For many people, the idea of keeping chickens in their backyard might conjure images of the popular seventies TV show ‘The Good Life’. Tom and Barbara dropping out of the rat race to escape corporate drudgery and become self-sufficient.
It holds a certain charm, though also represents a sharp shift in focus. It presents as an either/or situation. Do you want to opt for a wholesome country life, or are you happy being a capitalist cog?
But today there is a different feel—a new idea of the well-lived life. Whilst perhaps we cannot have it all (and did we every truly believe we could?), we can co-opt rural elements in a suburban environment. And with so many resources out there it has never been easier to learn the basics and begin something new and egg-citing!
Chickens strike a strange combination of livestock and domestic pet. But it is one that is both practical and beguiling. Their temperaments are akin to that of dogs, and they have a pack-animal mentality. They are curious and gentle, funny and feisty. They also lay eggs and (if you have the stomach for it) can be used for meat.
In short, food and fun abound when you keep chickens!
But our modern world holds many more lifestyles in which a chicken can slot, with only a few caveats we can mention! So join us as we explore tales of the winged world. What you need to watch out for, and what you stand to gain.
Counting Your Chickens: Why Keep These Eggs-traordinary Pets?
Picture this: The sun is setting on the LA skyline. You look out over the lush greenery of your backyard, relaxing with a chic and refreshing cocktail. The warm Californian sun blushes your cheeks as you are lulled into reverie by the simultaneous clucks of your feathered friends.
Such is the living dream of the resident hen and cocktail enthusiast Kate E Richards, author of the delightfully kitsch ‘Drinking With Chickens’ cocktail recipe book.
With her passion for the outdoors, garden growing and wildlife, she has shaken up her life and infused it with whimsical fun. Her Instagram account certainly brightens up the darkest of urban mornings with its colourful capturing of a life lived with her lovely fri-hen-ds.
Was that pun too much? You can be honest…
But she is not the only one in LA clued in and falling fowl of the norm. In fact, keeping hens has become somewhat of a Silicone Valley staple! With so many tech-heads living their lives in inside a computer, the antidote, it would seem, is to set up a rural aesthetic at home. But don’t be fooled, these chickens could really be termed iHens, with owners paying up to $350 for rare breeds, and housing them inside expensive lavish, climate-controlled coops!
But aside from a bizarre new status symbol, what benefits can chickens bring to inhabitants of the Valley and other LA elites?
The idea is simple: embracing the outdoors stimulates our vitamin D, gives a tangible sense of achievement in nurturing and builds a symbiotic relationship with these pecking pets. And the wide array of colourful eggs each breed caa lay makes for an epic gift-box for friends and neighbours! They provide much-needed grounding for anyone who spends a lot of time plugged into the matrix, and can really help to bolster mental health.
From Clucky Yanks to Plucky Brit-hens…
Back in the UK, keeping chickens in your garden can do the same for you. Sure, it can be hard work keeping them. But once you get into a routine of care, the responsibility and reward will be equal in measure. They can provide much needed stress relief, and food for your kitchen. And for those of you with young children, they are a useful source of education and inspiration.
If you are thinking about keeping chickens, the first thing you need to consider is their function in your life.
Do you want them as a fun family pet? Perhaps to provide food as well? Perhaps you want to slowly build up your self-sustained eco-system at home. Chickens can provide all of this! Though not all breeds are good layers. Breeds such as the Buff Orpington and Black Copper Marans lay colourful and plentiful eggs, but are by no means top of the pecking order. That, friends, would be the Rhode Island Red, besides others!
These are just a handful of options one must consider when deciding whether to keep chickens. But, as with keeping any pet, there are other responsibilities to be aware of.
Lucky for you, people like Hugh and Fiona of the popular YouTube channel ‘English Country Life’ are on hand to offer their seasoned advice. And they have a laundry list of reasons why keeping chickens could prove beneficial to you, aside from the obvious!
Firstly, keeping chickens helps keep your raw food waste to a minimum. The reason for this is two-fold. You can feed most vegetable scraps to your hens, though you must be mindful that these are not contaminated with meat scraps! You can do this by ensuring you prepare meat on a different surface from vegetables, and do not allow the scraps to come into contact with each other! A vegan household would be ideal for this, as even the slightest contaminant can have an onward effect to the health of your flock.
The second part of this is a bit of a dirty trick. Chicken poo is great fertiliser! Just ensure you allow the poo to breakdown in a separate aerated bin for around 2 years before sprinkling it on your compost heap. This can then be used for growing your garden veggies!
If you’re a meat eater, you may want a kinder, more sustainable food source. Keeping chickens gives you the option to eat meat, and eggs, with the understanding that the livestock has had a good life in a decent environment. These animals prefer lots of room to roam and a well-established clutch of hens in which to flourish. If you can provide this, your garden to table fare will taste all the better!
Avoid Falling Fowl (get it?!): The Do’s and Don’ts of the Chicken Coop
But there are also some downsides to keeping chickens, and it is vital that you understand these before committing. The English Country Living YouTube channel does a good job exploring these caveats. Chickens are noisy (though some breeds more than others), they can be smelly, and they will roam wherever they can, and will definitely dig up your grass in search of worms and insects. To combat this, you can fence them in and keep a separate space that is both hen-free and pretty!
Aside from this, there are some pretty solid dos and don’ts to be aware of:
Do clean up after the chickens daily
These guys poop—a lot!
In order to keep your chickens and family safe, clean and healthy, it is advisable to pick up the poop with a mini garden fork and a bucket. The benefit of this is (as we have already learned) that it makes excellent fertiliser after a couple years of fermentation!
Don’t get involved in chicken scraps!
Whilst fairly docile, chickens will still fight to establish a workable ‘pecking order’. We all know that famous phrase, and it is no truer than in the feathered realm! Whilst battles are short-lived and mostly safe, they can be hard to watch. Especially for children and those who become especially close with these pets. This is a natural occurrence as the group establishes a well-connected clutch. If you see the chickens pecking each other, allow it to happen and it will resolve itself naturally.
There are also various guidelines on keeping your livestock and the surrounding wildlife safe. So definitely check out The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for more information. It is a really good source for governmental guidelines, as well as the place to register flocks of 50 or more birds at one household. This is a handy safety measure as DEFRA will notify you if there is an outbreak of bird-related diseases in your area.
The most valuable advice that chicken keepers can dispense, however, is this…
Keeping Chickens Means Daily Work (No Matter What!)
One must be aware of the hard work and effort that goes into keeping chickens. Do your research, and be careful with romanticising suburban proto-farm life. As Fiona of English Country Life states:
“Chickens are completely reliant on us, they need us to provide them with food, water, shelter…. Recently both Hugh and myself fell ill at the same time… it did make us feel very ill and quite frankly we didn’t want to get out of bed, but we had to. Someone had to clean out the coop, someone had to pick up the poop.”
It is not all vignettes of quintessential ‘rurality’. That’s a mash up of rural and reality, thank you. Whether you are coming or going from work, having a weekend away, or just feeling sick or tired, these birds will require daily care whatever is going on in your life.
And of course, to go into this new project with an understanding what you hope to get out of keeping chickens. Not all breeds are prize egg-layers. There are also some noisy breeds in the bunch, which could make you an enemy amongst your neighbours.
Different breeds of chickens offer different strengths and weaknesses, so doing your research will help no end!
Chick-it Out! Keeping Your Chickens Safe
Now that you’ve set your mind on joining the ‘Good Life’ crew, you need to know how to look after your chickens! Many would recommend vaccinating your chickens against common avian diseases, and most reputable sellers will vaccinate their livestock prior to sale. However, when keeping chickens in your backyard it is not a legal requirement. But if in doubt, The British Hen Welfare Trust are on hand to offer all the latest and best information.
When it comes to housing your chickens, this is something that will entirely depend on where you are the space you have. But it’s arguably the most important thing to consider! Not only is this the place for egg-laying, it also provides a safe space for sleep and safety overnight.
There is a wide range of coops to suite any home. From the simple wooden huts synonymous with the British countryside, to the high-tech, climate-controlled options you might find in LA! But the primary function of a coop is to keep your flock safe from night-prowling predators.
With Omlet, a UK based company, there are many plastic and mesh versions available, such as the ‘Egglu’. This one even has a remote controlled door! It is versatile, transportable, and holds an epic safety feature. One that scuppers the plans of the ‘growling’ fox population of the UK.
Johannes Paul, Co-founder of Omlet explains:
“Part of our research when we were testing the product before we launched was going round and visiting chicken farmers…and this one guy said to us, to keep a fox out you don’t dig the fence down, you come out horizontally across the ground. Because a fox will always come out to an edge and try to dig.”
So, when faced with a thick grid of metal directly next to the fence edge, the foxes will simply give up and go elsewhere! And this is exactly what the makers of the Egglu did!
You can browse the full range of chicken coops and extensions on the Omlet Website, alongside some handy legal information about keeping chickens in the UK. And even some handy recipes to egg-splore.
And when it comes to ensuring against the British weather, there are some great options for weather proofing and winterizing your coops to keep your flock clucking along nicely.
Eggcited to get Started??
Many of you will be desperate to get your own coop up and running—Images of dancing chick-to-chick with your new hens flapping through your mind. Well, the good news is that spring and summer is a great time to introduce feathered friends to your yard! If you’re keen to raise chicks—a fun and exciting prospect if you have small children—temperatures must be above 24°C throughout the day to keep them alive and comfortable when introducing them to the outdoors. But be mindful, you must keep new chicks indoors for the first two weeks.
If you’re keen to raise hens from chicks, check out Guildbrook Farm’s ‘Beginners Guide To Raising Backyard Chickens’. In this, resident chicken lover Jamie talks newbies through all the things you need to consider, and how to raise healthy chicks.
Top tip: add a dash of raw apple cider vinegar to the water for chicks and hens. The anti-viral and anti-fungal nature of the product will help to keep them healthy and disease-free. It also keeps parasites away and adds potassium to their diet!
However, remember you can generally pick up full-grown hens from reputable sellers. There are a number of sellers throughout the UK, offering a wide variety of breeds. Some will even specify the colour of the eggs they lay. Just make sure you do your research on the chickens you want, based on what you are expecting from them. Remember, not all chickens are prized layers!
Whatever the reason for wanting to keep chickens, they are sure to be as rewarding as they are hard work! The joy of bonding with these docile and flappable friends is something unparalleled. It provides fun, food and entertainment. Plus, a great talking point with neighbours and friends! Just be sure to clear it with your neighbours before embarking on this venture! Noises of the farm-yard are not loved by everyone!
Five rules to chicken keeping...
- Chickens are entirely reliant on you to keep them safe and healthy. This means working daily to feed and clean them. Including poop!
- Invest in a decent chicken coop to keep them safe from predators.
- Don’t expect chickens to be respectful of your grass—they will pull it up in search of bugs. Keep them in a contained area to avoid ruining your entire garden, but ensure lots of space for roaming.
- Chickens may fight, but this is the natural way they establish a pecking order!
If you have chickens, or are thinking of getting some, please send us your stories! We always love to hear how urban chickens get on, and how families adapt to their presence.
But for now, “Good-cluck with your new venture!”
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