to run away and hide in. With this in mind, I put up a barrier at each end on the path that runs alongside the coop and run so that whilst the girls could come out of the run, they couldn’t stray far. Job done I opened their run door and sat at one end of the path to see what happened.
Whilst Hamble is very much bottom of the pecking order, she is on equal par with Florence when it comes to curiousness and bravery. Hamble soon jumped out of the run and onto the path to look around this extension to her world. With a shake of her head and some ‘I’m slightly worried but too nosey to stop’ clucking, she strutted up and down the short stretch of path now available to her.
Florence paused at the door then jumped down to join Hamble. The run is on blocks to keep it level, so there is a little step down to the ground. They walked to and fro whilst keeping a close eye on one another and their proximity to the door to their run.
Matilda was a little more cautious and did a couple of circuits of the run before eventually joining her flock sisters. All three now had a little taste of freedom.
I have covered a narrowish border around the coop and run with bark chippings. This was a great source of amusement to the girls. In no time at all they were demonstrating their foraging prowess. For the first time I heard ‘tuck tuck tuck’ as Hamble announced she had found a tasty little slug. This was followed by a Benny Hill-esque chase scene as Florence and Matilda ran in hot pursuit of Hamble who held the slug tightly in her beak and made a run for somewhere away from the others where she would have peace to eat it. Eventually Hamble managed to consume the slug. Yeah on two counts – a tasty snack for Hamble and for me, one less slug to wreak its slimy plant nibbling havoc in my garden.
I let the girls continue to forage and otherwise gad about for 45 minutes. Getting them back in the run wasn’t too hard because the space they had to roam in was quite restricted. I stood up, stretched out my arms and herded them back to the run. Easy! They left behind mounds of bark chips, now covering the path instead of the border. A quick brush and everything was set to rights.
The girls retired to their perches to chill out after their excitement, so ending their very first playtime.
Thanks for the support. I have a blog entitled 'The Velociraptor Twins' that I'll put up in a while :)
Yes, most of us have noticed the dinosaur tendancies - not fluffy little balls of innocence if the spot grubs, frogs or mice. And they do like a tug-of-war/ relay-race. Nothing shows the pecking order more than digging up an ants nest and putting it in the run - I thought they were friends but....
Wracking my brain for the names, Hamble - Playschool, Florence - Magic Roundabout, Matilda - ?? feel as if I ought to know (Roald Dahl?).
Dance caller. http://mo-dance-caller.blogspot.co.uk/p/what-i-do.html
Sunny Clucker enjoyed Folk music and song in mid-Cheshire
You're spot on with Hamble and Florence. I think Matilda is Roald Dahl although I just liked the name. Poor Hamble was the doll on Playschool that nobody liked (apparently even the presenters disliked her) so when my hubby suggested this as a name I was reluctant to say the least. But he said that now was the chance to see a Hamble in a positive light :) So far so good as Hamble is a lovely girl. I must work out how to post photos and get some on.
One of the things I researched very carefully before taking the plunge was housing for my soon to be new arrivals. It is a bit of a minefield out there where chicken coops are concerned. Do you want a plastic coop or a wooden one? How many chickens does it need to house? Do you need a window in the coop? Does it have to be movable or will it be stationery? Do you want a coop with an integrated run? Will the chickens be in the run 24 x 7 or will they get out to free range for some of the time? What size of run? The questions go on. In particular, the coop material had me wringing my hands for a while. Wooden coops are often portrayed as high maintenance with lots of hiding places for the dreaded red mite (pests and diseases raise a whole new set of questions). As a consequence, for quite a while I had my sights set on a plastic coop. That was until I started hearing about possible condensation challenges in these and looked at the coops available. Many look, to me anyway, quite ugly! Now I know some are portrayed as trendy - chic architecture for the modern chicken enthusiast if you will. Some yes; but quite a lot of them, no. My opinion only and I haven't test-driven any to substantiate my views. They also seem a bit poky. They certainly appear to be easy to clean and thus help keep pest problems to a minimum. It's a trade-off of features and benefits so different people will make different choices. For me, I focused on wooden options.
I believe you get what you pay for and this certainly seems to be the case where chicken coops are concerned. You can pick up wooden coops quite cheaply but as I delved into peoples reviews, the cheaper coops never fared well - difficult to build, flimsy and draughty were descriptions often used. I trawled people's blogs for inspiration and eventually found THE ONE. Yes, I know that term is usually kept for wedding dresses (I used it in that context too) but really, looking for the right coop took just about as long as finding the right dress. My choice? A lovely, substantial and robust wooden coop from Perthshire Poultry. I got their medium one, which can house up to 8 medium/large birds (nice to have room for growth - but don't tell him indoors). It comes fully built except for the nest boxes which are easy to put in place. That was really important to me. I didn't want to have to spend money on having someone build it for me. Here it is in-situ after I put on the nest boxes. All spangly and new and not even completely unwrapped.
http://www.perthshirepoultry.co.uk/ours ... -Coop.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
I got a few extras - the stand to raise the coop off the ground and give the girls somewhere to shelter; a droppings tray to make it easier to clean out, and the must-have in my view - an automatic door opener. This Chicken Guard opener can be set to open at dawn and shut at dusk or at specific times - I use the latter. What a brilliant device.
Finding a run was almost as much of a challenge as choosing the coop. Many were teensy and looked decidedly un-fox-proof! I wanted to get something as big as the area it would be located in could hold. I wanted something that I could get into to clean and something that could have plenty of perching and play areas for the girls. I eventually opted to have the run built by a family friend. We designed it together. It is 4 feet wide, 8 feet long and 5 feet tall. It has a clear roof and a floor made from marine ply. The wire mesh is substantial and the holes in it small so a fox couldn't chew through it. It is raised on blocks as the ground falls away from the coop. It attaches directly to the coop.
So there you have it; home sweet home for my feathered friends.
Once I work out how to post photos, I'll put some up.
What a lovely start to your diary. I love your girl's names - and I am old enough to remember Hamble! Never really understood why nobody liked her, although I was more of a fan of Humpty and Big & Little Ted myself
Instructions here on how to post pictures: viewtopic.php?f=3&t=46297
Their resemblance to dinosaurs was one of the first things we noticed when we first got chickens. In fact we named our first top hen Rexie because she reminded us of a T Rex as she stalked around the garden (that and Rex as in King as she was boss). And if you've ever seen them eat a mouse, you wouldn't have to use much imagination...
I wouldn't worry too much about cats and chickens, unless you've got feral cats. In my experience the chickens usually get the best of the cats, once they learn that the chickens have strong beaks
The coop looks great, and the run sounds perfect
Alpha chick to: Dorian Grey, Pokey, Mango, Smudge and Coco
Chief servant to Marley the cat
Remembering Weeps, Rexie, Sage, Cassie, Toffee, Captain Gabby, Commander Nugget, Ronnie, Juno, Special Poetry and Reading Casper, Tigger, Tophenanall Rembrandt, Chestnut, Tiddly and Willow
Also my lost furries Charlie and Jasper
That's a really good coop. I have the automatic pop hole too, a total godsend!
Looking forward to hearing more, especially some photographs and your blog, 'The Velociraptor Twins'.
"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need."
Thanks for your welcoming comments and the link to the video.
Hopefully, here is a photo of my coop and run...
Enjoyed reading your diary very much. As you have found out it really seems to be an all consuming passion this chicken keeping lark. Always so much to learn and that is why it is so lovely to share other people's experiences on this forum. I think we are all addicted to these little dinosaurs. The coop and run looks excellent by the way - good choice. I will be looking for a new coop when I am on holiday in May. I have a coop with the run underneath and this is inside my walk in run. This works well for me so I will be looking for much the same style. We are hoping for a new coop and to tidy up the enclosure a bit. One day I will post some photo's (I have been threatening this since I started my diary), but as yet have not sussed it all out!! Looking forward to seeing your photo's - welcome to the forum.
Thanks Cheshire Chick. I love the idea of a walk in run. I can stoop and sit in the one I have at the moment. I hope that in the future I might give the girls an extension.
Would love to see photos of your flock.
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